« PreviousContinue »
The opinion of the Supreme Court of Errors in passing upon the case as presented by the report of the committee, and advising as to the decree to be rendered thereon, is reported in Stanton v. Embry, 46 Conn. 595.
The final decree entered in pursuance thereof, and affirmed by that court, is now, by writ of error, brought here by Embry for review.
Mr. Edward Lander and Mr. Amos L. Merriman for the plaintiff in error.
Mr. Jeremiah Halsey and Mr. Charles W. Hornor for the defendants in error.
MR. JUSTICE MATTHEWS, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.
A suggestion is made in argument that Embry is estopped to prosecute this writ to the reversal of the decree below, because it appears that the amount of money ordered by it to be paid to him as a condition of relief granted has been accepted by him. It is said that this is a release of errors. Without entering upon a discussion of the general question, it is sufficient for the present purpose to say that no waiver or release of errors, operating as a bar to the further prosecution of an appeal or writ of error, can be implied, except from conduct which is inconsistent with the claim of a right to reverse the judgment or decree, which it is sought to bring into review. If the release is not expressed, it can arise only upon the principle of an estoppel. The present is not such a case. The amount awarded, paid, and accepted constitutes no part of what is in controversy. Its acceptance by the plaintiff in error cannot be construed into an admission that the decree he seeks to reverse is not erroneous; nor does it take from the defendants in error anything, on the reversal of the decree, to which they would otherwise be entitled; for they cannot deny that this sum, at least, is due and payable from them to him. But in every point of view the objection is met and answered by the decision of this court in the case of United States v. Dashiel, 3 Wall. 688.
The jurisdiction of the court invoked by this writ of error is conferred by sect. 709, Rev. Stat., it being a case in which a title or right is claimed under an authority exercised under the
United States, and the decision of the State court being in denial of the title or right so asserted. It was decided in Dupasseur v. Rochereau, 21 Wall. 130, that such a question is undoubtedly raised whenever "a State court refuses to give effect to the judgment of a court of the United States rendered upon the point in dispute, and with jurisdiction of the case and of the parties." The judgment, which is the subject-matter of the litigation, is that of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, which is a court of the United States. The question we have to determine is whether the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut, in the decree complained of, gave to that judgment its due effect.
Section 905, Rev. Stat., which embodies the original act of May 26, 1790, c. 11, and the supplement thereto of March 27, 1804, c. 56, provides that the records and judicial proceedings, not only of the courts of any State, but also of any Territory, or of any country subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, authenticated as therein prescribed, "shall have such faith and credit given to them, in every court within the United States, as they have by law or usage in the courts of the State from which they are taken;" which, by supplying the ellipsis, must be taken to mean, such faith and credit as they are entitled to in the courts of the State, Territory, or other country subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. from which they are taken.
So far as this statutory provision relates to the effect to be given to the judicial proceedings of the States, it is founded on art. 4, sect. 1, of the Constitution, which, however, does not extend to the other cases covered by the statute. The power to prescribe what effect shall be given to the judicial proceedings of the courts of the United States is conferred by other provisions of the Constitution, such as those which declare the extent of the judicial power of the United States, which authorize all legislation necessary and proper for executing the powers vested by the Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof, and which declare the supremacy of the authority of the national government within the limits of the Constitution. As part of its general authority, the power to give effect to the judgments
of its courts is coextensive with its territorial jurisdiction. That the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia is a court of the United States, results from the right of exclusive legislation over the District which the Constitution has given to Congress. Accordingly, the judgments of the courts of the United States have invariably been recognized as upon the same footing, so far as concerns the obligation created by them, with domestic judgments of the States, wherever rendered and wherever sought to be enforced. Barney v. Patterson, 6 Har. & J. (Md.) 182; Niblett v. Scott, 4 La. Ann. 246; Adams v. Way, 33 Conn. 419; Womack v. Dearman, 7 Port. (Ala.) 513; Pepoon v. Jenkins, 2 Johns. (N. Y.) Cas. 119; Williams v. Wilkes, 14 Pa. St. 228; Turnbull v. Payson, 95 U. S. 418; Cage's Ex'rs v. Cassidy, 23 How. 109; Galpin v. Page, 3 Sawyer, 93, 109.
The rule for determining what effect shall be given to such judgments is that declared by this court, in respect to the faith and credit to be given to the judgments of State courts in the courts of other States, in the case of M'Elmoyle v. Cohen, 13 Pet. 312, 326, where it was said: "They are record evidence of a debt, or judgments of record, to be contested only in such way as judgments of record may be; and, consequently, are conclusive upon the defendant in every State, except for such causes as would be sufficient to set aside the judgment in the courts of the State in which it was rendered."
