Jurisdiction: A Prerequisite to Enforcement of Judgments

Jurisdiction: A Prerequisite to Enforcement of Judgments

The jurisdictional question arises both in connection with judgments in personam against nonresident defendants to whom it is alleged personal service was not obtained in the State originating the judgment and in relation to judgments in rem against property or a status alleged not to have been within the jurisdiction of the court which handed down the original decree.27 Records and proceedings of courts wanting jurisdiction are not entitled to credit.28

Judgments in Personam.—When the subject matter of a suit is merely the defendant’s liability, it is necessary that it should appear from the record that the defendant has been brought within the jurisdiction of the court by personal service of process, or by his voluntary appearance, or that he had in some manner authorized the proceeding.29 Thus, when a state court endeavored to acquire jurisdiction of a nonresident defendant by an attachment of his property within the State and constructive notice to him, its judgment was defective for want of jurisdiction and hence could not afford the basis of an action against the defendant in the court of another State, although it bound him so far as the property attached by virtue of the inherent right of a State to assist its own citizens in obtaining satisfaction of their just claims.30

The fact that a nonresident defendant was only temporarily in the State when he was served in the original action does not vitiate the judgment thus obtained and later relied upon as the basis of an action in his home State.31 Also a judgment rendered in the State of his domicile against a defendant who, pursuant to the statute thereof providing for the service of process on absent defendants, was personally served in another State is entitled to full faith and credit.32 When the matter of fact or law on which jurisdiction depends was not litigated in the original suit, it is a matter to be adjudicated in the suit founded upon the judgment.33

27 Cooper v. Reynolds, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 308 (1870); Western Union Tel. Co. v. Pennsylvania, 368 U.S. 71 (1961). Full faith and credit extends to the issue of the original court’s jurisdiction, when the second court’s inquiry discloses that the question of jurisdiction had been fully and fairly litigated and finally decided in the court which rendered the original judgment. Durfee v. Duke, 375 U.S. 106 (1963); Underwriters Assur. Co. v. North Carolina Life Ins. Ass'n, 455 U.S. 691 (1982).

28 Board of Public Works v. Columbia College, 84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 521, 528 (1873). See also Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co., 127 U.S. 265, 291 (1888); Huntington v. Attrill, 146 U.S. 657, 685 (1892); Brown v. Fletcher’s Estate, 210 U.S. 82 (1908); Bigelow v. Old Dominion Copper Co., 225 U.S. 111 (1912); Spokane Inland R.R. v. Whitley, 237 U.S. 487 (1915). However, a denial of credit, founded upon a mere suggestion of want of jurisdiction and unsupported by evidence, violates the clause. Rogers v. Alabama, 192 U.S. 226, 231 (1904); Wells Fargo & Co. v. Ford, 238 U.S. 503 (1915).

29 Grover & Baker Machine Co. v. Radcliffe, 137 U.S. 287 (1890). See also Galpin v. Page, 85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 350 (1874); Old Wayne Life Ass'n v. McDonough, 204 U.S. 8 (1907); Brown v. Fletcher’s Estate, 210 U.S. 82 (1908).

30 Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 (1878). See, for a reformulation of this case’s due process foundation, Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977).

31 Renaud v. Abbot, 116 U.S. 277 (1886); Jaster v. Currie, 198 U.S. 144 (1905); Reynolds v. Stockton, 140 U.S. 254 (1891).

32 Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463 (1940). In the pioneer case of D'Arcy v. Ketchum, 52 U.S. (1 How.) 165 (1851), the question presented was whether a judgment rendered by a New York court, under a statute which provided that, when joint debtors were sued and one of them was brought into court on a process, a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would entitle him to execute against all, must be accorded full faith and credit in Louisiana when offered as a basis of an action in debt against a resident of that State who had not been served by process in the New York action. The Court ruled that the original implementing statute, 1 Stat. 122 (1790), did not reach this type of case, and hence the New York judgment was not enforceable in Louisiana against defendant. Had the Louisiana defendant thereafter ventured to New York, however, he could, as the Constitution then stood, have been subjected to the judgment to the same extent as the New York defendant who had been personally served. Subsequently, the disparity between operation of personal judgment in the home State has been eliminated, because of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. In divorce cases, however, it still persists in some measure. See infra.

