No. 34.

236 U.S. 115 (1915)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided January 25, 1915.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Henry L. Lazarus, with whom Mr. Herman Michel, Mr. Eldon S. Lazarus, Mr. David Sessler and Mr. Girault Farrar were on the brief, for appellant.

Mr. J. Blanc Monroe, with whom Mr. Monte M. Lemann and Mr. Alfred P. Thom were on the brief, for appellee.

MR. JUSTICE LAMAR, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The primary question whether the United States court had jurisdiction of the case must of course be determined by considering the allegations of the Bill. It shows diversity of citizenship and charges that Simon was seeking to enforce by levy a judgment obtained by fraud and without notice to the Railway Company. If that be so the United States courts, by virtue of their general equity powers, had jurisdiction to enjoin the plaintiff from enforcing a judgment thus doubly void. For even where there has been process and service, if the court "finds that the parties have been guilty of fraud in obtaining a judgment . . . it will deprive them of the benefit of it." McDaniel v. Traylor, 196 U.S. 415, 423. Much more so will equity enjoin parties from enforcing those obtained without service. For in such a case the person named as defendant "can no more be regarded as a party than any other member of the community." Such judgments are not erroneous and not voidable but upon principles of natural justice, and under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, are absolutely void. They constitute no justification to a plaintiff who if concerned in executing such judgments is considered in law as a mere trespasser. Harris v. Hardeman, 14 How. 339 (default judgment entered on improper service). Williamson v. Berry, 8 How. 541; Scott v. McNeal, 154 U.S. 46; Western Indemnity Co. v. Rupp, 235 U.S. 273.

On principle and authority, therefore, a judgment, obtained in a suit of which the defendant had no notice, was a nullity and the party against whom it was obtained was entitled to relief. It serves to illustrate the existence of appellee's right and the method of its enforcement to note that under the law of Louisiana the Railway Company was not obliged to attack a void judgment in the court that rendered it — but, in a court having jurisdiction of the plaintiff's person, could have instituted a new and independent proceeding to enjoin Simon from enforcing it. See Sheriff v. Judge, 46 La. Ann. 29, where a suit was brought in the 21st District Court to enjoin the enforcement of a void judgment obtained in the 17th District Court. See also Hibernia Bank v. Standard Guana Co., 51 La. Ann. 1321. Of course, the jurisdiction of the United States courts could not be lessened or increased by state statutes regulating venue or establishing rules of procedure. But, manifestly, if a new and independent suit could have been brought in a state court to enjoin Simon from enforcing this judgment, a like new and independent suit could have been brought for a like purpose in a Federal court, which was then bound to act within its jurisdiction and afford redress (Hyde v. Stone, 20 How. 175; Reagan v. Farmers' Trust Co., 154 U.S. 391; Payne v. Hook, 7 Wall. 429). The United States courts could not stay original or supplementary proceedings in a state court (Mutual Reserve v. Phelps, 190 U.S. 159); or revise its judgment. But by virtue of their general equity jurisdiction they could enjoin a party from enforcing a void judgment.

2. The Appellant, Simon, however, contends that even if there was equity in the bill; and even if the Railway Company could have brought a new and independent suit in the state court to enjoin him from using the judgment, — yet in the present case the Federal court was without power to afford the same relief because § 720 of the Revised Statutes provides that, except in bankruptcy cases, a United States court shall not "stay proceedings in any court of a State."

In 1793, when that statute was adopted (1 Stat. 334), courts of equity had a well-recognized power to issue writs of injunction to stay proceedings pending in court, — in order to avoid a multiplicity of suits, to enable the defendant to avail himself of equitable defenses and the like. It was also true that the courts of equity of one State or country could enjoin its own citizens from prosecuting suits in another State or country. Cole v. Cunningham, 133 U.S. 107. This, of course, often gave rise to irritating controversies between the courts themselves which could, and sometimes did, issue contradictory injunctions.

On principles of comity and to avoid such inevitable conflicts the act of 1793 was passed. Diggs v. Wolcott, 4 Cranch, 179, 180 (1807) and Hull v. Burr, 234 U.S. 712 (1914), (the first and last cases in this court dealing with that question) furnish typical instances in which the statute has been applied. Those decisions, and the authorities therein cited, show that although the facts might have been such as to warrant an injunction against a suit then pending in a state court, yet § 720 prevented the Federal court from staying the proceedings in the state court.

