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record in the Court of the county where the tes. 1825. tator had his residence at the time of his de
M'Cormick cease; or, if he had no place of residence in the State, then in the County Court of the county where the lands devised were situate; or, if the land was of a certain value, it might be proved in the General Court. The will of W. Crawford, whether executed in Virginia or elsewhere, could not have the effect to pass his real estate, situate in that State, unless made and proved in conformity with its laws. It belongs to the sovereign power of every State, to prescribe the rules by which real property within its territory shall be transferred. No Courts but those of Virginia, or Ohio, could have jurisdiction of this will, because the probate must depend upon the legality of the execution, and that again must depend upon the lex loci. The probate of a Court of competent jurisdiction is, by the local law, conclusive evidence of the due execution of a will of real as well as personal estate. But the Court of Westmoreland county could have no jurisdiction of the probate of this will, because that Court was not established under the authority of Virginia, and because the lands did not lie in that county, nor was the testator resident there. A mere contested claim to the territorial jurisdiction could never lay the foundation to establish the validity of this probate, which was, in fact, made in a foreign country. It is laid down, by the text writers on this subject, that " if a will be made in a foreign country, disposing of goods in Eng
a Virginia Rev. Code, 1769. c. 3. p. 159.
1825. land, it must be proved there." A fortiori,
would it be required to be proved there, (if by M'Cormick
the English law probate of a will of lands were Sullivant. conclusive,) where it related to real property. If
this will could not pass the legal title to the lands in controversy, neither could the respondents be affected with constructive notice by the probate in Pennsylvania. Had it been duly proved and recorded in the State where the lands are situate, it is so vaguely drawn as not to designate, with certainty, the particular lands in question. The claim of the appellants would, therefore, still be but a latent equity, and the purchaser from the heir would be protected. He also insisted, that the respondents were protected by the former decree in the District Court. Although the Courts of the United States are Courts of limited jurisdiction, so that their judgments will be reversed on error, unless the jurisdiction appears upon the face of the record, yet they are not inferior Courts in a technical sense; and so long as their judgments remain unreversed, they are conclusive. Their judgments may be reversed in an appellate Court for this cause; but they are not mere nullities.
farch 16th. Mr. Justice WASHINGTON delivered the opinion
of the Court, and, after stating the case, proceeded as follows:
a Toller's Exec. 72.
6 Robertson, Wills, 50. See also 11 Vin. Abr. 58,59. i Vern. 391. i Ld. Raym. 251. 3 Mass. Rep. 518. 16 Mass. Rep. 441, Kerr v. Moon, 9 Wheat. Rep. 565. 570.
c Lewis v. Madison, 1 Munf. 303. .
reversed. lalon, and trial, Culo conclusive as
The question which the plea of Thompson's 1825. heirs, and the answer of Winship’s heirs, presents, is, whether the general decree of dismis
Sullivant. sion of the bill in equity, filed by the present plaintiffs in the Federal District Court of Ohio, con against the ancestor of these defendants, under United St whom they respectively claim title, is a bar of limited juris
diction. A the remedy which is sought to be enforced by the judgment of
those Courts present suit? The reason assigned by the repli- may be revers
ed for want of cation, why that decree cannot operate as a bar, jurisdiction is, that the proceedings in that suit do not show the face of the that the parties to it, plaintiffs and defendants, were citizens of different States, and that, consequently, the suit was coram non judice, and the antes adjudidecree void.
But this reason proceeds upon an incorrect view of the character and jurisdiction of the inferior Courts of the United States. They are all of limited jurisdiction ; but they are not, on that account, inferior Courts, in the technical sense of those words, whose judgments, taken alone, are to be disregarded. If the jurisdiction be not alleged in the proceedings, their judgments and decrees are erroneous, and may, upon a writ of error, or appeal, be reversed for that cause. But they are not absolute nullities. This opinion was strongly intimated, if not decided, by this Court, in the case of Kempe's lessee v. Kennedy, (5 Cranch's Rep. 185.) and was, afterwards, confirmed by the decision made in the case of Skillern's executors v. May's executors, (6 Cranch's Rep. 267.) That suit came before this Court upon a writ of error, where the decree
1825. of the Court below was reversed, and the cause
remanded for further proceedings to be had M-Corinick
v. therein. After this, it was discovered by that Sullivant.
Court, that the jurisdiction was not stated in the proceedings, and the question was made, whether that Court could dismiss the suit for that reason? This point, on which the Judges were divided, was certified to the Supreme Court, where it was decided, that the merits of the cause having been finally decided in this Court, and its mandate only requiring the execution of its decree, the Court below was bound to carry that decree into execution, notwithstanding the jurisdiction of that Court was not alleged in the pleadings. Now, it is very clear, that, if the decree had been considered as a nullity, on the ground that jurisdiction was not stated in the proceedings, this Court could not have required it to be executed by the inferior Court.
We are, therefore, of opinion, that the decree of dismission relied upon in this case, whilst it remains unreversed, is a valid bar of the present suit as to the above defendants..
The next question is presented by the answer of Finley. At the death of William Crawford, in the year 1782, he was entitled to a certain quantity of land to be laid off between the rivers Scioto and Little Miami, under a promise contained in an act of the legislature of Virginia. His interest in this land was purely an equitable one. After his death, a warrant to survey the same was granted to John Crawford, his only son and heir at law, who assigned to one Dyal a certain
tract which had been surveyed under the warrant, 1825. and the defendant claims a part of the tract so surveyed, under Beauchamp, who purchased from
Sullivant. Dyal. He alleges, in his answer, that he made the purchase bona fide, paid the purchase money, and obtained a grant for the land, before he had notice of the will of William Crawford, or of the claim of his daughters under it.
Crawford's will, under which the female complainants claim title, was proved in some Court in the county of Westmoreland, in the State of Pennsylvania, and was there admitted to record ; but it does not appear, nor is it even alleged, to have been at any time proved in the State of Virginia, or in the State of Ohio, where the lands in controversy lie.
At the time of the death of William Crawford, lands lying in Virginia were transmissible by last will and testament, in writing, the same being signed by the testator, or by some person in his presence, and by his direction, and if not wholly written by himself, being attested by two or more credible witnesses, in his presence. But to give validity and effect to such will, it was necessary that it should be duly proved, and admitted to record, in the Court of the county where the testator had his residence at the time of his decease, or, if he had no place of residence in that State, then in the Court of the county where the land devised lay, or it might be proved in the General Court, where the land was of a certain value. Subsequent to the death of William Crawford, an act of assembly was passed, which per