Bergman v. State

Decision Date16 September 1936
Docket Number26124.
Citation60 P.2d 699,187 Wash. 622
CourtWashington Supreme Court

Department 1.

Appeal from Superior Court, Spokane County; Chas. H. Leavy, Judge.

Action to quiet title by Alice F. Bergman against the State of Washington. From a decree quieting title, the State appeals.

Judgment affirmed.

Ralph E. Foley, A. O. Colburn, and Harvey Erickson, all of Spokane for the State.

Samuel Edelstein, of Spokane, for respondent.


This is an action to quiet title to community real estate against the cloud of two judgments for costs which the state had previously obtained in a criminal prosecution of respondent's husband. Trial Before the court, without a jury, resulted in a decree removing the cloud and quieting the title. The state has appealed.

The facts are not in dispute. In so far as it is necessary to state them for the purpose of presenting the law question involved, they are as follows At all times herein mentioned, respondent and her husband Charles B. Bergman, owned and held as community property, and occupied as a home, a certain piece of real estate described as a part of tract 170 of Opportunity in Spokane county. They also owned and conducted a furrier business in the city of Spokane.

On February 20, 1932, Charles B. Bergman, the husband, was convicted, in Spokane county, of the crime of arson in the second degree. The information upon which he was convicted charged that he had feloniously set on fire and burned the store building in which the furrier business was conducted.

The judgment of conviction awarded costs to the state in the sum of $273. On appeal to this court, that judgment was affirmed State v. Bergman, 171 Wash. 67, 17 P.2d 604, and, thereafter, the state was awarded an additional judgment for costs in the sum of $24.

There is no contention or suggestion in this case that the respondent in any way participated in the crime or had any prior knowledge that it was to be committed.

The state subsequently procured the issuance of an execution directing the sheriff to seize property to satisfy the judgments for costs. Thereupon, respondent brought this action to prevent a levy of the execution upon the community real estate above described.

The sole question upon this appeal is whether community property may be subjected to the satisfaction of a judgment for costs rendered in favor of the state in a criminal action against the husband for arson of property belonging to the community.

We have found but one case that bears any direct similarity to this. In Villescas v. Arizona Copper Co., Ltd., 20 Ariz. 268, 179 P. 963, one of the questions involved was whether community property could be levied upon and sold under execution to satisfy a judgment against the husband where the judgment was based upon a fine assessed against him in a criminal action. It appears, from a reference in the opinion to counsel's argument, that the crime in that case was not committed in connection with the management of the community property. According to a statute of Arizona, the community property of the husband and wife is liable for the community debts contracted by the husband during marriage, except in such cases as are specifically excepted by law. The law of the state of Washington is to the same effect as the statute of Arizona. Bird v. Steele, 74 Wash. 68, 132 P. 724.

In reaching the conclusion that community property could be held liable to satisfy a separate judgment against the husband, the Arizona court interpreted the above statute in the light of what it termed the general rule, that community property is liable for the husband's debts. The court, however, recognized and stated that this general rule did not obtain in Washington, and such is the fact. In this state, it is well settled that a separate debt of the husband is not an obligation against, or chargeable upon, the property of the marital community of which he is a member. Curtis v. Hickenbottom, 158 Wash. 198, 290 P. 822; Auernheimer v. Gardner, 177 Wash. 158, 31 P.2d 515.

Were it not for the fact that the fundamental principle upon which the Villescas Case is based is not accepted in this state, that case would undoubtedly be most forceful as a guiding precedent here, for if community property may be seized to satisfy the amount of a fine against the husband for an offense that had no connection with the management of the community property, there would be all the more reason for holding the community liable for costs arising out of a prosecution of the husband for an offense that had at least the semblance of a connection with the community business.

A fine is a sum of money exacted, as a pecuniary punishment, from a person guilty of an offense, while costs are but statutory allowances to a party for his expenses incurred in an action. The former is, in its nature at least, a penalty, while the latter approaches more nearly a civil debt. Hence, if the marital community be liable for that which is akin to a penalty, there is at least equal reason for its liability for a civil obligation.

But, since, in this state, the community property may not be held for the debts of the husband, the Arizona case loses its force as a precedent here. It might even be argued that if the Arizona court had adopted our rule of nonliability of the marital community for the separate debts of the husband, its conclusion in that case would have been different.

