137 US 287 Grover Baker Co v. Radcliffe

137 U.S. 287

11 S.Ct. 92

34 L.Ed. 670


December 8, 1890.

[Statement of Case from pages 287-292 intentionally omitted]

Albert Constable, for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 292-294 intentionally omitted]

J. A. J. Creswell, for defendant in error.

Mr. Chief Justice FULLR , after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

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The Maryland circuit court arrived at its conclusion upon the ground that the statute of Pennsylvania relied on did not authorize the prothonotary of the court of common pleas of that state to enter the judgment; and the court of appeals of Maryland reached the same result upon the ground that the judgment was void as against John Benge, because the court rendering it had acquired no jurisdiction over his person. It is settled that notwithstanding the provision of the constitution of the United States, which declares that 'full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every otherstate,' (article 4, § 1,) and the act of congress passed in pursuance thereof, (1 St. 122; Rev. St. § 905,) and notwithstanding the averments in the record of the judgment itself, the jurisdiction of the court by which a judgment is rendered in any state may be questioned in a collateral proceeding; that the jurisdiction of a foreign court over the person or the subject-matter, embraced in the judgment or decree of such court, is always open to inquiry; that, in this respect, a court of another state is to be regarded as a foreign court; and that a personal judgment is without validity if rendered by a state court in an action upon a money demand against a non-resident of the state, upon whom no personal service of process within the state was made, and who did not appear. D'Arcy v. Ketchum, 11 How. 165; Thompson v. Whitman, 18 Wall. 457; Hall v. Lanning, 91 U. S. 160; Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U. S. 714. The rule is not otherwise in the state of Pennsylvania, where the judgment in question was rendered, (Guthrie v. Lowry, 84 Pa. St. 533; Scott v. Noble, 72 Pa. St. 115; Noble v. Oil Co., 79 Pa. St. 354; Steel v. Smith, 7 Watts & S. 447;) nor in the state of Maryland, where the action under review was brought upon it, (Bank of United States v. Merchants' Bank, 7 Gill, 415; Clark v. Bryan, 16 Md. 171; Weaver v. Boggs, 38 Md. 255.) And the distinction between the validity of a judgment rendered in one state, under its local laws upon the subject, and its validity in another state, is recognized by the highest tribunals of each of these states. Thus, in Steel v. Smith, 7 Watts & S. 447, it was decided, in 1844, that a judgment of a court of another state does not bind the person of the defendant, in another jurisdiction, though it might do so under the laws of the state in which the action was brought, and that the act of congress does not preclude inquiry into the jurisdiction, or the right of the state to confer it. The action was brought on a judgment rendered in Louisiana, and Mr. Chief Justice GIBSON, in delivering the opinion of the court, said: 'The record shows that there was service on one of the joint owners which, in the estimation of the law of the court, is service on all; for it is affirmed in Hill v. Bowman, already quoted, [14 La. 445,] that the state of Louisiana holds all persons amenable to the process of her courts, whether citizens or aliens, and whether present or absent. It was ruled in George v. Fitzgerald, 12 La. 604, that a defendant, though he reside in another state, having neither domicile, interest, nor agent in Louisiana, and having never been within its territorial limits, may yet be sued in its courts by the instrumentality of a curator appointed by the court to represent and defend him. All this is clear enough, as well as that there was in this instance a general appearance by attorney, and a judgment against all the defendants, which would have full faith and credit given to it in the courts of the state. But that a judgment is always regular when there has been an appearance by attorney, with or without warrant, and that it cannot be impeached collaterally for anything but fraud or collusion, is a municipal principle, and not an international one having place in a question of state jurisdiction or sovereignty. Now, though the courts of o uisiana would enforce this judgment against the persons of the defendants, if found within reach of their process, yet, where there is an attempt to enforce it by the process of another state, it behooves the court whose assistance is invoked to look narrowly into the constitutional injunction, and give the statute to carry it out a reasonable interpretation.' Referring to section 1307 of Mr. Justice Story's Commentaries on the Constitution, and the cases cited, to which he adds Benton v. Burgot, 10 Serg. & R. 240, the learned judge inquires: 'What, then, is the right of a state to exercise authority over the persons of those who belong to another jurisdiction, and who have perhaps not been out of the boundaries of it?' and quotes from Vattel, Burge, and from Mr. Justice Story, (Confl. Laws, c. 14, § 539,) that "no sovereignty can extend its process beyond its own territorial limits, to subject other persons or property to its judicial decisions. Every exertion of authority beyond these limits is a mere pullity, and incapable of binding such persons or property in other tribunals;" and thus continues: 'Such is the familiar, reasonable, and just principle of the law of nations; and it is scarce supposable that the framers of the constitution designed to abrogate it between states which were to remain as independent of each other, for all but national purposes, as they were before the Revolution. Certainly it was not intended to legitimate an assumption of extraterritorial jurisdiction which would confound all distinctive principles of separate sovereignty; and there evidently was such an assumption in the proceedings under consideration. * * * But I would perhaps do the jurisprudence of Louisiana injustice, did I treat its cognizance of the defendants as an act of usurpation. It makes no claim to extraterritorial authority, but merely concludes the party in its own courts, and leaves the rest to the constitution as carried out by the act of congress. When, however, a creditor asks us to give such a judgment what is in truth an extraterritorial effect, he asks us to do what we will not, till we are compelled by a mandate of the court in the last resort.'


