315 U.S. 343 (1942), 81, Riley v. New York Trust Co.

Docket Nº:No. 81
Citation:315 U.S. 343, 62 S.Ct. 608, 86 L.Ed. 885
Party Name:Riley v. New York Trust Co.
Case Date:February 16, 1942
Court:United States Supreme Court

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315 U.S. 343 (1942)

62 S.Ct. 608, 86 L.Ed. 885



New York Trust Co.

No. 81

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 16, 1942

Argued December 16, 1941



1. Consistently with the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Federal Constitution, when a State court, in probating a will and issuing letter testamentary, in a proceeding to which all distributees were parties, expressly finds that the domicile of the testator at the time of his death was in that State, the adjudication of domicile does not bind one who is subsequently appointed as domiciliary administrator c.t.a. in a second State in which he will be called upon to deal with the claims of local creditors, including the claim of the State itself for taxes, and who was not a party to the proceeding in the first State, and in this situation, the courts of a third State, when disposing of local assets claimed by both the personal representative, are free to determine the question of domicile in accordance with their own law. Pp. 348 et seq.

2. In the absence of a contrary ruling by the courts of Delaware, held that, by the law of that State, cases cited and relied on in an opinion of the highest court of another State -- which opinion is properly in the record -- may be considered as evidence of the law of such other State. P. 351.

16 A.2d 772 affirmed.

Certiorari, 313 U.S. 555, to review a decree determining the disposition of property belonging to an estate which was claimed by each of two personal representatives appointed in other States.

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REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

Coca-Cola International Corporation, incorporated in Delaware, filed a bill of interpleader in a Delaware Court of Chancery against Julian Riley and Hughes Spalding, petitioners here, the Executors of Mrs. Julia M. Hungerford, with letters testamentary issued by the Court of Ordinary of Fulton County, Georgia, and against The New York Trust Company, the respondent, a New York corporation, as temporary administrator (afterward administrator c.t.a.) of the same decedent, appointed by the Surrogate's Court for New York County, New York.

The Georgia executors and the New York administrator each claim the right to have transferred to them in their representative capacity stock in the Coca-Cola corporation now on its books in the name of the decedent. The outstanding certificates are in Georgia in the hands of the Georgia executors. The parties are agreed, and it

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is therefore assumed that Delaware is the situs of the stock. In accordance with the prayer of the bill, the Delaware court directed the adversary claimants to interplead between themselves as to their respective claims.

[62 S.Ct. 611] The Georgia executors assert that original domiciliary probate of Mrs. Hungerford's will in solemn form was obtained by them in Georgia with all beneficiaries and heirs at law of testatrix, including her husband, Robert Hungerford, actual parties by personal service. These, it is conceded, were all the parties under the law of Georgia entitled to be heard on the probate of the will. The respondent administrator c.t.a. was not a party. The record of probate includes a determination by special finding, over the objection of the caveator, the husband, that the testatrix was domiciled in Georgia. The special finding was specifically approved as an essential fact to determine the jurisdiction of the Court of Ordinary by the highest court of Georgia in its affirmance of the probate. Hungerford v. Spalding, 183 Ga. 547, 189 S.E. 2.

These facts were alleged by petitioners in their statement of claim to the stock filed below in response to the decree of interpleader. Exemplified copies of the probate record of the several Georgia courts were pleaded and proven, as were the applicable Georgia statutes governing domiciliary probate. From the facts alleged, petitioners inferred the conclusive establishment of the place for domiciliary distribution against "all persons" and prayed the issue to them of new certificates. An offer was made to pay all Delaware taxes or charges on the stock. At the trial, petitioners relied upon Article IV, Section 1, of the Federal Constitution,1 the full faith and credit clause, as determinative of their right to the new certificates. The

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pleading and trial contention adequately raised the Constitutional question. Tilt v. Kelsey, 207 U.S. 43, 50.