3. But when the litigation has ended and a final judgment has been obtained — and when the plaintiff endeavors to use such judgment — a new state of facts, not within the language of the statute may arise. In the nature of the case, however, there are few decisions dealing with such a question. For where the state court had jurisdiction of the person and subject-matter the judgment rendered in the suit would be binding on the parties until reversed and there would therefore usually be no equity in a bill in a Federal court seeking an injunction against the enforcement of a state judgment thus binding between the parties. See Marshall v. Holmes, 141 U.S. 600, where Nougue v. Clapp, 101 U.S. 551, relied on by Appellant, is discussed.

There have, however, been a few cases in which there was equity in the bill brought to enjoin the plaintiff from enforcing the state judgment, and where that equity was found to exist appropriate relief has been granted. For example, in Julian v. Central Trust Company, 193 U.S. 112, a judgment was obtained in a state court, execution thereon was levied on property which, while not in possession of the Federal court, was in possession of a purchaser who held under the conditions of a Federal decree. It was held that the existence of that equity authorized an injunction to prevent the plaintiff from improperly enforcing his judgment, even though it may have been perfectly valid in itself.

Other cases might be cited involving the same principle. But this is sufficient to show that if, in a proper case, the plaintiff holding a valid state judgment can be enjoined by the United States court from its inequitable use, — by so much the more can the Federal courts enjoin him from using that which purports to be a judgment but is, in fact, an absolute nullity. Marshall v. Holmes, 141 U.S. 597; Gaines v. Fuentes, 92 U.S. 10; Barrow v. Hunton, 99 U.S. 85.

That the United States Circuit Court here could enjoin Simon from enforcing a void judgment against the Southern Railway Company, has already been ruled in another branch of this very case. In habeas corpus proceedings (Ex parte Simon, 208 U.S. 144) he sought relief from the punishment imposed because of his violation of the temporary injunction granted in this cause. He there claimed that the attachment for contempt was void because the court was without power to issue the injunction which he had violated. On that subject this court said:

"This is not a suit coram non judice and wholly void by reason of Rev. Stat., § 720, forbidding United States courts to stay by injunction proceedings in any state court. The Circuit Court had jurisdiction of the cause. That must be assumed at this stage, and finally unless we overrule the strong intimations in Marshall v. Holmes, 141 U.S. 589, and the earlier cases cited in that case."

The appellant insists, however, that Marshall v. Holmes, referred to as conclusive unless overruled, does not support the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court because there no injunction was granted by the United States court.

In that case Mrs. Marshall brought a suit, in a Louisiana court, and obtained a temporary injunction restraining Holmes, Sheriff, from levying Mayer's judgments alleged to be fraudulent. Her petition for removal to the United States court was denied and the case proceeded to final hearing in the state court where the temporary injunction was dissolved. That decree was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Louisiana. The case was then brought here to review the order refusing to allow the case to be removed to the Federal court. In discussing that issue the Appellee contended that `it was not competent for the Circuit Court of the United States, by any form of decree, to deprive Mayer of the benefit of his judgment at law, and that Mrs. Marshall could obtain the relief asked only in the court in which the judgment had been rendered.' In considering that contention (which is substantially the same as that urged by the Appellant Simon here), the court asked `whether, where the requisite diversity of citizenship existed, the Circuit Court of the United States could not deprive a party of the benefit of a judgment fraudulently obtained by him in a state court?' In answering this question the court pointed out the difference between enjoining a court and enjoining a party; and the difference between setting aside a judgment for irregularity and setting it aside for fraud. It was held that the case was removable, since, there being diversity of citizenship, the Circuit Court of the United States had jurisdiction to award Mrs. Marshall protection by preventing the plaintiff from enforcing his judgments if they were found to be fraudulent in fact, saying that the

"Authorities would seem to place beyond question the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court to take cognizance of the present suit, which is none the less an original, independent suit, because it relates to judgments obtained in the court of another jurisdiction. While it cannot require the state court itself to set aside or vacate the judgments in question, it may, as between the parties before it, if the facts justify such relief, adjudge that Mayer shall not enjoy the inequitable advantage obtained by his judgments. A decree to that effect would operate directly upon him, and would not contravene that provision of the statute prohibiting a court of the United States from granting a writ of injunction to stay proceedings in a state court. `It would simply take from him the benefit of judgments obtained by fraud.'" And if a United States court can enjoin a plaintiff from using a judgment, proved to be fraudulent, it can likewise enjoin him from using a judgment absolutely void for want of service.