The question then arises, what causes would have been sufficient in the District of Columbia, according to the law then in force, to have authorized its courts to set aside the judgment recovered there by Embry against Stanton and Palmer?
This is answered by the decision of this court, upon the point, in the case of Marine Insurance Company of Alexandria v. Hodgson, 7 Cranch, 332. That was a bill in equity, filed in a court of the District of Columbia, perpetually to enjoin the collection of so much of a judgment at law recovered in the District as was in excess of an amount claimed to be the sum equitably due. The grounds of relief alleged were that a fraud had been practised upon the underwriters in a valued policy of marine insurance, by an over-valuation of the ship, and that the complainant had been prevented from making the defence
at law. Chief Justice Marshall, delivering the opinion of the court, affirming the decree of the court below dismissing the bill, stated the rule as follows:
“Without attempting to draw any precise line to which courts of equity will advance, and which they cannot pass, in restraining parties from availing themselves of judgments obtained at law, it may safely be said that any fact which clearly proves it to be against conscience to execute a judgment, and of which the injured party could not have availed himself in a court of law, or of which he might have availed himself at law, but was prevented by fraud or accident, unmixed with any fault or negligence in himself or his agents, will justify an application to a court of chancery. On the other hand, it may with equal safety be laid down as a general rule that a defence cannot be set up in equity which has been fully and fairly tried at law, although it may be the opinion of that court that the defence ought to have been sustained at law. In the case under consideration the plaintiffs ask the aid of this court to relieve them from a judgment, on account of a defence, which, if good anywhere, was good at law, and which they were not prevented, by the act of the defendants, or by any pure and unmixed accident, from making at law."
This was held to be the law prevailing in the District of Columbia, not by reason of any local peculiarity, but because it was a general principle of equity jurisprudence. It was repeated in Hendrickson v. Hinckley, 17 How. 443, where the rule was condensed by Mr. Justice Curtis into the following statement: "A court of equity does not interfere with judg ments at law, unless the complainant has an equitable defence, of which he could not avail himself at law, because it did not amount to a legal defence, or had a good defence at law, which he was prevented from availing himself of by fraud or accident, unmixed with negligence of himself or his agents." Creath v. Sims, 5 How. 192; Walker v. Robbins, 14 id. 584. It was reaffirmed in Crim v. Handley, 94 U. S. 652, and in Brown v. County of Buena Vista, 95 id. 157.
This is the doctrine recognized and applied by the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut in the case of Pearce v. Olney, 20 Conn. 544. That was a bill in equity to restrain the collec
tion of a judgment recovered in New York, upon the ground that the complainant had a good defence at law to the action, which he was prevented from making by the fraud of the defendant. It was there said by that court: "It is well settled that this jurisdiction will be exercised, whenever a party, having a good defence to an action at law, has had no opportunity to make it, or has been prevented by the fraud or improper management of the other party from making it, and by reason thereof a judgment has been obtained which it is against conscience to enforce." Then stating that the action was founded on an alleged contract, on which the complainant was not personally liable, having been made by him as agent for a corporation, and that this was known to the party suing, the court continue: "If this was all, the plaintiff would have no remedy, however unjust it might be to compel him to pay that judgment. Still, as he was duly served with process in that suit, it was his duty to make defence in it; and an injunction ought not to be granted to relieve him from the consequences of his own neglect."
The court then proceeds to show that he not only had a good defence, but that it was his intention to make it, which he would have done had he not been led by the assurances of the attorney for the plaintiff in the action to believe that it had been abandoned, so that its subsequent prosecution, without further notice, operated as a surprise, tantamount to a fraud; and that, consequently, there was no ground on which to impute laches to the complainant in not defending himself at law.
A subsequent action was brought in New York upon the same judgment by an assignee of the plaintiff, to which the defendant set up as a bar the Connecticut decree perpetually enjoining its execution, which, by the judgment of the Court of Appeals of New York, was sustained. Dobson v. Pearce, 12 N. Y. 156. The court said: "The decree of the Court of Chancery of the State of Connecticut, as an operative decree, so far as it enjoined and restrained the parties, had and has no extra-territorial efficacy, as an injunction does not affect the courts of this State; but the judgment of the court upon the matters litigated is conclusive upon the parties everywhere and in every forum where the same matters are drawn in question.