Fayerweather v. Ritch , 195 U.S. 276 ( 1904 )

  • 195 U.S. 276 (1904)


    Nos. 157, 158.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued October 12, 13, 1904.
    Decided November 28, 1904.

    *288 Mr. Roger M. Sherman for appellant in No. 157 and Mr. William Blaikie for appellant in No. 158. Mr. Charles Andrews submitted a brief for appellants in Nos. 157 and 158.

    Mr. Elihu Root, with whom Mr. James L. Bishop, Mr. William Forse Scott, Mr. William Ford Upson, Mr. John McL. Nash, Mr. C.N. Bovee, Mr. Thomas H. Hubbard, Mr. Stewart L. Woodford, Mr. Horace Russell, Mr. Henry L. Stimson, Mr. Alfred W. Kiddle, Mr. Seth Sprague Terry, Mr. George G. Reynolds, Mr. Henry B. Twombly, Mr. Haley Fiske and Mr. Henry Stoddard were on the brief, for various colleges, appellees.

    Mr. John E. Parsons for appellees, Bulkley and Vaughan, and Mr. C.N. Bovce for appellees, Ritch and Marietta College, submitted a separate brief.

    Mr. Thomas H. Hubbard submitted a separate brief for appellee, President and Trustees of Bowdoin College.

    *297 MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

    Our jurisdiction of this direct appeal from the decision of the Circuit Court is invoked on the ground that the case involves the application of the Constitution of the United States.

    The contention is that by Article V of the amendments to the Federal Constitution no person can "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;" that these plaintiffs were entitled to large shares of the estate of Daniel B. Fayerweather; that they were deprived of this property by the judgment of the Circuit Court, which gave unwarranted effect to a judgment of the state courts; that this action of the Circuit Court is not to be considered a mere error in the progress of a trial, but a deprivation of property under the forms of legal procedure. In Chicago, Burlington &c. Railroad v. Chicago, 166 U.S. 226, we held that a judgment of a state court might be here reviewed if it operated to deprive a party of his property without due process of law, and that the fact that the parties were properly brought into court and admitted to make defense was not absolutely conclusive upon the question of due process. We said (p. 234):

    "But a State may not, by any of its agencies, disregard the prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment. Its judicial authorities may keep within the letter of the statute prescribing forms of procedure in the courts and give the parties interested the fullest opportunity to be heard, and yet it might be that its final action would be inconsistent with that amendment. In determining what is due process of law regard must be had to substance, not to form. This court, referring to the Fourteenth Amendment, has said: `Can a State make anything due process of law which, by its own legislation, it chooses to declare such? To affirm this is to hold that the prohibition to the States is of no avail, or has no application where the invasion of private rights is effected under the forms of state legislation.' Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97, 102. The *298 same question could be propounded, and the same answer should be made, in reference to judicial proceedings inconsistent with the requirement of due process of law. If compensation for private property taken for public use is an essential element of due process of law as ordained by the Fourteenth Amendment, then the final judgment of a state court, under the authority of which the property is in fact taken, is to be deemed the act of the State within the meaning of that amendment."

    And again (pp. 236, 237):

    "The mere form of the proceeding instituted against the owner, even if he be admitted to defend, cannot convert the process used into due process of law, if the necessary result be to deprive him of his property without compensation."

