140 Mass. 411 (1886), Brigham v. Fayerweather

Citation:140 Mass. 411, 5 N.E. 265
Opinion Judge:HOLMES, J.
Party Name:BRIGHAM v. FAYERWEATHER and others.
Attorney:[5 N.E. 266] Kent & Dewey, for defendants. F.P. Goulding, for plaintiff.
Case Date:January 05, 1886
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Page 411

140 Mass. 411 (1886)

5 N.E. 265



FAYERWEATHER and others.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

January 5, 1886


Page 413

[5 N.E. 266] Kent & Dewey, for defendants.

F.P. Goulding, for plaintiff.



A judgment in rem is an act of the sovereign power; and, as such, its effect cannot be disputed, at least within the jurisdiction. If a competent court declares a vessel forfeited, or orders it sold free from all claims, or divorces a couple, or establishes a will under statutes like our Pub.St. c. 127, § 7, a paramount title is passed, the couple is divorced, the will is established as against all the world, whether parties or not, because the sovereign has said that it shall be so. Hughes v. Cornelius, 2 Show. 232; S.C.T. Raym. 473, Skin. 59, and Beak v. Tyrell, Carth. 32; Noell v. Wells, 1 Lev. 235; Scott v. Shearman, 2 W.Bl. 977; The Helena, 4 Rob.Adm. 3; Leonard v. Leonard, 14 Pick. 280; McClurg v. Terry, 21 N.J.Eq. 225. But the same is true when the judgment is that A. recover a debt from B. The public force is pledged to collect the debt from B., and no one within the jurisdiction can oppose it. And it does not follow in the former case any more than in the latter, nor is it true, that the judgment, because conclusive on all the world in what we may call its legislative effect, is equally conclusive upon all as an adjudication of the facts upon which it is grounded. On the contrary, those judgments, such as sentences of prize courts, to which the greatest effect has been given in collateral proceedings, are said to be conclusive evidence of the facts upon which they proceed only against parties who were entitled to be heard before they were rendered. The Mary, 9 Cranch, 126, 146;[5 N.E. 267] Salem v. Eastern R. Co., 98 Mass. 431, 449; Baxter v. New England Ins. Co., 6 Mass. 277, 286; Whitney v. Walsh, 1 Cush. 29. We may lay on one side, then, any argument based on the misleading expression that all the world are parties to a proceeding in rem. This does not mean that all the world are entitled to be heard; and, as strangers in interest are not entitled to be heard, there is no reason why they should be bound by the findings of fact, although bound to admit the title or status which the judgment establishes.

Page 414

Still the cases last cited show that some judgments in rem are conclusive evidence of the facts adjudicated in favor of a stranger, as against a party; and if the analogy is to be applied to all judgments which create or change a status or a title, it would apply here; for the plaintiff was a party to the decree establishing the will, and that decree necessarily proceeded on the ground that the testator possessed sufficient capacity to make the will.

But these cases cannot be taken to lay down a general principle. The reasons given for the decisions are not that the conclusion follows as a necessary effect of judgment in rem merely as such, but are special reasons of convenience or construction. In The Mary, 9 Cranch, 126, 145, the doctrine as to sentences of prize courts is said to rest on "the propriety of leaving the cognizance of prize questions exclusively to courts of prize jurisdiction; the very great inconvenience amounting nearly to an impossibility of fully investigating such cases in a court of common law; and the impropriety of revising the decisions of the maritime courts of other...

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