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U.S. Supreme Court

Waterman v. Canal-Louisiana Bank Co., 215 U.S. 33 (1909)

Waterman v. Canal-Louisiana Bank and Trust Company

No. 306

Submitted February 25, 1909

Decided November 8, 1909

215 U.S. 33


The equity jurisdiction of the federal courts is derived from the federal Constitution and statutes, and is like unto that of the High Court of Chancery in England at the time of the adoption of the Judiciary Act of 1789; it is not subject to limitations or restraints by state legislation giving jurisdiction to state courts over similar matters.

While federal courts cannot seize and control property which is in the possession of the state courts and have no jurisdiction of a purely probate character, they can, as courts of chancery, exercise jurisdiction, where proper diversity of citizenship exists, in favor of creditors, legatees, and heirs, to establish their claims and have a proper execution of the trust as to them.

Although complainant in this case asks in some of her prayers for relief which is beyond the jurisdiction of the court as being of a purely probate character if the allegations of the bill support them the court may grant other prayers for relief which are within its jurisdiction, and, as a court of equity, shape its decree according to the equity of the case.

Where the bill does not seek to set aside the probate of a will or interfere with the possession of the probate court, the federal court of equity, in a case where diverse citizenship exists, may determine as between the parties before the court their interests in the estate and such decree will be binding upon, and may be enforced against, the executor.

It will be assumed that the state probate court will respect the decree chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 215 U. S. 34

of the federal court having jurisdiction settling the rights of parties in an estate, and the denial of effect of such a decree presents a claim of federal right which can be protected by this Court.

While a federal court of equity cannot, either under the forty-seventh rule in equity or general principles of equity, proceed to adjudication in the absence of indispensable parties, if it can do justice to the parties before it without injury to absent persons, it will do so and shape the decree so as to preserve the rights of those actually before the court, without prejudice to the rights of the absentees.

In this case, the absent party was not of the same state as complainant and had no interest in common with complainant, and while a proper, was not an indispensable, party, as his interests were separate and could be protected by retention of his legacy by the executors subject to adjudication in another suit.

The facts, which involved the jurisdiction of the circuit court, are stated in the opinion. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 215 U. S. 38

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