    If a judgment of a state court can be reviewed by this court on error upon the ground that, although the forms of law were observed, it necessarily operated to wrongfully deprive a party of his property (as indicated by the decision just referred to) a judgment of the Circuit Court of the United States, claimed to give such unwarranted effect to a decision of a state court as to accomplish the same result, may also be considered as presenting the question how far it can be sustained in the view of the prohibitory language of the Fifth Amendment, and thus involve the application of the Constitution. It is said that the right of these plaintiffs to share in the estate of Daniel B. Fayerweather is undoubted, unless destroyed by the releases they executed; that the fundamental question presented in the trial court of the State was the validity of those releases; that notwithstanding this that court came to its conclusion and rendered its judgment without any determination thereof; that the appellate courts wrongfully assumed that the trial court had decided the question, and rendered their judgments upon that assumption, so that the necessary result of the proceedings in the state courts was a deprivation of the right of the plaintiff's to a share of the estate, without any finding of the vital fact which alone could destroy their right. The *299 contention is not that the state courts erred in their finding in respect to this fact, but that there never was any finding. Such decision of the state courts, made without any finding of the fundamental fact, was accepted in the Circuit Court of the United States as a conclusive determination of the fact. Although these plaintiffs were parties to the proceedings in the state courts and presented their claim of right, if it be true that the necessary result of the course of procedure in those courts was a denial of their rights — a taking away and depriving them of their property without any judicial determination of the fact upon which alone such deprivation could be justified — a case is presented coming directly within the decision in 166 U.S. supra. Giving effect in the Circuit Court to the state judgment does not change the character of the question. It is simply adding the force of a new determination to one wrongfully obtained, and adding it upon no new facts. Whether the contention of the plaintiffs in respect to the character of the state proceedings can be sustained or not is a question upon the merits and does not determine the matter of jurisdiction. That depends upon whether there is presented a bona fide and reasonable question of the wrongful character of the proceedings in the state courts and the necessary result therefrom. We are of opinion that the jurisdiction of this court must be sustained.

    We pass, therefore, to consider the merits of the case. Private right and public welfare unite in demanding that a question once adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction shall, except indirect proceedings to review, be considered as finally settled and conclusive upon the parties. Interest reipubliae at sit finis litium. But in order to make this finality rightful it should appear that the question was distinctly put in issue; that the parties presented their evidence, or at least had an opportunity to present it, and that the question was decided. Cases of an alleged prior adjudication have frequently been presented in this court and the scope of a plea thereof fully determined. In the leading *300 case of Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 352, we said:

    "In considering the operation of this judgment, it should be borne in mind, as stated by counsel, that there is a difference between the effect of a judgment as a bar or estoppel against the prosecution of a second action upon the same claim or demand, and its effect as an estoppel in another action between the same parties upon a different claim or cause of action. In the former case, the judgment, if rendered upon the merits, constitutes an absolute bar to a subsequent action. It is a finality as to the claim or demand in controversy, concluding parties and those in privity with them, not only as to every matter which was offered and received to sustain or defeat the claim or demand, but as to any other admissible matter which might have been offered for that purpose. Thus, for example, a judgment rendered upon a promissory note is conclusive as to the validity of the instrument and the amount due upon it, although it be subsequently alleged that perfect defenses actually existed, of which no proof was offered, such as forgery, want of consideration, or payment. If such defenses were not presented in the action, and established by competent evidence, the subsequent allegation of their existence is of no legal consequence. The judgment is as conclusive, so far as future proceedings at law are concerned, as though the defenses never existed. The language, therefore, which is so often used, that a judgment estops not only as to every ground of recovery or defense actually presented in the action, but also as to every ground which might have been presented, is strictly accurate, when applied to the demand or claim in controversy. Such demand or claim, having passed into judgment, cannot again be brought into litigation between the parties in proceedings at law upon any ground whatever."

    See also Wilson's Executor v. Deen, 121 U.S. 525; Hefner v. Northwestern Life Ins. Co., 123 U.S. 747; Wiggins Ferry Co. v. O. & M. Ry. Co., 142 U.S. 396; Nesbit v. Riverside Independent *301 District, 144 U.S. 610; Johnson Company v. Wharton, 152 U.S. 252; Dowell v. Applegate, 152 U.S. 327; Last Chance Mining Company v. Tyler Mining Company, 157 U.S. 683; New Orleans v. Citizens' Bank, 167 U.S. 371; Southern Pacific R.R. Co. v. United States, 168 U.S. 1; Bryar v. Campbell, 177 U.S. 649; United States v. California & Oregon Land Company, 192 U.S. 355, 358.

