OPPENHEIMER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case involves questions of due process of law in a civil case in a court of limited jurisdiction and the effect of subsequent proceedings upon the right to attack collaterally an invalid judgment.
The facts are not in dispute. On July 20, 1964, Nationwide
At 9:30 A.M. on July 30, the attorney for Plaza and Paul appeared in the People's Court at Silver Spring and advised the presiding judge, Chief Judge J. Fendall Coughlan, that he had been retained to represent Plaza and Paul, but that he would be unable to appear at 11:00 A.M. on that date and therefore requested a continuance. The attorney then departed, and when the case was called at 11:00 A.M., Judge Coughlan notified Nationwide's attorney of the request for continuance. Nationwide's attorney would not consent to the requested continuance, pointing out that he had secured the attendance of an out-of-state witness, and the request for continuance was denied. Testimony on behalf of Nationwide was taken ex parte, after which Judge Coughlan entered judgment in favor of Nationwide against both defendants for possession and costs, and also awarded a money judgment in the amount of $5300, for rent and license fees due for the months of June and July, 1964.
By letter of the same date as the judgments, Judge Coughlan advised counsel for Plaza and Paul of his action, and on the following day, July 31, an appeal was noted on behalf of both defendants to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. As required by law, an appeal bond, written by the appellant herein, Travelers Indemnity Company (Travelers), as surety, was filed in the case. The appeal bond set forth that Plaza, Paul and Travelers were bound to the State of Maryland in the
Thereafter, while the appeal was pending, Plaza and Paul voluntarily relinquished possession of the premises to Nationwide, and on August 27, 1964, a praecipe dismissing the appeal was filed in the Circuit Court by the attorney for Plaza and Paul. Demand was then made by Nationwide's attorney against Travelers for payment of $5300 allegedly due under the penalty of the bond. Liability for payment was denied by Travelers, and this suit followed.
Cross motions for Summary Judgment were filed by the parties and after oral argument, Judge Shook filed an order granting Nationwide's motion, citing the case of Steinpreis v. Leet, 240 Md. 212, 213 A.2d 555 (1965), as authority for the holding. From that order this appeal was taken.
That the People's Court had jurisdiction over both the parties and the subject matter in this case is unquestioned. Pleadings and proceedings in a court of limited jurisdiction such as the People's Court of Montgomery County are informal in nature. Code (1957), Article 52, Section 99 (b); Steinpreis v. Leet, supra. But the fundamentals of fairness are requisite to the validity of an adversary proceeding in any tribunal. Londoner v. City and County of Denver, 210 U.S. 373 (1908); Ulman v. City of Baltimore, 72 Md. 587, 20 Atl. 141 (1890). See also Morgan v. United States, 304 U.S. 1, 18-19 (1938); Gorin v. Board of County Comm'rs, 244 Md. 106, 223 A.2d 237 (1966); Hyson v. Montgomery County, 242 Md. 55, 63-67, 217 A.2d 578 (1966) and Cohen, Some Aspects of Maryland Administrative Law, 24 Md.L.Rev. 1, 8-15 (1964). A basic requirement of fairness is that the defendant be given notice of and an adequate opportunity to defend against the claim on which the judgment is based. Reynolds v. Stockton, 140 U.S. 254 (1891); Restatement, Judgments, § 8 c. See also Belt v. Blackburn, 28 Md. 227, 243 (1868).
In Reynolds v. Stockton, supra, suit was brought in New Jersey on a New York judgment. The New Jersey court refused to accept the New York judgment under the full faith and credit clause of Section 1 of Article IV of the United States Constitution, and the Supreme Court affirmed, on the ground that the judgment rendered was not responsive to the pleadings. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Mr. Justice Brewer said:
Mr. Justice Brewer's "extreme case" closely fits the situation presented in the present case, except that here the judgment complained of is for money when the only demand of which notice was given was for repossession of real estate, whereas in the hypothetical case the original claim was for possession of personal property and the judgment complained of, on a claim of which no notice was given, was for possession of real estate. In substance, the two situations are the same.
Section 8 c of Restatement, Judgments, reads in part as follows:
The illustration is almost precisely the present case. See also cases cited infra in Part II of this opinion.
In the second Morgan case, supra, the Court held invalid an order of the Secretary of Agriculture fixing maximum rates to be charged by market agencies under the Packers and Stockyard Act, because the hearing for which the Act provided had not been held. The Government had not provided the appellants with any statement or summary of its contentions. Mr. Chief Justice Hughes, for the Court, said: "The right to a hearing embraces not only the right to present evidence but also a reasonable opportunity to know the claims of the opposing party and to meet them." 304 U.S. at 18.