4. The Appellant Simon further contends that Marshall v. Holmes, is not applicable here because that was a removal case; and it is urged that even if a Federal court can grant an injunction in a case removed, it cannot award the same relief in a bill originally brought in the Federal court. But that is a clear case of distinction without a difference and was not the basis of the decision.

Indeed (excluding ancillary bills Traction Company v. Mining Company, 196 U.S. 245), it seems always to have been assumed that the prohibition of § 720 applied to cases removed to the United States courts, as well as to those originally instituted therein. Such was true in Diggs v. Wolcott, 4 Cranch, 179, the first reported case arising under the law. There a bill in Chancery was filed in a Connecticut court to enjoin a suit then pending in a Connecticut court. The case was removed to the United States Circuit Court and after removal the injunction was granted. On appeal the decree was reversed on the ground that a United States court could not [even on removal] "stay proceedings in a state court." In later decisions it has been pointed out that if there was a difference between cases brought and those removed, it would have been easy, as the law then stood, for the nonresident to bring a suit for injunction in a state court, remove it to the Federal court, secure therein the injunction sought, and thus evade the statute. Bondurant v. Watson, 103 U.S. 288; Lawrence v. Morgan's Railroad, 121 U.S. 636.

The ground of the decision in the Marshall Case, in Gaines v. Fuentes, 92 U.S. 10; Barrow v. Hunton, 99 U.S. 85; McDaniel v. Traylor, 196 U.S. 415; Arrowsmith v. Gleason, 129 U.S. 86; Johnson v. Waters, 111 U.S. 640; Sharon v. Terry, 36 Fed. Rep. 337 cited in Julian v. Central Trust Co., 193 U.S. 112; Dobbins v. Los Angeles, 195 U.S. 224; Howard v. De Cordova, 177 U.S. 609, is that while § 720 prohibits United States courts from "staying proceedings in a state court," it does not prevent them from depriving a party of the fruits of a fraudulent judgment, nor prevent the Federal courts from enjoining a party from using that which he calls a judgment but which is, in fact and in law, a mere nullity. That conclusion is inevitable, or else the Federal court must hold that a judgment — void for want of service — is "a proceeding in a state court" even after the pretended litigation has ended and the void judgment has been obtained. Such a ruling would involve a contradiction in terms, and treat as valid for some purposes that which the courts have universally held to be a nullity for all purposes.

5. If, then, there was equity in the bill, and if the United States court had jurisdiction of a suit brought to enjoin the plaintiff from using a judgment alleged to be void because of fraud in its procurement and for want of service on the defendant, it becomes necessary to determine whether the Railway Company established the allegations of its bill.

The Master found as a fact that the Southern Railway was not doing business within the State of Louisiana; that there had been no fraud in the procurement of the judgment; and that the service on the Assistant was not the service on the Secretary of State required by the statute. He therefore recommended that a decree be entered enjoining the plaintiff from using the judgment obtained in the District Court of the Parish of Orleans. The Circuit Court made no finding on the question of fraud, but ruled (184 Fed. Rep. 959) that the service was void because Act 54 was unconstitutional in that it contained no provision requiring the Secretary of State to give the foreign corporation notice that suit had been brought and citation served. In support of that construction it quoted at length a statement of the Supreme Court of Louisiana in Gouner v. Missouri Valley Bridge Co., 123 Louisiana, 964. In that case service was made on the Secretary of State after the foreign corporation sued had left the State. As the court held that the statute did not apply to such absent corporation it did not finally pass on the validity of Act 54 under the state constitution, though it did say:

"This law makes no provision whatever for the service on the defendant. The officer may decline to communicate with the person sued and give no notice whatever; not even by mail. A judgment might be obtained without the least knowledge of the person sued. Under the phrasing of the statute, the duty of the officer begins and ends in his office. If such a judgment were rendered, it could receive no recognition whatever at the place of the domicile. When a petition cannot legally be served on a defendant, the court can exercise no jurisdiction over him. The service defines the court's jurisdiction."

On the other hand, the Circuit Court of Appeals (195 Fed. Rep. 56), while referring to this case, held, citing Amy v. Watertown, 130 U.S. 317, that though the Southern Railway was doing business in Louisiana, yet the default judgment was void because entered in a suit served on the Assistant when the statute designated the Secretary of State as the officer upon whom the citation should be served.