    The state court was one of competent jurisdiction, and the present contestants were before that court, taking part in the litigation. The validity of the releases was put in issue by the pleadings, and no judgment could properly have been rendered without a determination of that question. The colleges sought to enforce a secret trust, but the property covered by the trust, together with that passing under the ninth article of the will, was the bulk of the estate — far more than half. Such a disposition of the testator's property was in contravention of the laws of New York. They who would take the estate in case of intestacy had a right to object to the enforcement of the trust. Only on condition that they waived their objections and released could it be sustained. The judgment enforced it. It therefore practically determined that the releases were valid, and decided against the contention of these plaintiffs that they were fraudulent and void. All this is evident from a perusal of the pleadings. The appellants concede this and rest their claim in the Federal court partly upon that basis. Thus, in their brief it is said:

    "The issues so joined came on to be tried in the state Supreme Court; these complainants gave evidence tending to prove their allegations, and thereupon it became the duty of the court to adjudge whether the releases which they assailed were invalid and whether they were entitled to the affirmative relief prayed. The issues so tendered were necessary to be determined before any valid judgment upon those issues could be given pursuant to due process of law, the law of the land and the provisions of the Constitution of the United States."

    The case was tried by the court without a jury. No special *302 findings of fact were made. According to testimony given on the trial of this case in the Circuit Court the omission to make special findings was with the acquiescence (if not at the instance) of all the counsel appearing in the state court. The decree adjudged that the residuary estate was held in trust for the colleges named in the ninth article of the will, enjoined the residuary legatees from distributing any portion of that estate under the deed of gift, and directed that it be paid over to the respective colleges. The ordinary rule in respect to a judgment without any special findings is that it, like a general verdict of a jury, is tantamount to a finding in favor of the successful party of all the facts necessary to sustain the judgment. In the general term, on the appeal taken to it, two opinions were filed. One by Judge Follett, in which Judge Parker concurred, and one by the presiding judge, Van Brunt. Judge Follett, after stating that the executors of the testator's widow and two of his heirs at law and next of kin sought to have the residuary clause declared invalid, under chap. 360 of the Laws of 1860, said:

    "The difficulty with their contention is that the widow and heirs released all of their interest in the estate, for valuable considerations paid to them. . . . It is urged that these releases were procured by fraud and undue influences. There is no evidence in the record justifying this contention. The terms of settlement were agreed on during the controversy in the surrogate's court over the probate of the will and codicils, and the widow and heirs were represented in that controversy, and in the settlement, by distinguished counsel and acted under their advice. . . . If the person entitled to contest a will, or some one or more of its provisions, voluntarily and for a valuable consideration, received after the testator's death, with full knowledge of the invalidity of the will, divests himself of all interest in the property attempted to be disposed of by it, he cannot impeach its validity."

    Presiding Judge Van Brunt thus stated his conclusions:

    "The testator left him surviving a widow, who was the only *303 person who could call into operation for her protection the statute which we have quoted. The widow, however, has released to the executors all claims to the estate, which release cannot be successfully attacked or set aside. There is consequently no person for whose benefit the statute can operate.

    "No rights of heirs and next of kin have been infringed upon, because the trust does not contravene any statute for their benefit, and is not the subject of attack by them. If it were, they have also executed a release of their interest in the estate in the same manner as the widow.

    "We have therefore the case of a trust established, which would be valid as against all the world but for the statute in favor of the widow, and the widow, having released all her rights in the estate, how can her representatives claim the invalidity of a trust as to property in which she had no interest?"

    The opinion in the Court of Appeals was delivered by Judge Vann, and concurred in by all of the judges except Chief Judge Andrews. In it it is said:

    "Although the decision by the special term and the affirmance by the general term were general in form, necessarily some facts were found by those courts, even if they are not specified in the record. Otherwise the burden of deciding questions of fact would be cast upon this court, which has jurisdiction to decide only questions of law. We think that the effect of a decision by the trial court without expressing the facts found is the same as if there had been a general verdict rendered by a jury, and that the same presumptions arise in its support.

    * * * * * * * *

    "We are of the opinion, therefore, that where the decision of the special term does not state the facts found, and the judgment entered thereon has been affirmed by the general term, upon an appeal to this court, all the facts, warranted by the evidence and necessary to support the judgments below, are presumed to have been found. Hence, upon such an appeal, we have no more control over the facts than we have *304 when specific findings are made by the special term and affirmed by the general term. This conclusion takes the question as to the fraud alleged to have been practiced by the residuary legatees upon the widow and next of kin in procuring the releases out of the case, for it cannot be said on the record before us that the evidence tending to show fraud is so irresistible as to make the omission to find fraud an error of law. Assuming that there was evidence enough to warrant the inference of fraud, there was also ample evidence to warrant the inference there was no fraud. A question of fact was thus presented which is beyond our power of review."