Having no direct precedent, we must turn elsewhere for guidance. The closest analogy to the problem Before us lies in the field of torts. In a general way, it may be said that a crime is an offense against the public, while a tort is a private injury. The distinguishing feature, however, between a crime and a tort is in the manner in which they are respectively pursued. An offense which amounts to a crime is pursued by the sovereign; an offense which amounts only to a civil injury is pursued by the injured party. In many instances, however, the same act constitutes both a crime and a tort, and the wrong...

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28 cases
  • State v. Gentry
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • January 6, 1995
    ...those whose actions are so dangerous or offensive that they are an affront to a civilized society. See Bergman v. State, 187 Wash. 622, 625, 60 P.2d 699, 106 A.L.R. 1007 (1936); 1 Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott, Jr., Substantive Criminal Law § 1.3(b), at 17-20 (1986). 5 Cf. David Boerner......
  • Dean v. Lehman, 68281-0.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • February 8, 2001
    ...absent sufficient separate property or community personal property. To counter the DOC's argument, the Class cites Bergman v. State, 187 Wash. 622, 60 P.2d 699 (1936). In Bergman, this court held that if a party is convicted of a for which he alone could be, and was, prosecuted and convicte......
  • Vogel v. Corp., Case Number: 29592
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • January 13, 1942
    ...A fine is defined as "a sum of money exacted as a pecuniary punishment from a person guilty of an offense." ¶10 Bergman v. State, 187 Wash. 622, 60 P.2d 699, 106 A.L.R. 10017. See, also, 8 R.C.L. 269, § 280. ¶11 It is not important that fines assessed by the Corporation Commission are colle......
  • deElche v. Jacobsen, 46715-3
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • December 31, 1980
    ...720, 836 (1974) (hereinafter Cross). Normally only a slight connection with the community has been required. But see Bergman v. State, 187 Wash. 622, 60 P.2d 699 (1936), where the husband burned down a community-owned business in an attempt to collect insurance money and liability was found......
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5 books & journal articles
  • §3.2 Particular Assets
    • United States
    • Washington State Bar Association Washington Community Property Deskbook (WSBA) Chapter 3 Character of Ownership of Property
    • Invalid date
    ...McGregor v. Johnson, 58 Wash. 78, 107 P. 1049 (1910); Oudin v. Crossman, 15 Wash. 519, 46 P. 1047 (1896). But cf. Bergman v. State, 187 Wash. 622, 60 P.2d 699 (1936) (cost judgment against husband who had been convicted of torching his place of business could not be satisfied out of communi......
  • Table of Cases
    • United States
    • Washington State Bar Association Washington Community Property Deskbook (WSBA) Table of Cases
    • Invalid date
    ...denied, 78 Wn.2d 997 (1971): 6.3(2)(a) Bepple, In reMarriage of, 37 Wn.App. 881, 683 P.2d 1131 (1984): 3.4(1)(d), 5.6(5) Bergman v.State, 187 Wash. 622, 60 P.2d 699 (1936): 3.2(13), 6.3(5) Bernard, In reMarriage of, 165 Wn.2d 895, 204 P.3d 907 (2009): 5.1(1), 5.1(3) Bernier v.Bernier, 44 Wn......
  • §6.3 Tort Liability
    • United States
    • Washington State Bar Association Washington Community Property Deskbook (WSBA) Chapter 6 Involuntary Disposition-Creditors' Rights
    • Invalid date
    ...and leads to liability. Cross, 61 Wash. L. Rev. at 143. Support for the first part of this proposition is found in Bergman v. State, 187 Wash. 622, 60 P.2d 699 (1936). In that case, the husband had apparently burned down the building in which he was conducting a furrier business. At issue i......
  • Deelche v. Jacobsen: Recovery from Community Property for a Separate Tort Judgment
    • United States
    • Seattle University School of Law Seattle University Law Review No. 6-01, September 1982
    • Invalid date
    ...century in English and American jurisprudence. W. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts, § 28 (4th ed. 1971). 79. See Bergman v. State, 187 Wash. 622, 60 P.2d 699 (1936); Edmonds v. Ashe, 13 Wash. App. 690, 537 P.2d 812 80. This is the argument for the family car doctrine, which is a form o......
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