45 U.S. 21 (1845), Spalding v. State Of New York

Citation:45 U.S. 21, 11 L.Ed. 858
Party Name:LYMAN A. SPALDING, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR, v. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, EX REL. FREDERIC F. BACKUS, DEFENDANTS.
Case Date:December 30, 1845
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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45 U.S. 21 (1845)

11 L.Ed. 858

LYMAN A. SPALDING, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR,

v.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, EX REL. FREDERIC F. BACKUS, DEFENDANTS.

United States Supreme Court.

December 30, 1845

OPINION

THIS case was brought up from the Supreme Court for the Trial of Impeachments and the Correction of Errors of the State of New York, by a writ of error issued under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act.

The facts were these.

The relator, Frederick F. Backus, previous to the 20th day of July, 1840, had obtained a judgment in the Supreme Court of the State of New York against Lyman A. Spalding, the plaintiff in error, for the nonperformance of promises, and on the said last mentioned day the relator, as complainant, filed a creditor's bill against the said Spalding, in the Court of Chancery of said State, before the Vice-Chancellor of the Eighth Circuit, on which an injunction was issued and served on said Spalding, to restrain him, among other things, from collecting, receiving, transferring, selling, assigning, delivering, or in any way or manner using, controlling, interfering or meddling with, or disposing of, any property, money, or things in action belonging to him.

On the 13th day of December, 1841, an order was made by said court to attach said Spalding for a violation of said injunction, and such proceedings were had in said court, that on the 21st day of March, 1842, the said court declared and adjudged that the said Lyman A. Spalding had been and was guilty of a contempt of court in wilfully violating said injunction, by disposing of property and paying out money contrary to the terms of said injunction; and that such misconduct of the said Lyman A. Spalding was calculated to

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and did impair, impede, and prejudice the rights and remedies of the complainant in the said cause, and it was ordered that he pay a fine for said contempt to the amount of $3,000, and the costs and expenses in relation to said contempt of $196 51; and that he be committed to the common jail of the county of Niagara, until the fine, costs, and expenses are paid, and that a mittimus issue accordingly to the sheriff. And it was also ordered, that the costs and expenses be paid to the solicitor of the relator, and the $3,000 be paid to the clerk of said court, subject to the further order of the court.

On the 6th day of May, 1842, an alias mittimus was issued; on the 7th day of May, the said Spalding was arrested, and continued under said arrest until the 29th day of September, 1842.

On the 11th day of April, 1842, the said Lyman A. Spalding presented his petition to be declared a bankrupt, pursuant to the act of Congress entitled 'An Act to establish a uniform System of Bankruptcy throughout the United States,' passed August 19th, 1841, ch. 9, and on the 17th day of September, 1842, was duly and fully discharged, under said act, from all the debts owing by him at the time of presentation of his said petition to be declared a bankrupt, and received his certificate thereof, pursuant to said act.

Afterwards, on his application, he was brought before a Supreme Court commissioner of said State, on habeas corpus, and claimed to be discharged from the mittimus, on the ground of being discharged by his certificate from the fine, costs, and expenses. The relator, having been duly notified, appeared by counsel and opposed said discharge, but the commissioner, on the presentation of the said certificate, discharged said Spalding from the mittimus on the 29th day of September aforesaid.

On the 18th day of November after, the relator made application to the said Vice-Chancellor for another mittimus to enforce the collection of said fine, costs, and expenses, and an order was entered that the said Spalding show cause before the Vice-Chancellor why the same should not issue.

On the 28th of said month, the relator and Spalding appeared before said Vice-Chancellor; and the said Lyman A. Spalding presented his certificate in bankruptcy aforesaid, and claimed that by the said bankrupt act he was by said certificate discharged from all his debts, and from the said fine, costs, and expenses.

On the 18th day of January, 1843, the said Vice-Chancellor ordered, adjudged, and decreed that a new mittimus issue, to commit he said Spalding to the common jail of the county of Niagara, until he pay the said fine, costs, and expenses, $196.51, to be paid to the solicitor of the relator, and the $3,000 be paid to the clerk of the court, subject to the further order of the court, and declared and decided that the discharge of the said Lyman A.