    Thus the Court of Appeals held in accord with the ordinary ruling as to the effect of a judgment without findings. So it has frequently decided. In Bartlett v. Goodrich, 153 N.Y. 421, 424, it said:

    "The learned trial judge held that the plaintiff was entitled to recover, and the general term has affirmed the judgment. There were no findings made as the result of the trial, but simply a brief statement of the ground of the decision. In this condition of the record we must presume that all facts warranted by the evidence, and necessary to support the judgment, have been found. (Amherst College v. Ritch, 151 N.Y. 282.) The appeal, therefore, cannot prevail unless it appears, as matter of law, that the learned trial judge was not warranted, upon any fair view of the evidence, in finding as he did, that the deceased was, at the time of his death, the equitable owner of the policies."

    See also N.Y. Security & Trust Co. v. Lipman, 157 N.Y. 551, 556; Garrey v. Long Island R.R. Co., 159 N.Y. 323, 328; Reed v. McCord, 160 N.Y. 330, 334; Solomon v. Continental Fire Insurance Company, 160 N.Y. 595, 598; Rodgers v. Clement, 162 N.Y. 422, 427; National Harrow Company v. Bement & Sons, 163 N.Y. 505, 510; City of Niagara Falls v. N.Y.C. & H.R.R.R., 168 N.Y. 610; Critten v. Chemical National Bank, 171 N.Y. 219, 231; Hutton v. Smith, 175 N.Y. 375, 378.

    *305 After the filing of its opinion an application made to the Court of Appeals, as shown in the statement of facts, to amend the remittitur so as to direct the trial court to find specifically whether the releases were valid or not, was denied.

    We have thus the case of a hearing in the trial court upon issues which required a determination of the validity of these releases as a condition of a judgment adverse to these plaintiffs; a judgment against them; an affirmance of the judgment by the general term of the Supreme Court, with an opinion declaring that there was in the record no evidence justifying the claim that these releases were fraudulently obtained and void; and a further affirmance by the Court of Appeals, accompanied by an opinion declaring that upon the state of the record it was to be presumed that the validity of the releases had been affirmatively found, and also that there was sufficient evidence to sustain such a finding, followed by a refusal to send the question of the validity of the releases back to the trial court for consideration. Notwithstanding all this, apparent upon the face of the record, the plaintiffs insist that the validity of the releases was never determined by any of the state courts, and that the final judgment of affirmance by the Court of Appeals was based upon the presumption of a determination which was never in fact made.

    Upon what is this contention based? First, the silence of the judgment, which contains no findings to indicate upon what it is based; second, a memorandum of decision filed by the trial judge, in which he states that "the grounds upon which the issues have been decided are" a promise of the executors that if made residuary legatees they would distribute the residuary estate among the colleges named in the ninth article, and that the testator made them residuary legatees in reliance thereupon; third, the opinion of the trial judge, in which he discusses at some length and with citation of authorities the validity of the secret trust and the testimony by which it was established, and then, without in terms passing upon the contention respecting the releases, states "the *306 view that I have taken of the facts and the law of this case renders it unnecessary for me to consider the very interesting questions of law propounded by the learned counsel for the defendants Reynolds, Achter and Fayerweather;" and finally the testimony of the trial judge, given on the hearing in this case some six years after his decision in the state court, to the effect that in deciding the case he did not consider the question of the validity of the releases.