Respondent admitted that all parties entitled under the law of Georgia to be heard in opposition to probate were actually before the Georgia courts. It denied that Mrs. Hungerford was domiciled in Georgia. or that the Georgia judgment of domicile and probate was binding on it, and averred testatrix' domicile at death was New York. It further averred that there were New York creditors of the estate interested in the proper and lawful administration of the estate, and that New York had certain claims for inheritance and estate taxes. Its own subsequent appointment by the Surrogate's Court of New York County, New York, on the suggestion of testatrix' husband and the State Tax Commission, was pleaded with applicable provisions of New York probate and estate tax law. By stipulation, it was established that petitioners and the heirs and beneficiaries of testatrix, except her husband, who was an actual party, were notified of the New York proceedings for probate only by publication or substituted service of the citation in Georgia, and did not appear. As a domiciliary administrator c.t.a., the respondent prayed the issue to it of new certificates for the stock in controversy.

The trial court concluded from the evidence adduced at the hearings that the testatrix was domiciled in Georgia. It was therefore, as the court stated, unnecessary for it to consider the binding effect of the Georgia judgment.2 The Supreme Court of Delaware reversed this finding of fact, determined that New York was testatrix' domicile, and denied petitioners' contention that Article IV, Section 1, of the Constitution required the award of the certificates of stock to the Georgia executors. The Coca-Cola

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Corporation was directed to issue its stock certificate to the respondent, the New York administrator c.t.a. New York Trust Co. v. Riley, 16 A.2d 772. Because of the importance of issues previously undecided by this Court, certiorari was granted to review the alleged error, to-wit, the asserted denial of full faith and credit to the Georgia judgment. 313 U.S. 555.

The constitutional effect of the Georgia decree on a claim in his own name in another state by a party to the Georgia proceedings [62 S.Ct. 612] is not here involved.3 The question we are to decide is whether this Georgia judgment on domicile conclusively establishes the right of the Georgia executors to demand delivery to them of personal assets of their testatrix which another state is willing to surrender to the domiciliary personal representative4 when another representative, appointed by a third state, asserts a similar domiciliary right. For the purpose of this review, the conclusion of Delaware that the testatrix was in fact domiciled in New York is accepted. The answer to the question lies in the extent to which Article IV, section 1, of the Constitution, as made applicable by R.S. § 905,5 nevertheless controls Delaware's action.

This clause of the Constitution brings to our Union a useful means for ending litigation. Matters once decided between adverse parties in any state or territory are at rest. Were it not for this full faith and credit provision,

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so far as the Constitution controls the matter, adversaries could wage again their legal battles whenever they met in other jurisdictions. Each state could control its own courts, but itself could not project the effect of its decisions beyond its own boundaries. Cf. Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714, 722. That clause compels that controversies be stilled so that, where a state court has jurisdiction of the parties and subject matter, its judgment controls in other states to the same extent as it does in the state where rendered. Roche v. McDonald, 275 U.S. 449, 451. This is true even though the cause of action merged in the judgment could not have been enforced in the state wherein the enforcement of the judgment is sought. Christmas v. Russell, 5 Wall. 290, 302; Fauntleroy v. Lum, 210 U.S. 230, 236.6 By the Constitutional provision for full faith and credit, the local doctrines of res judicata, speaking generally, become a part of national jurisprudence, and therefore federal questions cognizable here.

The Constitution does not require, McElmoyle v. Cohen, 13 Pet. 312, 328; Milwaukee County v. White Co., 296 U.S. 268, 276, nor does Delaware provide, that the judgments of Georgia have the force of those of her own courts. A suit in Delaware must precede any local remedy on the Georgia judgment. Subject to the Constitutional requirements, Delaware's decisions are based on Delaware jurisprudence. Her sovereignty determines personal and property rights within her territory. Subject to Constitutional limitations, it was her prerogative to distribute the property located in Delaware or to direct its transmission to the domiciliary representative of the deceased. Iowa v. Slimmer, 248 U.S. 115, 121. The full faith and credit clause allows Delaware, in disposing of local assets, to determine the question of domicile anew for any interested

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party who is not bound by participation in the Georgia proceeding. Thormann v. Frame, 176 U.S. 350, 356; Overby v. Gordon, 177 U.S. 214, 227; Burbank v. Ernst, 232 U.S. 162; Baker v. Baker, Eccles & Co., 242 U.S. 394, 400. It must be admitted that this reexamination may result in...

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