Christmas v. Russell

Decision Date01 December 1866
Citation5 Wall. 290,18 L.Ed. 475,72 U.S. 290
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

IN March, 1840, Christmas, being a citizen and resident of Mississippi, made at Vicksburg, in that State, and there delivered to one Samuel, a promissory note, promising to pay to his order in March, 1841, a sum certain. This note was indorsed by Samuel to Russell, a citizen and resident of Kentucky. By statute of Mississippi, action on this note was barred by limitation, after six years, that is to say, was barred in March, 1847. In 1853, the defendant, who was still, and had continuously been, a resident of Mississippi, having a mansion-house therein, went into Kentucky on a visit, and was there sued in one of the State courts upon the note.

Defence was taken on a statute of limitations of Mississippi and otherwise, and the matter having been taken to the Court of Appeal of Kentucky and returned thence, judgment was entered below in favor of the plaintiff.

A transcript being promptly carried into Mississippi, the place of the domicil of Christmas, an action of debt was brought upon it in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Mississippi; the action which was the subject of the writ of error now before this court.

The transcript above referred to, was one duly authenticated under the act of Congress of 26th May, 1790, which provides that records authenticated in a manner which it prescribes, shall 'have such faith and credit given to them in every other court in the United States, as they have by law or usage in the court from which they are taken;' an act passed in pursuance of Section 1 of Article IV of the Constitution of the United States, declaring that 'full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings in every other State;' and that 'Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such records shall be proved, and the effect thereof.'

In the action brought as above said, in the Circuit Court of Mississippi, the defendant filed six pleas—of which the second was to this effect:

'That at the time the cause of action accrued, and thenceforth until suit was brought in Kentucky, and at the time when said suit was brought, he was a resident of Mississippi, and that the cause of action would have been barred by an act of limitation of that State, if the suit had been brought therein, and so by the law of Mississippi, no action could be maintained in said State upon the said judgment.'

He also pleaded

4th. 'That the judgment set forth was obtained and procured by the plaintiff by fraud of the said plaintiff.'


6th. 'That the said suit in whch judgment was obtained, was instituted to evade the laws of Mississippi, and in fraud of said laws.'

The second and sixth pleas were intended to set up a defence under a statute of Mississippi, adopted in February, 1857, and which went into effect on the 1st day of November of that year.1 That statute enacted:

'No action shall be maintained on any judgment or decree rendered by any court without this State against any person who, at the time of the commencement of the action in which such judgment or decree was or shall be rendered, was or shall be a resident of this State, in any case where the cause of such action would have been barred by any act of limitation of this State, if such suit had been brought therein.'- To these pleas the plaintiff below demurred. The demurrer was sustained, and judgment having gone for the plaintiff, the question on error here was, as to the sufficiency of these pleas, or either of them, to bar the action.

Messrs. Carlisle and McPherson, for the plaintiff in error:

We will, for convenience, discuss the fourth plea first, and then the second and sixth together.

I. The fourth plea offered to prove, in bar to the action, that the judgment sued on was obtained and procured by the plaintiff by his fraud.

1. Fraud by the plaintiff in procuring the judgment, if well and sufficiently pleaded and proven, would have barred the action.

This is the established rule of law, and was so laid down by this court in the case of Webster v. Reid.2

It is also the rule in Kentucky, where the judgment now sued on was rendered.3

2. Fraud was well and sufficiently pleaded.4

II. As to the 2d and 6th pleas. The manifest policy of the State of Mississippi in passing the statute set up by the defendant in his second plea below was to protect its citizens from unjust and harassing litigation under circumstances such as those under which the present one is brought on. And the question is, whether this statute, having such intent and policy, was within the constitutional competency of the State to enact.

It will be maintained on the opposite side that such a power cannot be exercised without violating that clause of the Constitution, respecting the full faith and credit due to the records and judicial proceedings of the several States.

Without here examining the authorities on this subject in detail, it is sufficient to observe that on the one hand they clearly establish that 'the full faith and credit' which is guaranteed to the records and judicial proceedings of the several States, has relation to them only as instruments of evidence,5 while on the other all the cases concede that the whole subject of remedies by action or suit at law or in equity, is within the undoubted competency of the respective States. In Bronson v. Kinzie,6 Chief Justice Taney syas:

'Undoubtedly, a State may regulate at pleasure the modes of proceeding in its courts in relation to past contracts as well as future. It may, for example, shorten the period of time within which claims shall be barred by the statute of limitations. It may, if it thinks proper, direct that the necessary implements of agriculture, or the tools of the mechanic, or articles of necessity in household furniture, shall, like wearing apparel, not be liable to execution on judgments. Regulations of this description have always been considered, in every civilized community, as properly belonging to the remedy to be exercised or not by every sovereignty, according to its own views of policy and humanity. It must reside in every State to enable it to secure its citizens from unjust and harassing litigation, and to protect them in those pursuits which are necessary to the existence and well-being of every community. And although a new remedy may be deemed less convenient than the old one, and may, in some respects, render the recovery of debts more tardy and difficult, yet it will not follow that the law is unconstitutional. Whatever belongs merely to the remedy may be altered according to the will of the State, provided the alteration does not impair the obligation of the contract.'