The right of the People's Court to permit amendments of the original pleadings and thereby to raise new issues is not here involved; the valid exercise of that right is dependent upon notice to the opposite parties and an opportunity for them to be heard on the issues raised by the amended pleadings. Here there was no such notice or opportunity. Cases such as Fooks' Executors v. Ghingher, 172 Md. 612, 192 Atl. 782 (1937) and Killen v. American Cas. Co., 231 Md. 105, 189 A.2d 103 (1963) cited by the appellee, go to the jurisdiction of a court over the subject matter or the parties. Neither of those questions is here involved.
Steinpreis v. Leet, supra, relied upon by the court below and by the appellee here, turned on different facts and legal principles. There, the chief contention was that the People's Court of Montgomery County lacked jurisdiction over the subject
The violation of a constitutional right may make the proceedings in which the violation took place either voidable or void. In the words of Judge Markell, for the Court, in State v. Ambrose, 191 Md. 353, 369, 62 A.2d 359 (1948), a void judgment "`may be assailed at all times, and in all proceedings by which it is sought to be enforced' * * * In other words, a void judgment is subject to attack either directly by appeal or collaterally." See also Thomas v. Hardisty, 217 Md. 523, 536, 143 A.2d 618 (1958). Restatement, Judgments, § 4 comment a (4); Freeman, Judgments § 322 (1925).
In Schowgurow v. State, 240 Md. 121, 134, 213 A.2d 475 (1965), we pointed out that the violation of the defendant's constitutional right therein involved went only to the selection of the grand and petit juries and did not go to the fairness of the conduct of the trial. In Smith v. State, 240 Md. 464, 214 A.2d 563 (1965), we held that a judgment of conviction of a defendant indicted by a grand jury and tried by a petit jury, both unconstitutionally selected, was only voidable, not void, so that, although the method of selection was subject to attack, the proceedings were not a nullity and the defect could be voluntarily and knowingly waived. In this case, however, the violation of the constitutional right of Plaza and Paul went to the fairness of the conduct of the trial and accordingly the money judgment obtained in violation of that right was invalid.
Where a judgment was outside the cause of action stated in
Because the money judgment of the People's Court was invalid and therefore subject to collateral attack, Plaza and Paul could successfully have asserted that invalidity in any attempt by Nationwide to execute upon the judgment. However, they chose not to wait for the opportunity to attack that judgment collaterally, but, instead, availed themselves of their statutory right of appeal.
Travelers, as surety on the appeal bond, is liable to Nationwide
The question presented is the effect, if any, of the stay of execution of both the money judgment and judgment of restitution by reason of the appeal and the giving of the appeal bond and the subsequent dismissal of the appeal upon Plaza's and Paul's right to wage a collateral attack against the money judgment. Counsel have cited no case directly in point, and we have found none. We must consider, therefore, the relevance of legal principles in comparable situations.
Violations of constitutional rights may be waived. Smith v. State, supra, 240 Md. at 479-80 and cases therein cited. Even a claim that a statute under which the defendant was convicted is unconstitutional cannot be raised after conviction, if there was a clear, unequivocal waiver of the contention. Jackson v. Warden, 218 Md. 652, 655-56, 146 A.2d 438 (1958); Martin v. State, 203 Md. 66, 77-78, 98 A.2d 8 (1953).
There was no waiver in this case. Plaza and Paul, by their appeal, contested both the judgment for restitution and the
The question is not one of waiver, but whether, by reason of what they did, Plaza and Paul are estopped, legally or equitably, from collaterally attacking the money judgment. We refer to the waiver cases only because they demonstrate the principle that a person may bar himself from asserting a defense by his own act, even though that act did not affect the rights of other parties.
In Benson v. Borden, 174 Md. 202, 219, 198 Atl. 419 (1938), the Court quoted with approval from 40 Cyc. 255 as follows:
Plaza and Paul, by filing their appeal and giving bond, prevented Nationwide from repossessing the property as to which
We have repeatedly stated that whether or not an estoppel exists is a question of fact to be determined in each case. Gould v. Transamerican Associates, supra, at 224 Md. 297; Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. American Auto. Ins. Co., 220 Md. 497, 501, 154 A.2d 826 (1959); and cases therein cited. Wrongful or unconscientious conduct on which the other party relies, to his detriment, is generally an element of estoppel in the particular circumstances, see Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. American Auto. Ins. Co., 220 Md. at 500, but an estoppel may arise even when there is no intent to mislead, if the acts of one party cause a prejudicial change in the conduct of the other. Harrison v. McCarty, 178 Md. 377, 13 A.2d 544 (1940); Benson v. Borden, supra. The rationale of the doctrine of equitable estoppel was given by Judge Prescott (later Chief Judge), for the Court, in Johnson Lumber Co. v. Magruder, 218 Md. 440, 447-48, 147 A.2d 208 (1958), as follows:
See also Solomon's Marina v. Rogers, 221 Md. 194, 198, 156 A.2d 432 (1959); Maryland City Realty v. Vogts, supra, and Savonis v. Burke, 241 Md. 316, 319-20, 216 A.2d 521 (1966). The statements in the later cases emphasize that it is the effect of the conduct of a party, apart from its morality, upon the position of the other party, which is the basis of equitable estoppel.
