After the American Revolutionary War, the New York State legislature enacted a series of laws that stripped Tories, opponents of the revolution, of their property and privilege. One such law passed by the legislature in 1783 was the Trespass Act, which gave Patriots, supporters of the revolution, the legal right to sue anyone who had occupied, damaged, or destroyed homes that they had left behind British lines during the war, and it was the law that served as the foundation for this case.
Rutgers v. Waddington was presented on June 29, 1784, before Chief Justice James Duane and four additional aldermen. The plaintiff, Elizabeth Rutgers, owned a large brewery and alehouse that she was forced to abandon during the British occupation of New York City. Under the recently-enacted Trespass Act, Rutgers demanded rent by the sum of £8,000 from Joshua Waddington, who was running the brewery ever since it had been abandoned.
The defense's case was litigated by Alexander Hamilton, who posited that the Trespass Act violated the 1783 peace treaty, which had been ratified by the US Congress. Hamilton decided that the case would be a good test of ruling the legality of the Trespass Act.
Duane handed down a split verdict that entitled Rutgers to rent only from the time before the British occupation; and both parties agreed to the amount of £800. Pecuniary issues aside, the case more importantly set a precedent for Congress's legal authority over the states. To that effect, Duane wrote in his ruling that "no state in this union can alter or abridge, in a single point, the federal articles or the treaty."