159 U.S. 113 (1894), Hilton v. Guyot

Citation:159 U.S. 113, 16 S.Ct. 139, 40 L.Ed. 95
Party Name:Hilton v. Guyot
Case Date:June 03, 1895
Court:United States Supreme Court

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159 U.S. 113 (1894)

16 S.Ct. 139, 40 L.Ed. 95




United States Supreme Court

June 3, 1895




A citizen and resident of this country who has his principal place of business here but has an agent in a foreign country and is accustomed to purchase and store large quantities of goods there, and, in a suit brought against him by a citizen and in a court of that country, appears and defends with the sole object of preventing his property within the jurisdiction, but not in the custody of that court, from being taken in satisfaction of any judgment that may be recovered against him there cannot, in an action brought against him in this country upon such a judgment, impeach it for want of jurisdiction of his person.

The admission at the trial in a court of a foreign country, according to its law and practice, of testimony not under oath and without opportunity of cross-examination, and of documents with which the defendant had no connection and which by our law would not be admissible against him, is not of itself a sufficient ground for impeaching the judgment of that court in an action brought upon it in this country.

When an action is brought in a court of this country by a citizen of a foreign country against one of our own citizens to recover a sum of money adjudged by a court of that country to be due from the defendant to the plaintiff, and the foreign judgment appears to have been rendered by a competent court, having jurisdiction of the cause and of the parties, and upon due allegations and proofs and opportunity to defend against them, and its proceedings are according to the course of a civilized jurisprudence, and are stated in a clear and formal record, the judgment is prima facie evidence, at least, of the truth of the matter adjudged, and the judgment is conclusive upon the merits tried in the foreign court unless some special ground is shown for impeaching it, as by showing that it was affected by fraud or prejudice or that, by the principles of international law and by the comity of our own country, it is not entitled to full credit and credit.

A judgment for a sum of money, rendered by a court of a foreign country, having jurisdiction of the cause and of the parties, in a suit brought by

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one of its citizens against one of ours, is prima facie evidence only, and not conclusive of the merits of the claim in an action brought here upon the judgment if by the law of the foreign country, as in France, judgments of our own courts are not recognized as conclusive.

[16 S.Ct. 139] The first of these two cases was an action at law, brought December 18, 1885, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, by Gustave Bertin Guyot, as official liquidator of the firm of Charles Fortin & Co., and by the surviving members of that firm, all aliens and citizens of the Republic of France, against Henry Hilton and William Libbey, citizens of the United States and of the State of New York and trading as copartners in the cities of New York and Paris and elsewhere under the firm name of A. T. Stewart & Co. The action was upon a judgment recovered in a French court at Paris, in the Republic of France, by the firm of Charles Fortin & Co., all of whose members were French citizens, against Hilton & Libbey, trading as copartners, as aforesaid, and citizens of the United States and of the State of New York.

The complaint alleged that in 1886 and since, during the time of all the transactions included in the judgment sued on, Hilton and Libbey, as successors to Alexander T. Stewart and Libbey, under the firm name of A. T. Stewart & Co., carried on a general business as merchants in the Cities of New York and Paris and elsewhere, and maintained a regular store and place of business at Paris; that during the same time, Charles Fortin & Co. carried on the manufacture and sale of gloves at Paris, and the two firms had there large dealings in that business, and controversies arose in the adjustment of accounts between them.

The complaint further alleged that between March 1, 1879, and December 1, 1882, five suits were brought by Fortin & Co. against Stewart & Co. for sums alleged to be due, and three suits by Stewart & Co. against Fortin & Co., in the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine, a judicial tribunal or court organized and existing under the laws of France, sitting at Paris and having jurisdiction of suits and controversies between merchants or traders growing

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out of commercial dealings between them; that Stewart & Co. appeared by their authorized attorneys in all those suits, and that, after full hearing before an arbitrator appointed by that court and before the court itself, and after all the suits had been consolidated by the court, final judgment was rendered on January 20, 1883, that Fortin & Co. recover of Stewart & Co. various sums, arising out of the dealings between them, amounting to 660,847 francs, with interest, and dismissed part of Fortin & Co.'s claim.

The complaint further alleged that appeals were taken by both parties from that judgment to the Court of Appeal of Paris, Third Section, an appellate court of record organized and existing under the laws of the Republic of France and having jurisdiction of appeals from the final judgments of the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine, where the amount in dispute exceeded the sum of 1,500 francs, and that the said Court of Appeal, by a final judgment rendered March 19, 1884, and remaining of record in the office of its clerk at Paris, after hearing the several parties by their counsel, and upon full consideration of the merits, dismissed the appeal of the defendants, confirmed the judgment of the lower court in favor of the plaintiffs, and ordered, upon the plaintiffs' appeal, that they recover the additional sum of 152,528 francs, with 182,849 francs for interest on all the claims allowed, and 12,559 francs for costs and expenses.

The complaint further alleged that Guyot had been duly appointed by the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine official liquidator of the firm of Forth & Co., with full powers, according to law and commercial usage, for the verification and realization of its property, both real and personal, and to collect and cause to be executed the judgments aforesaid.

The complaint further alleged that the judgment of the Court of Appeals of Paris, and the judgment of the Tribunal of Commerce, as modified by the judgment of the appellate court, still remain in full force and effect;

that the said courts respectively had jurisdiction of the subject matter of the controversies so submitted to them, and of the parties, the

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said defendants having intervened, by their attorneys and counsel, and applied for affirmative relief in both courts; that the plaintiffs have hitherto been unable to collect the said judgments or any part thereof, by reason of the absence of the said defendants, they having given up their business in Paris prior to the recovery of the said judgment on appeal, and having left no property within the jurisdiction of the Republic of France out of which the said judgments might be made;

and that there are still justly due and owing from the defendants to the plaintiffs upon those said judgments certain sums, specified in the complaint, and amounting in all to 1,008,783 francs in the currency of the Republic of France, equivalent to $195,122.47.

The defendants, in their answer, set forth in detail the original contracts and transactions in France between the parties and the subsequent dealings between them modifying those contracts, and alleged that the plaintiffs had no just claim against the defendants, but that, on the contrary, the defendants, upon a just settlement of the accounts, were entitled to recover large sums from the plaintiffs.

The answer admitted the proceedings and judgments in the French courts and that the defendants gave up their business in France before the judgment on appeal, and had no property within the jurisdiction of France out of which that judgment could be collected.

The answer further alleged that the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine was a tribunal whose judges were merchants, ship captains, stockbrokers, and persons engaged in commercial pursuits, and of which Charles Fortin had been a member until shortly before the commencement of the litigation.

The answer further alleged that in the original suits brought against the defendants by Fortin & Co., the citations were left at their storehouse in Paris; that they were then residents and citizens of the State of New York, and neither of them at that time, or within four years before, had been within, or resident or domiciled within, the jurisdiction of that tribunal or owed any allegiance to France, but that

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they were the owners of property situated in that country which would by the law of France have been liable to seizure if they did not appear in that tribunal, and that they unwillingly, and solely for the purpose of protecting that property, authorized and caused an agent to appear for them in those proceedings, and that the suits brought by them against Fortin & Co. were brought for the same purpose, and in order to make a proper defense, and to establish counterclaims arising out of the transactions between the parties, and to compel the production and inspection of Fortin & Co.'s books, and that they sought no [16 S.Ct. 141] other affirmative relief in that tribunal.

The answer further alleged that, pending that litigation, the defendants discovered gross frauds in the accounts of Fourtin & Co., that the arbitrator and the tribunal declined to compel Fortin & Co. to produce their books and papers for inspection, and that, if they...

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