314 U.S. 118 (1941), 16, Toucey v. New York Life Insurance Co.

Docket Nº:No. 16
Citation:314 U.S. 118, 62 S.Ct. 139, 86 L.Ed. 100
Party Name:Toucey v. New York Life Insurance Co.
Case Date:November 17, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 118

314 U.S. 118 (1941)

62 S.Ct. 139, 86 L.Ed. 100



New York Life Insurance Co.

No. 16

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 17, 1941

Reargued October 17, 1941




Section 265 of the Judicial Code forbids a federal court to enjoin a proceeding in personam in a state court on the ground that the claim in controversy has been previously adjudicated by the federal court. P. 129.

112 F.2d 927 and 115 F.2d 1 reversed.

No. 16 came here on certiorari, 311 U.S. 643, to review the affirmance of a decree of injunction, 112 F.2d 927. The decision below was affirmed here by an equally divided Court, 313 U.S. 538; subsequently, a rehearing was granted, 313 U.S. 59.

No.19 is here on certiorari, 312 U.S. 670, to review the affirmance of a decree of injunction, 115 F.2d 1.

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FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases were argued in succession, and are dealt with in a single opinion because the controlling question in both is the same: does a federal court have power to stay a proceeding in a state court simply because the claim in controversy has previously been adjudicated in the federal court?

No. 16. In 1935, Toucey brought suit against the New York Life Insurance Company in a Missouri state court. He alleged that, in 1924, the company issued him a life insurance policy providing for monthly disability benefits and for the waiver of premiums during disability; that he became disabled in April, 1933, and that the defendant fraudulently concealed the disability provisions from him; that the defendant unlawfully cancelled the policy for nonpayment of premiums; that, in September, 1935, he discovered the existence of the disability provisions; that he then applied to the company for reinstatement of the policy and for the payment of disability benefits, and that the company refused.

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The suit was removed to the federal District Court for the Western District of Missouri, the plaintiff being a citizen of Missouri, the defendant a New York corporation, and the amount in controversy exceeding $3,000. All of the material allegations of the bill were denied. The district court dismissed the bill, finding that there was no fraud on the defendant's part and that the plaintiff was not disabled within [62 S.Ct. 141] the meaning of the policy. No appeal was taken.

In 1937, an action at law was brought against the insurance company in the Missouri state court by one Shay, a resident of the District of Columbia. He alleged that he was Toucey's assignee and that Toucey's disability entitled him to judgment. It does not appear that the insurance company filed an answer or any other pleading. Instead, a "supplemental bill" was filed in the Western District of Missouri, setting forth the history of the litigation between the parties, alleging that the assignment to Shay was made in order to avoid federal jurisdiction, and praying that Toucey be enjoined from bringing any suit for the purpose of readjudicating the issues settled by the federal decree and from further prosecuting the Shay suit.

A preliminary injunction was granted and affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. 102 F.2d 16. The court held that Toucey's claim in the prior suit rested upon proof of his disability, and that this issue, necessarily involved in the Shay proceeding, had been conclusively determined in the insurance company's favor. Section 265 of the Judicial Code, 36 Stat. 1162, 28 U.S.C. § 379, was construed not to deprive a federal court of the power to enjoin state court proceedings where an injunction is "necessary to preserve to litigants the fruits of, or to effectuate the lawful decrees of the federal courts." Certiorari was denied, 307 U.S. 638, and the injunction was made permanent. Toucey

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appealed, and the Circuit Court of Appeals again affirmed, 112 F.2d 927. In view of the importance of the questions presented, we granted certiorari. 311 U.S. 643. The decision below was affirmed by an equally divided Court, 313 U.S. 538, and the case is now before us on rehearing, 313 U.S. 596.

No.19. The Iowa-Wisconsin Bridge Company, a Delaware corporation, in 1932 executed a deed of trust conveying all of its property, principally a bridge across the Mississippi River between Iowa and Wisconsin, to secure a $200,000 bond issue. In 1933, the trustees, an Iowa corporation and a Wisconsin citizen, filed a bill of foreclosure in the federal District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. One of the Bridge Company's stockholders intervened as a party defendant, alleging that the bonds and mortgage were fraudulent and without consideration. Upon his motion, the Phoenix Finance Corporation, a Delaware corporation which held almost 90% of the bonds, was joined as a plaintiff. The Bridge Company's answer challenged the validity of the indenture and alleged that the bonds were issued without consideration. Phoenix denied all allegations of fraud.