    It is undoubtedly true that in some cases evidence may be introduced outside the record to show what particular question was tried and determined in the former suit. Washington, Alexandria & Georgetown Steam-Packet Company v. Sickles, 24 How. 333, 344; Packet Co. v. Sickles, 5 Wall. 580, 592; Russell v. Place, 94 U.S. 606, 608. But it does not follow that testimony of every kind is admissible for that purpose. In Packet Company v. Sickles, supra, although it was held that "in cases where the record itself does not show that the matter was necessarily and directly found by the jury, evidence aliunde consistent with the record may be received to prove the fact," yet it appearing that some of the jurors on the former trial were permitted to testify as to the particular ground upon which they found their verdict, it was said (p. 593):

    "But it is proper to say that the secret deliberations of the jury, or grounds of their proceedings while engaged in making up their verdict, are not competent or admissible evidence of the issues or finding. The jurors oftentimes, though they may concur in the result, differ as to the grounds or reasons upon which they arrive at it.

    "The evidence should be confined to the points in controversy on the former trial, to the testimony given by the parties, and to the questions submitted to the jury for their consideration, and then the record furnishes the only proper proof of the verdict."

    See also Wood v. Jackson, 8 Wend. 9, 36; Lawrence v. Hunt. 10 Wend. 80, 85.

    Tested by the rule thus laid down the testimony of the trial *307 judge, given six years after the case had been disposed of, in respect to the matters he considered and passed upon, was obviously incompetent. True, the reasoning of the court for the rule is not wholly applicable, for as the case was tried before a single judge there were not two or more minds coming by different processes to the same result. Nevertheless no testimony should be received except of open and tangible facts — matters which are susceptible of evidence on both sides. A judgment is a solemn record. Parties have a right to rely upon it. It should not lightly be disturbed, and ought never to be overthrown or limited by the oral testimony of a judge or juror of what he had in mind at the time of the decision. Undoubtedly, when the pleadings are general, as in a case of the common counts, evidence may be given of the testimony which was introduced on the trial, for that may disclose what must have been considered and determined. And where the evidence is that testimony was offered at the prior trial upon several distinct issues, the decision of any one of which would justify the verdict or judgment, then the conclusion must be that the prior decision is not an adjudication upon any particular issue or issues, and the plea of res judicata must fail.

    Putting one side the oral testimony of the trial judge, there is nothing in the other matters specified to disturb the conclusion which follows from an examination of the record that the validity of the releases was actually determined. Of course, the omission of special findings means nothing, for the judgment implies a finding of all necessary facts. The memorandum of decision naturally states the grounds for arriving at a conclusion concerning the respective claims of the colleges named in the ninth clause and the beneficiaries of the deed of gift, for that was the controversy between those parties and indeed the primary controversy presented by the pleadings. The declaration in the opinion, that the conclusion reached upon the matters discussed rendered it unnecessary to consider the questions of law propounded by the counsel for these plaintiffs, must be read in the light of the *308 prior statement therein that the widow and next of kin were demanding that the releases executed by them be set aside and they be given the residuary estate, and the further fact that whether the releases were fraudulently obtained and void was a question of fact rather than of law. Evidently the opinion proceeded and the conclusion was reached on the assumption that there was no sufficient testimony to invalidate the releases.

    Further, the entire record of the case was taken on appeal to the general term. That court had before it for consideration all the evidence which was presented to the trial court; and, as we have seen, declared in its opinion that there was no evidence justifying the contention that the releases were procured by fraud and undue influence. While this was not stated in the form of a special finding it discloses the conclusion of the court from the evidence. We cannot hold that it was not authorized to pass upon this question, for its conclusion was sustained by the Court of Appeals, which in its opinion also referred to the question. Finally, by the motion to amend its remittitur, the attention of the Court of Appeals was specifically called to these very matters which are now urged as showing a failure on the part of the lower courts to determine the question of the validity of the releases, and it refused to make any order which would permit a further consideration. Nothing can be clearer from this record than that the question of the validity of the releases was not only before the state courts, but was considered and determined by them, and the regularity of the procedure was sustained by the highest court of the State. The question was, as affirmed by counsel for these appellants, put in issue by the pleadings, and its determination was a necessary prerequisite to an adverse judgment. It was referred to by all the courts in their opinions, was affirmatively decided by the general term, its decision sustained by the Court of Appeals and reaffirmed by that court, by a refusal to amend its remittitur.