The broader the ground of the decision here, the more likelihood there will be of affecting judgments held by persons not before the court. We therefore purposely refrain from passing upon either of the propositions decided in the courts below, and without discussing the right to sue on a transitory cause of action and serve the same on an agent voluntarily appointed by the foreign corporation, we put the decision here on the special fact, relied on in the court below, that in this case the cause of action arose within the State of Alabama, and the suit therefor, in the Louisiana court, was served on an agent designated by a Louisiana statute.

Subject to exceptions, not material here, every State has the undoubted right to provide for service of process upon any foreign corporations doing business therein; to require such companies to name agents upon whom service may be made; and also to provide that in case of the company's failure to appoint such agent, service, in proper cases, may be made upon an officer designated by law. Mutual Reserve Ass'n v. Phelps, 190 U.S. 147; Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Spratley, 172 U.S. 603. But this power to designate by statute the officer upon whom service in suits against foreign corporations may be made relates to business and transactions within the jurisdiction of the State enacting the law. Otherwise, claims on contracts wherever made and suits for torts wherever committed might by virtue of such compulsory statute be drawn to the jurisdiction of any State in which the foreign corporation might at any time be carrying on business. The manifest inconvenience and hardship arising from such extra-territorial extension of jurisdiction, by virtue of the power to make such compulsory appointments, could not defeat the power if in law it could be rightfully exerted. But these possible inconveniences serve to emphasize the importance of the principle laid down in Old Wayne Life Association v. McDonough, 204 U.S. 22, that the statutory consent of a foreign corporation to be sued does not extend to causes of action arising in other States.

In that case the Pennsylvania statute, as a condition of their doing business in the State, required foreign corporations to file a written stipulation agreeing "that any legal process affecting the Company served on the Insurance Commissioner . . . shall have the same effect as if served personally on the Company within this State" (18). The Old Wayne Life Association having executed and delivered, in Indiana, a policy of insurance on the life of a citizen of Pennsylvania (20) was sued thereon in Pennsylvania. The declaration averred that the Company "has been doing business in the State of Pennsylvania, issuing policies of life insurance to numerous and divers residents of said County and State," and service was made on the Commissioner of Insurance. The Association made no appearance and a judgment by default was entered against it. Thereafter suit on the judgment was brought in Indiana. The plaintiff there introduced the record of the Pennsylvania proceedings and claimed that, under the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution, he was entitled to recover thereon in the Indiana court. There was no proof as to the Company having done any business in the State of Pennsylvania, except the legal presumption arising from the statements in the declaration as to soliciting insurance in that State. This court said:

"But even if it be assumed that the Company was engaged in some business in Pennsylvania at the time the contract in question was made, it cannot be held that the Company agreed that service of process upon the Insurance Commissioner of that Commonwealth would alone be sufficient to bring it into court in respect of all business transacted by it, no matter where, with or for the benefit of citizens of Pennsylvania (21). . . . Conceding, then, that by going into Pennsylvania, without first complying with its statute, the defendant Association may be held to have consented to the service upon the Insurance Commissioner of process in a suit brought against it there in respect of business transacted by it in that Commonwealth, such assent cannot properly be implied where it affirmatively appears, as it does here, that the business was not transacted in Pennsylvania. . . . As the suit in the Pennsylvania court was upon a contract executed in Indiana; as the personal judgment in that court against the Indiana corporation was only upon notice to the Insurance Commissioner, without any legal notice to the defendant Association and without its having appeared in person, or by Attorney, or by agent in the suit; and as the act of the Pennsylvania court in rendering the judgment must be deemed that of the State within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, we hold that the judgment in Pennsylvania was not entitled to the faith and credit which, by the Constitution, is required to be given to the . . . judicial proceedings of the several States, and was void as wanting in due process of law."

From the principle announced in that case it follows that service under the Louisiana statute, would not be effective to give the District Court of Orleans jurisdiction over a defendant as to a cause of action arising in the State of Alabama. The service on the Southern Railway, even if in compliance with the requirements of Act 54, was not that kind of process which could give the court jurisdiction over the person of the defendant for a cause of action arising in Alabama. As the Company made no appearance the default judgment was void. Being void the plaintiff acquired no rights thereby and could be enjoined by a Federal court from attempting to enforce what is a judgment in name but a nullity in fact. This conclusion makes it unnecessary to consider whether the Southern Railway was doing business in Louisiana. It also makes it unnecessary to consider the question of fact as to whether the judgment was void because of fraud in its procurement.

The decree of the Circuit Court of Appeals must be



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