In Weaver v. Boggs, 38 Md. 255, it was held that suit could not be maintained in the courts of Maryland upon a judgment of a court of Pennsylvania rendered upon returns of nihil to two successive writs of scire facias issued to revive a Pennsylvania judgment of more than 20 years' standing, where the defendant had for than 20 years next before the issuing of the writs resided in Maryland, and out of the jurisdiction of the court that rendered the judgment. The court said: 'It is well settled that a judgment obtained in a court of one state cannot be enforced in the courts and against a citizen of another, unless the court rendering the judgment has acquired jurisdiction over the defendant by actual service of process upon him, or by his voluntary appearance to the suit and submission to that jurisdiction. Such a judgment may be perfectly valid in the jurisdiction where rendered, and enforced there even against the property, effects, and credits of a non-resident defendant there situated, but it cannot be enforced or made the foundation of an action in another state. A law which substitutes constructive for actual notice is binding upon persons domiciled within the state where such law prevails, and as respects the property of others there situated, but can bind neither person nor property beyond its limits. This rule is based upon international law, and upon that natural protection which every country owes to its own citizens. It concedes the jurisdiction of the court to the extent of the state where the judgment is rendered, but upon the principle that it would be unjust to its own citizens to give effect to the judgments of a foreign tribunal against them when they had no opportunity of being heard, its validity is denied.' Publicists concur that domicile generally determines the* particua r territorial jurisprudence to which every individual is subjected. As correctly said by Mr. Wharton, the nationality of our citizens is that of the United States, and by the laws of the United States they are bound in all matters in which the United States are sovereign; but in other matters, their domicile is in the particular state, and that determines the applicatory territorial jurisprudence. A foreign judgment is impeachable for want of personal service within the jurisdiction of the defendant, this being internationally essential to jurisdiction in all cases in which the defendant is not a subject of the state entering judgment, and it is competent for a defendant in an action on a judgment of a sister state, as in an action on a foreign judgment, to set up, as a defense, want of jurisdiction, in that he was not an inhabitant of the state rendering the judgment, and had not been served with process, and did not enter his appearance. Whart. Confl. Laws, §§ 32, 654, 660; Story, Confl. Laws, §§ 539, 540, 586. John Benge was a citizen of Maryland when he executed this obligation. The subject-matter of the suit against him in Pennsylvania was merely the determination of his personal liability, and it was necessary to the validity of the judgment at least elsewhere that it should appear from the record that he had been brought within the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania court by service of process, or his voluntary appearance, or that he had in some manner authorized the proceeding. By the bond in question he authorized 'any attorney of any court of record in the state of New York, or any other state, to confess judgment against him (us) for the said sum, with release of errors,' etc. But the record did not show, nor is it contended, that he was served with process, or voluntarily appeared, or that judgment was confessed by an attorney of any court of record of Pennsylvania. Upon its face, then, the judgment was invalid, and to be treated as such when offered in evidence in the Maryland court. It is said, however, that the judgment was entered against Benge by a prothonotary, and that the prothonotary had power to do this under the statute of Pennsylvania of February 24, 1806. Laws Pa. 1805-6, p. 347. This statute was proved as a fact upon the trial in Maryland, and may be assumed to have authorized the action taken, though under Connay v. Halstead, 73 Pa. St. 354, that may, perhaps, be doubtful. And it is argued that the statute, being in force at the time this instrument was executed, should be read into it and considered as forming a part of it, and therefore that John Benge had consented that judgment might be thus entered up against him without service of process or appearance in person or by attorney. But we do not think that a citizen of another state than Pennsylvania can be thus presumptively held to knowledge and acceptance of particular statutes of the latter state. What Benge authorized was a confession of judgment by any attorney of any court of record in the state of New York or any other state, and he had a right to insist upon the letter of the authority conferred. By its terms he did not consent to be bound by the local laws of every state in the Union relating to the rendition of judgment against their own citizens without service or appearance, but, on the contrary, made such appearance a condition of judgment. And even if judgment could have been entered against him, not being served and not appearing in each of the states of the Union, in accordance with the laws therein existing upon the subject, he could not be held liable upon such judgment in any other state than that in which it was so rendered, contrary to the laws and policy of such state. The courts of Maryland were not bound to hold this judgment as obligatory either on the ground of comity or of duty, thereby permitting the law of another state to override their own. No color to any other view is given by our decisions in Johnson v. Elevator Co., 119 U. S. 388, 400, 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 254, and Hp kins v. Orr, 124 U. S. 510, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 590, cited for plaintiff in error. Those cases involved the rendition of judgments against sureties on restitution and appeal bonds if judgment went against their principals, and the sureties signed with reference to the particular statute under which each bond was given, nor did, nor could, any such question arise therein as that presented in the case at bar. Judgment affirmed.