    Under these circumstances the pleas of res judicata were *309 properly sustained, and the decree of the Circuit Court dismissing the bill and cross bill is


    The CHIEF JUSTICE did not hear the argument and took no part in the decision of these cases.

Document Info

DocketNumber: Nos. 157, 158

Citation Numbers: 195 U.S. 276, 25 S. Ct. 58, 49 L. Ed. 193, 1904 U.S. LEXIS 719

Judges: Brewer, After Making the Foregoing Statement

Filed Date: 11/28/1904

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 10/20/2017

Authorities (23)

Packet Co. v. Sickles , 72 U.S. 580 ( 1867 )

Cromwell v. County of Sac , 94 U.S. 351 ( 1877 )

Hefner v. Northwestern Life Ins. Co. , 123 U.S. 747 ( 1887 )

Wilson's v. Deen , 121 U.S. 525 ( 1887 )

Davidson v. New Orleans , 96 U.S. 97 ( 1878 )

Russell v. Place , 94 U.S. 606 ( 1877 )

Southern Pacific R. Co. v. United States , 168 U.S. 1 ( 1897 )

Dowell v. Applegate , 152 U.S. 327 ( 1894 )

Nesbit v. Riverside Independent Dist. , 144 U.S. 610 ( 1892 )

New Orleans v. Citizens' Bank , 167 U.S. 371 ( 1897 )

Wiggins Ferry Co. v. Ohio & Mississippi R. Co. , 142 U.S. 396 ( 1892 )

Last Chance Mining Co. v. Tyler Mining Co. , 157 U.S. 683 ( 1895 )

Johnson Co. v. Wharton , 152 U.S. 252 ( 1894 )

Chicago, B. & QR Co. v. Chicago , 166 U.S. 226 ( 1897 )

Bryar v. Campbell , 177 U.S. 649 ( 1900 )

N.Y. Security Trust Co. v. . Lipman , 157 N.Y. 551 ( 1899 )

Garvey v. . Long Island R.R. Co. , 159 N.Y. 323 ( 1899 )

Solomon v. . Continental Fire Ins. Co. , 160 N.Y. 595 ( 1899 )

Bartlett v. . Goodrich , 153 N.Y. 421 ( 1897 )

Hutton v. . Smith , 175 N.Y. 375 ( 1903 )

View All Authorities »

Cited By (107)

Coulter v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co. , 196 U.S. 599 ( 1905 )

Farrell v. O'Brien , 199 U.S. 89 ( 1905 )

Gunter v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. , 200 U.S. 273 ( 1906 )

Brand v. Union Elevated R. Co. , 238 U.S. 586 ( 1915 )

United States v. California Bridge & Constr. Co. , 245 U.S. 337 ( 1917 )

McCoy v. Union Elevated R. Co. , 247 U.S. 354 ( 1918 )

United States v. Morgan , 313 U.S. 409 ( 1941 )

Partmar Corp. v. Paramount Pictures Theatres Corp. , 347 U.S. 89 ( 1954 )

United States Ex Rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy , 206 F.2d 897 ( 1953 )

Singer Sewing MacHine Company v. National Labor Relations ... , 329 F.2d 200 ( 1964 )

Elmer P. Davis, Regional Director, Sixteenth Region, ... , 363 F.2d 600 ( 1966 )

Jefferson School of Social Science v. Subversive Activities ... , 331 F.2d 76 ( 1963 )

Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668 ( 1984 )

Ballard v. Commissioner , 544 U.S. 40 ( 2005 )

Charles William Proffitt v. Louie L. Wainwright, Secretary, ... , 685 F.2d 1227 ( 1982 )

Kfc National Management Corp. v. National Labor Relations ... , 497 F.2d 298 ( 1974 )

david-leroy-washington-v-charles-e-strickland-superintendent-florida , 693 F.2d 1243 ( 1982 )

David Leroy Washington v. Charles E. Strickland, ... , 673 F.2d 879 ( 1982 )

United States v. Robert W. Crouch and Albert Kudelka, Jr. , 566 F.2d 1311 ( 1978 )

warren-bank-a-michigan-banking-association-v-william-b-camp-comptroller , 396 F.2d 52 ( 1968 )

View All Citing Opinions »