The case was tried before a master, whose modified conclusions were adopted by the court. Finding that the mortgage and bonds were fraudulently issued and that almost all the bonds were without consideration, the court denied foreclosure. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed, First Trust & Savings Bank v. Iowa-Wisconsin Bridge Co., 98 F.2d 416, and certiorari was denied, 305 U.S. 650.

Phoenix thereafter instituted five separate suits against the Bridge Company in the Delaware state courts, seeking recovery on various notes and contracts claimed to have constituted the consideration for the bonds. The Bridge Company thereupon filed a "supplemental bill" in the Northern District of Iowa, asserting that the issues involved in the state court suits had been made res

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judicata by the federal decree, and praying, inter alia, that Phoenix be enjoined from further prosecuting the state suits. (In one of the suits, the state court rejected the res judicata plea, Phoenix Finance Corp. v. Iowa-Wisconsin Bridge Co., 40 Del. 500, 14 A.2d 386, and an appeal is now pending in the Supreme Court of Delaware.) The district court found that Phoenix was bound by the former decree, and that the prohibition of § 265 was no bar to an injunction. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, 115 F.2d 1, and, because of the relation of the questions presented to those in No. 16, we brought the case here. 312 U.S. 670.

[62 S.Ct. 142] The courts below have thus decided that the previous federal judgments are res judicata in the state proceedings, and that, therefore, notwithstanding the prohibitory provisions of § 265, the federal courts may use their injunctive powers to save the defendants in the state proceedings the inconvenience of pleading and proving res judicata.1

First. Section 265 --

a limitation of the power of the federal courts dating almost from the beginning of our history and expressing an important Congressional policy -- to prevent needless friction between state and federal courts,

Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 309 U.S. 4, 8-9 -- is derived from § 5 of the Act of March 2, 1793, 1 Stat. 335: " . . . nor shall a writ of injunction be granted [by any court of the United States] to stay proceedings in any court of a state. . . ." In its present form, 36 Stat. 1162, 28 U.S.C. § 379, the provision reads as follows:

The writ of injunction shall not be

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granted by any court of the United States to stay proceedings in any court of a State, except in cases where such injunction may be authorized by any law relating to proceedings in bankruptcy.2

The history of this provision in the Judiciary Act of 1793 is not fully known. We know that, on December 31, 1790, Attorney General Edmund Randolph reported to the House of Representatives on desirable changes in the Judiciary Act of 1789. Am.State Papers, Misc. vol. 1, No. 17, pp. 21-36. The most serious question raised by Randolph concerned the arduousness of the circuit duties imposed on the Supreme Court justices. But the Report also suggested a number of amendments dealing with procedural matters. A section of the proposed bill submitted by him provided that "no injunction in equity shall be granted by a district court to a judgment at law of a State court." Id., p. 26. Randolph explained that this clause

will debar the district court from interfering with the judgments at law in the State courts; for if the plaintiff and defendant rely upon the State courts, as far as the judgment, they ought to continue there as they have begun. It is enough to split the same suit into one at law, and another in equity, without adding a further separation, by throwing the common law side of the question into the State courts, and the equity side into the federal courts.

Id., p. 34. The Report was considered by the House sitting as a Committee of the Whole, and then was referred to successive special committees for further consideration. No action was taken until after Chief Justice Jay and his associates wrote the President that their circuit-riding

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duties were too burdensome. American State Papers, Misc. vol. 1, No. 32, p. 51. In response to this complaint, which was transmitted to Congress, the Act of March 2, 1793, was passed, containing in § 5, inter alia, the prohibition against staying state court proceedings.

Charles Warren, in his article Federal and State Court Interference, 43 Harv.L.Rev. 345, 347, suggests that this provision was the direct consequence of Randolph's report. This seems doubtful, in view of the very narrow purpose of Randolph's proposal -- namely, that federal courts of equity should not interfere with the enforcement of judgments at law rendered in the state courts. See Taylor and Willis, The Power of Federal Courts to Enjoin Proceedings in State...

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