33 Adam v. Saenger, 303 U.S. 59, 62 (1938).

Inasmuch as the principle of res judicata applies only to proceedings between the same parties and privies, the plea by defendant in an action based on a judgment that he was not party or privy to the original action raises the question of jurisdiction; while a judgment against a corporation in one State may validly bind a stockholder in another State to the extent of the par value of his holdings,34 an administrator acting under a grant of administration in one State stands in no sort of relation of privity to an administrator of the same estate in another State.35 But where a judgment of dismissal was entered in a federal court in an action against one of two joint tortfeasors, in a State in which such a judgment would constitute an estoppel in another action in the same State against the other tortfeasor, such judgment is not entitled to full faith and credit in an action brought against the tortfeasor in another State.36

Service on Foreign Corporations.—In 1856, the Court decided Lafayette Ins. Co. v. French,37 a pioneer case in its general class. Here it was held that “where a corporation chartered by the State of Indiana was allowed by a law of Ohio to transact business in the latter State upon the condition that service of process upon the agent of the corporation should be considered as service upon the corporation itself, a judgment obtained against the corporation by means of such process” ought to receive in Indiana the same faith and credit as it was entitled to in Ohio.38 Later cases establish under both the Fourteenth Amendment and article IV, § 1, that the cause of action must have arisen within the State obtaining service in this way,39 that service on an officer of a corporation, not its resident agent and not present in the State in an official capacity, will not confer jurisdiction over the corporation,40 that the question whether the corporation was actually “doing business” in the State may be raised.41 On the other hand, the fact that the business was interstate is no objection.42

34 Hancock Nat'l Bank v. Farnum, 176 U.S. 640 (1900).

35 Stacy v. Thrasher, 47 U.S. (6 How.) 44, 58 (1848).

36 Bigelow v. Old Dominion Copper Co., 225 U.S. 111 (1912).

37 59 U.S. (18 How.) 404 (1856).

Service on Nonresident Motor Vehicle Owners.—By analogy to the above cases, it has been held that a State may require nonresident owners of motor vehicles to designate an official within the State as an agent upon whom process may be served in any legal proceedings growing out of their operation of a motor vehicle within the State.43 While these cases arose under the Fourteenth Amendment alone, unquestionably a judgment validly obtained upon this species of service could be enforced upon the owner of a car through the courts of his home State.

Judgments in Rem.—In sustaining the challenge to jurisdiction in cases involving judgments in personam, the Court in the main was making only a somewhat more extended application of recognized principles. In order to sustain the same kind of challenge in cases involving judgments in rem it has had to make law outright. The leading case is Thompson v. Whitman.44 Thompson, sheriff of Monmouth County, New Jersey, acting under a New Jersey statute, had seized a sloop belonging to Whitman and by a proceeding in rem had obtained its condemnation and forfeiture in a local court. Later, Whitman, a citizen of New York, brought an action for trespass against Thompson in the United States Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York, and Thompson answered by producing a record of the proceedings before the New Jersey tribunal. Whitman thereupon set up the contention that the New Jersey court had acted without jurisdiction, inasmuch as the sloop which was the subject matter of the proceedings had been seized outside the county to which, by the statute under which it had acted, its jurisdiction was confined.

38 To the same effect is Connecticut Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Spratley, 172 U.S. 602 (1899).

39 Simon v. Southern Ry., 236 U.S. 115 (1915).

40 Goldey v. Morning News, 156 U.S. 518 (1895); Riverside Mills v. Menfee, 237 U.S. 189 (1915).

41 International Harvester v. Kentucky, 234 U.S. 579 (1914). Riverside Mills v. Menefee, 237 U.S. 189 (1915).

42 International Harvester v. Kentucky, 234 U.S. 579 (1914).

43 Kane v. New Jersey, 242 U.S. 160 (1916); Hess v. Pawloski, 274 U.S. 352 (1927), limited in Wuchter v. Pizzutti, 276 U.S. 13 (1928).

44 85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 457 (1874).

As previously explained, the plea of lack of privity cannot be set up in defense in a sister State against a judgment in rem. In a proceeding in rem, however, the presence of the res within the court’s jurisdiction is a prerequisite, and this, it was urged, had not been the case in Thompson v. Whitman. Could, then, the Court consider this challenge with respect to a judgment which was offered, not as the basis for an action for enforcement through the courts of a sister State but merely as a defense in a collateral action? As the law stood in 1873, it apparently could not.45 All difficulties, nevertheless, to its consideration of the challenge to jurisdiction in the case were brushed aside by the Court. Whenever, it said, the record of a judgment rendered in a state court is offered “in evidence” by either of the parties to an action in another State, it may be contradicted as to the facts necessary to sustain the former court’s jurisdiction; “and if it be shown that such facts did not exist, the record will be a nullity, notwithstanding the claim that they did exist.”46


46 See also Simmons v. Saul, 138 U.S. 439, 448 (1891). In other words, the challenge to jurisdiction is treated as equivalent to the plea nul tiel record, a plea which was recognized even in Mills v. Duryee as available against an attempted invocation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause. What is not pointed out by the Court is that it was also assumed in the earlier case that such a plea could always be rebutted by producing a transcript, properly authenticated in accordance with the act of Congress, of the judgment in the original case. See also Brown v. Fletcher’s Estate, 210 U.S. 82 (1908); German Savings Soc'y v. Dormitzer, 192 U.S. 125, 128 (1904); Grover & Baker Machine Co. v. Radcliffe, 137 U.S. 287, 294 (1890).

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Last modified: June 9, 2014