Blythe v. Hinckley (180 U.S. 333)

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

180 U.S. 333

Blythe  v.  Hinckley

 Argued: January 14, 1901. --- Decided: February 25, 1901

This case comes here on writ of error to the supreme court of California to review the judgment of that court affirming a judgment of the superior court of California for the county of San Francisco sustaining a demurrer to the complaint. The case involves a large amount of real property belonging in his lifetime to one Thomas H. Blythe, who was a naturalized citizen of the United States, and died intestate on the 4th of April, 1883, a resident of the city and county of San Francisco. Questions relating to the title to this property have been in litigation for over fifteen years, and various suits have been instituted in the state and Federal courts in California during that time, all of which have resulted favorably to the interests of the defendant in error herein, who claims to be the owner of the property. Three suits have been before this court upon a writ of error or by appeals brought by some of the parties interested, and have been dismissed for want of jurisdiction. Blythe v. Hinckley, 167 U.S. 746, 42 L. ed. 1210, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 991; Blythe Co. v. Blythe, 172 U.S. 644, 43 L. ed. 1183, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 873; Blythe v. Hinckley, 173 U.S. 501, 43 L. ed. 783, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 497.

The sole question which plaintiff in error herein seeks to have decided is whether the defendant in error was capable of taking the property of the intestate under the laws of California, the plaintiff in error claiming as one of the next of kin and heirs at law of the intestate, and objecting that the defendant in error could not take the property because she was an alien and a subject of the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at the time of the death of the intestate, and that in the absence of a treaty between the United States and Great Britain, permitting and providing for such taking on the part of an alien, there was no power in the state of California to legislate upon the subject, and the statute of that state assuming to permit such alien to take was a violation of that part of § 10 of article 1 of the Constitution of the United States, which provides that 'no state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; . . .' and the attempt of the state of California to legislate upon this subject was therefore an invasion of and an encroachment upon, the treaty-making power of the United States.

The facts upon which the question arises are set forth in the complaint, which stated in substance that the defendant in error was an alien and illegitimate daughter of an unmarried woman, and that prior to the death of the intestate neither the defendant nor her mother had ever been outside of Great Britain, and that she was incapable by the common law of England and of California and by the Constitution of the United States, § 10, article 1, and by § 1978 of the Revised Statutes, of inheriting the real property described in the complaint; that there was at the time of the death of the intestate no treaty between the United States and Great Britain which provided for the inheritance of aliens in the United States. After the death of the intestate the defendant in error came to the United States and claimed (falsely as alleged) that she had been adopted by the intestate as his daughter in his lifetime under the provisions of § 230, Civil Code of California; also that he had adopted her as his heir under the provisions of § 1387 of that Code. Some time in 1885 she therefore instituted by her guardian, under § 1664 of the same Code, a proceeding for the purpose of establishing her claim as such adopted daughter or as such heir to succeed to the estate left by the intestate. Upon the trial it was made to appear that the defendant in error was an illegitimate child and an alien, and the complaint herein then alleges that it was the duty of the court before which the trial was going on to dismiss the proceeding for want of jurisdiction to decree that defendant in error was an heir to the real estate or capable of taking by descent. The court, however, as the complaint alleged, decided otherwise, and upon the evidence determined and adjudged that the defendant was the natural heir of the intestate and that in his lifetime he had adopted her as his daughter under § 230 of the California Civil Code, or had instituted her as his heir under § 1387 of that Code.

It was further alleged that the 17th section of article 1 of the new Constitution of California, permitting aliens to acquire, possess, enjoy, transmit, and inherit property the same as native-born citizens, was void as an attempt by the people of the state of California to encroach upon the treaty-making power of the United States, and was in violation of § 10 of article 1 of the Federal Constitution. It was then alleged that the court in the proceeding mentioned did not in legal effect determine the question of heirship, title, or interest in the real estate for want of jurisdiction, and that the legislature of the state had no power or authority to enact any law which gave to the defendant in error the right to inherit the real estate of the intestate.

The complaint further stated that an appeal was taken to the supreme court of the state, and that all of the above matters were made to appear to that court, which nevertheless affirmed the judgment. The same averments of the lack of jurisdiction to make such decree were made with regard to the supreme court as were set forth regarding the lower court, and the plaintiff in error alleged that the judgment of the supreme court was void for lack of jurisdiction. It was also alleged that after this affirmance of the decree of the lower court, by which the rights of the defendant in error to take the property were formally determined, she instituted a proceeding pursuant to the provisions of the California Code, in the superior court in San Francisco, where the administration of the estate of the intestate was pending, to have distributed the estate of the intestate in accordance with the judgments of the superior and the supreme courts in the proceeding already mentioned. This was opposed by the parties interested adversely to the defendant in error upon the same grounds which had been set up as a defense in the former suit. Upon the trial of the latter proceeding the record in the former suit was offered in evidence and objected to as void for want of jurisdiction, but it was received by the court and held by it to be conclusive evidence of the rights of the parties, and the court then made a decree of distribution in favor of the defendant in error. An appeal was taken to the supreme court where the judgment was affirmed, although, as alleged, the court was without jurisdiction. Pursuant to that decree the defendant in error obtained possession of the real property in December, 1895.

It was further alleged that all the claims of the defendant in error to inherit or to hold the real property were groundless and unfounded in fact or in law, and judgment was asked declaring the claims of the defendant to any of the property to be illegal and unfounded, and that plaintiff, as against her, was the lawful owner in fee of the real property mentioned, and was entitled to the income and profits thereof, and decreeing that his title thereto and estate therein should be quieted and the defendant perpetually enjoined from setting up any claim whatever to the property, and that the possession and accumulated rents of the property in the hands of the receiver be delivered to the plaintiff.

The portions of the Federal and state Constitutions and the various statutes referred to in the complaint are set forth in the margin.

Section 10, article 1, of the Federal Constitution:

'No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; . . .'

Section 10, article 2:

'No state shall, without the consent of the Congress, . . . enter into any agreement or compact with another state or with a foreign power. . . .'

Section 17 of article 1 of the Constitution of California:

'Foreigners of the white race or of African descent eligible to become citizens of the United States under the naturalization laws thereof, while bona fide residents of this state, shall have the same rights in respect to the acquisition, possession, enjoyment, transmission, and inheritance of property as native-born citizens.'

Civil Code of California:

'Sec. 230. The father of an illegitimate child, by publicly acknowledging it as his own, receiving it as such, with the consent of his wife, if he is married, into his family, and otherwise treating it as if it were a legitimate The defendant demurred to this complaint on the grounds, among others (1) that the complaint stated no cause of action; (2) that the judgment of distribution set forth in the complaint was a conclusive bar and estoppel against the plaintiff and prevented him from maintaining the action. The demurrer was sustained and judgment entered in favor of the defendant on the merits, and upon appeal it was affirmed by the supreme court of California. A writ of error has been allowed by the Chief Justice of the supreme court of that state. A motion is now made to dismiss the writ of error for lack of jurisdiction or to affirm the judgment.

Messrs. E. Burke Holladay, S. W. Holladay, Jefferson Chandler, and L. D. McKisick for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. Wm. H. H. Hart, Frederic D. McKenney, and Robert Y. Hayne for defendant

Mr. Justice Peckham, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).