Delay in the exercise of a legal right has been held sufficient detriment to estop the party who caused the delay from asserting a claim or defense he otherwise would have had. Harrison v. McCarty, supra; Benson v. Borden, supra. In Harrison, the Court held that an employer, by his conduct, was estopped to raise a defense that a claim under the Workmen's Compensation Act was not filed within a year, as provided by the statute. In citing Harrison in Bayshore Industries, Inc. v. Ziats, 232 Md. 167, 179, 192 A.2d 487 (1963), Chief Judge Brune, for the Court, said: "Harrison v. McCarty, supra, did not present any wilful or deliberate unconscientious or inequitable conduct on the part of the employer, and, indeed, we think that it presented no inequitable conduct at all."
In Gould v. Transamerican Associates, supra, at 224 Md. 295, Judge Prescott analyzed the holding in Benson as follows:
Under the doctrine of election of remedies in Maryland, where a party having a claim, with knowledge of the facts and in the absence of fraud, makes an election between inconsistent remedies and carries his suit through to judgment, he is barred from bringing another suit which seeks a different remedy. State Roads Comm'n v. Smith, 224 Md. 537, 541-44, 168 A.2d 705 (1961); Bolton Mines Co. v. Stokes, 82 Md. 50, 59, 33 Atl. 491 (1895). The basis of the doctrine is given in Bolton Mines as being that a plaintiff is estopped from ignoring the judgment rendered, changing his position and adopting the remedy he had repudiated and repudiating the one he had adopted. He is not at liberty "to again vex the same defendant with another suit in a different form of action for the identical demand * * *"
In the present case, where defenses, not claims, are involved, recourse to the right of appeal is not inconsistent of itself with a subsequent collateral attack upon an invalid money judgment, but the estoppel is based upon the "vexing" of the other party by the filing of the appeal and bond. The stay of Nationwide's right to repossession of its property thereby effected may well be more detrimental than the putting of a defendant to the trouble of defending another suit.
In this case, the voluntary action of Plaza and Paul in appealing from the restitution and money judgments of the People's Court and in effecting a stay as to both those judgments by the filing of Travelers' bond, brought about an adverse change in Nationwide's position. It could not repossess its property while the appeal was pending. Now that Plaza and Paul have dismissed their appeal, it would be contrary to equity and good conscience to allow Travelers, which stands in their shoes, to assert as a defense to the bond that the money judgment was invalid. That defense could have been made collaterally, if there had been no appeal, or it could have been asserted in the Circuit Court if the appeal had not been dimissed, but Plaza and Paul can not eat their cake and still have it. Through their action, they kept the property until they were ready to
We have held that even though a judgment collaterally attacked was void for lack of jurisdiction over the parties, the party attacking it may be barred from asserting the invalidity because of laches. Pryor v. Pryor, 240 Md. 224, 229, 213 A.2d 545 (1965) and authorities therein cited. It is true that in Pryor we referred to the public policy involved in not lightly setting aside decrees of divorce, but there also is a public policy involved in the present case. The Legislature has given a tenant the right to a trial de novo and to a stay of execution on a judgment obtained by the landlord in the People's Court. The exercise of that right is expressly conditioned upon the tenant's giving a bond that the appeal will be prosecuted and that the judgment will be paid if it is affirmed. The landlord, therefore, is given security for the payment of his judgment, if affirmed, in effect as a quid pro quo for being unable to execute while the appeal is pending. When the tenant chooses to assert any defense to the judgment by way of appeal, rather than by any alternate remedy he may have (here, collateral attack) he has acquiesced in the consequences of his choice and neither he, nor his surety, can thereafter avoid the obligation incurred. In this aspect, this case is analogous to Stewart v. McCaddin, 107 Md. 314, 68 Atl. 571 (1908), in which it was held that a party cannot, on appeal, attack the validity of a court order under which he acted and received benefits. See also cases cited therein and Shapiro v. Maryland-Nat. Park Comm'n, 235 Md. 420, 424, 201 A.2d 804 (1964).
Courts in other jurisdictions have held that, when the facts warrant, a party may be estopped by conduct from collaterally attacking a void judgment. First Nat. Bank v. Southwestern Surety Ins. Co., 95 Okla. 259, 219 Pac. 690 (1923) (in which a defendant who had received the benefits of funds coming into a guardian's hands was held estopped to contend that the appointment
The court below was correct in granting summary judgment for Nationwide, although the order was based on a wrong reason.
Judgment affirmed; costs to be paid by appellant.