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Spalding, under the bankrupt law, did not entitle him to be released from the payment of the said fine, costs, and expenses, nor from imprisonment for its collection.

From which decision and decree the said Spalding appealed to the Chancellor of the said State, and the said Chancellor, on the 2d day of June, 1843, affirmed the decision and order or decree appealed from, and decided that the said defendant, Lyman A. Spalding, was not and could not be discharged from the said fine, costs, and expenses under the bankrupt act. 10 Paige, 284.

And on appeal by the said Lyman A. Spalding to the Court for the Correction of Errors of the State of New York, the said court affirmed the said order or decree of the said Chancellor, with costs and interest on the amount decreed to be paid, and decreed that the said Spalding was not by the bankrupt act discharged from the payment of the said fine, costs, and expenses.

The following is the opinion of the Court for the Correction of Errors, as pronounced by Chief-Justice Nelson.

The appellant, was adjudged guilty of a contempt of court for a wilful violation of an injunction by the Vice-Chancellor of the Eighth Circuit, on the 21st of March, 1842, and amerced, in the sum of $3,000, and costs and expenses of the proceeding, which were taxed at $196.51, with directions that he be committed to the jail of Niagara county until the same were paid.

On or about the 7th of May, he was arrested for nonpayment of said fine; but succeeded in preventing an actual commitment into the custody of the jailer, by the use of the writ of habeas corpus, until he obtained his discharge under the bankrupt law, 17th September following, when he was soon after set at liberty on the production of said discharge, by Joseph Center, a commissioner to do the duties of a judge of the Supreme Court at chambers.

On the 18th of November, the relator, upon full statement of the foregoing facts, applied to the Vice-Chancellor for a recommitment, on the ground that the discharge of the commissioner was without authority, and void; which, after hearing counter affidavits, and counsel for both parties, be adjudged accordingly, and entered an order for said recommitment to close custody till the fine was paid.

On appeal to the Chancellor, this order was affirmed, and the question is now here on appeal to this court.

Chief-Justice NELSON. Upon the view I have taken of the case, the only question at all material to examine is, whether the fine inflicted upon the appellant for a wilful violation of the injunction is a debt within the meaning of the bankrupt law, so that his discharge, granted under it, will operate to exonerate him from imprisonment. If not, then, beyond all question, the act of the commissioner in discharging the appellant from the mittimus was

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without authority, and the order of the Vice-Chancellor directing a recommitment proper.

By the 4th section of the bankrupt law (Laws Cong. 1841, p. 11), the certificate shall 'be deemed a full and complete discharge of all debts, contracts, and other engagements of such bankrupt which are provable under this act,' &c.

The adjudication upon which the fine was imposed, is as follows:--'The said Lyman A. Spalding has been and is guilty of a contempt of this court in wilfully violating the said injunction, and by disposing of property and receiving and paying out money contrary to the terms of the said injunction; and that said misconduct of the said Lyman A. Spalding was calculated to, and actually did, impede and prejudice the rights and remedies of the complaimant in the said cause.'

This act, for which the appellant has thus been adjudged guilty, is a criminal offence under the Revised Statutes (vol. 2, p. 577, § 14), and was before, at common law (4 Bl. Com. 129), for which he was liable to an indictment, and, on conviction, to fine and imprisonment.

He might have been punished in this way, and subjected to a fine not exceeding $250, and imprisonment for one year. (2 Rev. Stat. 582, § 46, and p. 577, § 14.)

But this remedy by indictment for suppressing the mischief is oftentimes found too tardy for the exigency of the case; and hence the law has also authorized the more summary proceeding by attachment, as for a criminal contempt, whereby the offender is arraigned at once upon the charges, and the course of justice more promptly vindicated and sustained. As has been well remarked in reference to this subject, laws, without a competent authority to secure their administration from disobedience and contempt, would be vain and nugatory. A power, therefore, in the courts of justice to suppress such contempts by an immediate attachment of the offender results from the first principles of judicial establishments, and must be an inseparable attendant upon every superior tribunal.

This summary mode of punishment is the one that has been resorted to in the instance before us; and upon a conviction, the propriety and justice of which is not...

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