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Law School Case Brief

In re Ayers - 123 U.S. 443, 8 S. Ct. 164 (1887)


Where the contract is between the individual and the State, no action will lie against the State, and any action founded upon it against defendants who are officers of the State, the object of which is to enforce its specific performance by compelling those things to be done by the defendants which, when done, would constitute a performance by the State, or to forbid the doing of those things which, if done, would be merely breaches of the contract by the State, is in substance a suit against the State itself, and equally within the prohibition of the Constitution. 


Petitioner state officers were imprisoned and fined after being found guilty of contempt and detained for disobeying an order of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Virginia, which restrained them from bringing or commencing any suit against any person who had tendered the state of Virginia's tax-receivable coupons in payment of taxes due to the state. The state officers each filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.


Should the petition for writ of habeas corpus be granted?




The state officers were granted release under habeas corpus. After review, the Court concluded that the acts alleged by the state officers were violations of the assumed contract between the state and complainants, and that the state officers, as individuals, not being parties to that contract, were not capable in law of committing a breach of it. The circuit court did not have jurisdiction to entertain the suit, so the court's orders adjudging the state officers in contempt were void, and their imprisonment was without authority of law.

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