Knox County v. Harshman (133 U.S. 152)/Opinion of the Court
A court of equity does not interfere with judgments at law, unless the complainant has an equitable defense of which he could not avail himself at law, or had a good defense at law which he was prevented from availing himself of by fraud or accident, unmixed with negligence of himself or his agents. Insurance Co. v. Hodgson, 7 Cranch, 332, 336; Hendrickson v. Hinckley, 17 How. 443, 445; Crim v. Handley, 94 U.S. 652; Phillips v. Negley, 117 U.S. 665, 675, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 901. In the case before us, the bill in equity of the judgment debtor contains no allegation of any fraud on the part of the judgment creditor or his agents. The allegation, that the record of the judgment as it stands is a gross fraud upon the judgment debtor, is in terms, as it must be in legal effect, limited to the particulars specified in the bill. U.S. v. Atherton, 102 U.S. 372; Ambler v. Choteau, 107 U.S. 586, 590, 591, 1 Sup. Ct. Rep. 556. The grounds assigned for the interposition of equity reduce themselves to two.
The first ground is that the allegations in the petition on which the judgment was recovered were false, especially in that they alleged that the subscription was made under the General Statutes of Missour, authorizing the levy of a tax sufficient to pay the amount of the bonds and coupons. But this ground is fully met and disposed of by the opinion delivered by Mr. Justice MATTHEWS in Harshman v. Knox Co., 122 U.S. 306, 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1171, in which it was said: 'By the terms of the judgment in favor of the relator it was determined that the bonds sued on were issued under the authority of a statute which prescribed no limit to the rate of taxation for their payment. In such cases, the law which authorizes the issue of bonds gives also the means of payment by taxation. The findings in the judgment on that point are conclusive. They bind the respondents in their official capacity, as well as the county itself.' 122 U.S. 319, 320, 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1177.
The other ground relied on is that the county had no notice of the commencement of the action againstit. The bill of the county and the argument of its counsel proceed on two hardly consistent suppositions,-that the clerk of the county court was never served with process; and that he was negligent in not seasonably informing the county court or county attorney that service had been made upon him. But in either aspect of the case the bill cannot be maintained.
The statutes of Missouri provide that 'where any action shall be commenced against any county, a copy of the original summons shall be left with the clerk of the county court fifteen days, at least, before the return-day thereof.' Rev. St. Mo. 1879, § 3489. The clerk is thus made the agent of the county for the purpose of receiving service of process against it, and service upon him is legal and sufficient service upon the county. Commissioners v. Sellew, 99 U.S. 624; Thompson v. U.S., 103 U.S. 480; Weil v. Greene Co., 69 Mo.281. The officer's return stated that he served a copy of the summons upon the clerk. If that return was false, yet no fraud being charged or proved against the petitioner, redress could be sought at law only, and not by this bill. Walker v. Robbins, 14 How. 584. But if the question of the truth of the return could be considered as open in this suit, the proofs given at the hearing clearly show that such service was in fact made. Any neglect of the clerk in communicating the fact to the county court was neglect of an agent of the county, and did not affect the validity of the service or of the judgment. Decree affirmed.