Now, in the present case, the only contract between the parties in form or in substance, which is pretended to have had any existence at the date of the Mississippi statute, was that the plaintiff in error, being a citizen and resident of Mississippi, on the 10th day of March, 1840, in that State, made and delivered his promissory note to a certain Samuel, promising to pay to his order a certain sum of money at a certain day thereafter. Neither the statute in question, nor any other statute of Mississippi purports to impair, or is pretended to have impaired the obligation of this contract. After the passage of the disputed statute, as well as before, there was a statute of limitations which barred the remedy in this contract in six years after the cause of action accrued, but this it is conceded was within the constitutional power of the State.

All that had occurred after the making of this contract was, that a new and higher instrument of evidence, establishing the same contract with greater solemnity, had been imposed upon the debtor, by a proceeding in invitum, in another State of the Union, where he happened to be found temporarily sojourning. But the contract between the parties remained the same in its substance, although it had changed its form by operation of law, in which form its substance is distinctly repeated and adjudicated.

Will it be maintained that when a contract has assumed a new shape by extra-territorial judicial proceedings it may be immediately brought back into the State where it was made, and where in its original form it was a mere nullity, because against public policy, in violation of express law, and there, through the courts, in spite of the statute, be compulsorily enforced? This surely will not be contended.

The statute of Mississippi, alleged to be unconstitutional, did not deny to the Kentucky record the full faith and credit guaranteed to it by the Constitution. In the present case, full faith and credit and effect as evidence were given to the Kentucky record, as conclusive of every matter and thing which thereby appeared. And it did thereby appear that the judgment had no other foundation than a certain Mississippi contract therein set forth, which fell within the purview of the Mississippi statute in question, the cause of action therein having been long barred by the limitation acts of said State in force at the date of the contract.

This question rises far above any mere technical criticism of the provisions of the Constitution; it involves the sovereign competency of the State to enforce its own laws within its own limits in egard to subjects of litigation arising there between its own citizens. In the case at bar the statute invoked by the plaintiff was passed, manifestly, in the just and reasonable exercise of that power, which in the language of this court, above cited, must reside in every State to enable it to secure its citizens from unjust and harassing litigation. It does not disregard or discredit the Kentucky record; but giving that record full faith and credit, it declares that upon the facts thereby appearing, the obligation thereby attempted to be imposed upon the defendant is contrary...

To continue reading

Request your trial
173 cases
  • Warfield Natural Gas Co. v. Ward
    • United States
    • Kentucky Court of Appeals
    • June 18, 1940
    ... ... prospectively do not impair or extinguish vested rights. 17 ... R.C.L. 666, 682; Christmas v. Russell, 5 Wal. 290, ... 18 L.Ed. 475 ...          Disposition ... of the two foregoing issues seems to take out of the case a ... ...
  • Williams v. State of North Carolina
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • December 21, 1942
    ...or contravened local policy, the judgment thereon obtained in a sister state is entitled to full faith and credit. See Christmas v. Russell, 5 Wall. 290, 18 L.Ed. 475; Fauntleroy v. Lum, supra; Kenney v. Supreme Lodge, 252 U.S. 411, 40 S.Ct. 371, 64 L.Ed. 638, 10 A.L.R. 716; Titus v. Wallic......
  • Magnolia Petroleum Co v. Hunt
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • December 20, 1943 one state res judicata to the same extent in every other. Hampton v. McConnell, 3 Wheat. 234, 235, 4 L.Ed. 378; Christmas v. Russell, 5 Wall. 290, 18 L.Ed. 475; Fauntleroy v. Lum, 210 U.S. 230, 28 S.Ct. 641, 52 L.Ed. 1039; Kenney v. Supreme Lodge, 252 U.S. 411, 40 S.Ct. 371, 64 L.Ed. 638......
  • Whitley v. Spokane & Inland Railway Co.
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • April 14, 1913
    ...(U.S.) 234, 4 L.Ed. 378; Cheever v. Wilson, 76 U.S. 108, 9 Wall. (U.S.) 108, 19 L.Ed. 604; Christmas v. Russell, 72 U.S. 290, 5 Wall. (U.S.) 290, 18 L.Ed. 475; 13 Cyc. 380; 8 Am. Eng. Ency., 2d ed., 955; 1 Bailey on Jurisdiction, sec. 4; Brown on Jurisdiction, sec. 1-a.) In order to reach a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT