Boynton v. Ball

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation7 S.Ct. 981,30 L.Ed. 985,121 U.S. 457
Decision Date25 April 1887

[Statement of Case from 458 intentionally omitted] Leonard Swett, for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 458-459 intentionally omitted] J. A. Crain, for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 459-462 intentionally omitted]


This is a writ of error to the supreme court of the state of Illinois. The question of federal law, which gives jurisdiction to this court to review the judgment of the state court, arises out of the refusal of that court to give effect to a certificate of discharge in bankruptcy to Boynton, the plaintiff in error. Ball, the defendant in error, brought suit against Boynton in the circuit court of the state of Illinois for Stephenson county, on April 16, 1877. To this Boynton filed his answer, April 4, 1878, and judgment was rendered against him on December 9, 1879, for $6,223.99 debt, and $5,234.99 damages and costs. Pending this suit in the state court, Boynton, on his own application, was declared a bankrupt, April 15, 1878, and received his discharge from all his debts, December 23, 1880. An execution on the judgment against Boynton in the state court was issued February 21, 1880, and returned unsatisfied. On March 25, 1881, Boynton filed a petition in the state court asking for a perpetual stay of execution on the judgment rendered in favor of Ball, and filed a certified copy of his discharge in bankruptcy, together with certain affidavits. Ball was served with notice of this motion, and appeared and made defense. The motion was overruled by the circuit court, from which ruling Boynton appealed to the supreme court of the state, which court affirmed the judgment of the court below, with costs. 105 Ill. 627.

The question presented for us to consider is whether the discharge in bankruptcy was, under the circumstances of this case, a discharge from the judgment rendered in the circuit court of Stephenson county while the proceedings in bankruptcy were pending. It will be perceived that the suit in the state court was commenced before the proceedings in bankruptcy in which the discharge was finally granted. It will also be perceived that the case lingered in the statec ourt from April 16, 1887, until December 9, 1879, when the final judgment was rendered, a period of over two years; but that the plaintiff in error did not obtain his final discharge in bankruptcy until December 23, 1880, which was more than a year after the judgment was obtained against him in the state court.

In Dimock v. Revere Copper Co., 117 U. S. 559, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 855, derided at the last term of this court, a case very similar to this was presented to us for our consideration. Dimock, being sued in the state court of Massachusetts, made defense, and, pending the action, was discharged from all his debts under bankruptcy proceedings, receiving his certificate of discharge as a bankrupt a few days before final judgment against him in the state court. Notwithstanding he had this discharge at the time the judgment was rendered against him in the state court, he did not plead it in bar of that action, nor bring it in any manner to the attention of the court. He was afterwards sued upon this judgment in the supreme court of the state of New York, and there pleaded his discharge in bankruptcy in bar of the action. That court, however, held the certificate of discharge not to be a bar, and rendered judgment against him. This judgment was reversed in the supreme court in general term, and that judgment was in turn reversed by the court of appeals, which restored the judgment of the court in special term. This court, in reviewing that judgment, said that the superior court of Massachusetts, in which the first suit was brought, had jurisdiction of the case, which was rendered complete by the service of process and the appearance of the defendant; that nothing that was done in the bankruptcy court had ousted the jurisdiction of theat ousted the jurisdiction of that order to judgment; that this judgment having been rendered after the certificate of discharge in bankruptcy, which had not been called to the attention of the court in any manner, nor any stay of proceedings in the state court asked on account of the pendency of the bankruptcy proceedings, the question before the Massachusetts court for decision at the time it rendered judgment was whether Dimock was then indebted to the Revere Copper Company, and we held that it had jurisdiction and rightfully rendered judgment on this question in favor of that company, not withstanding the proceedings in the bankruptcy court of which it could not take judicial notice. This decision was supported by references to cases heretofore decided, involving similar question in this court, and in the courts of the states.

The principle on which the case was decided was that, while the discharge in bankruptcy would have been a valid defense to the suit if pleaded at or before the time judgment was rendered in the Massachusetts court, it had in that respect no more sanctity or effect in relieving Dimock of his debt to the company than a payment, or a receipt or a release of which he was bound to avail himself by plea or suggestion of some kind as a defense to the action in proper time; that, showing no good reason why he should not have presented that discharge, and permitting the judgment to go against him in the Massachusetts court, without an attempt to avail himself of it there, the judgment of that court was conclusive on the question of his indebtedness at that time to the copper company. That case, so parallel in its circumstances to the one now before us, would be conclusive of the latter if Boynton had had his certificate of discharge, or if the order for it had been made by the bankruptcy court before the judgment in the state court. But, as we have already seen, the judgment in the state court was rendered more than a year before the order of discharge in the bankruptcy court, and Boynton, therefore, had no opportunity to plead a discharge which had not then been granted as a defense to that action.


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