Milne v. Deen/Opinion of the Court

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Milne v. Deen by Stephen Johnson Field
Opinion of the Court
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

121 U.S. 525

MILNE  v.  DEEN


The conclusion we have reached as to the effect of the judgment of the marine court renders it unnecessary to pass upon, or even to state, the other questions raised in the progress of the trial. There is nothing in the record tending to impair the force of that judgment. Notice of appeal from it to the general term of the court was given, but it does not appear that the appeal was ever prosecuted. The alleged parol stipulation by counsel, that the judgment might be vacated, is not admitted; but, if made, it is not shown to have been acted upon by any entry on the records of the marine court. The proceedings in the suit in the supreme court to cancel the lease, and the ruling of the court of appeals therein, that evidence of contemporaneous or preceding oral stipulations could not be received to control the lease, have no bearing. upon the question before us, and the proceedings in the suit are still pending. As the case stands before us, the judgment of the marine court is in no respect impaired, and the defendant can invoke in his behalf whatever it concluded between the parties. The validity of the lease in suit here was involved there. The answer there alleged that, by false and fraudulent representations, the signature of the lessee was obtained to the lease, and that both she and the defendant, Wilson, were misled by those representations to sign the paper. The parties admitted that the only issue in that action was 'that of fraud in procuring the lease.' That issue being found by the verdict of the jury in favor of the defendant, the judgment thereon stands as an adjudication between the parties, by a court of competent jurisdiction, that the rease was obtained upon false and fraudulent representations of the plaintiff, and therefore was of no obligatory force. It determined not merely for that case, but for all cases between the same parties, not only that there was nothing due for the rent claimed for the month of December, 1873, but that the lease itself was procured by fraud, and therefore void.

In Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, we considered at much length the operation of a judgment as a bar against the prosecution of a second action upon the same demand and as an estoppel upon the question litigated and determined in another action between the same parties upon a different demand, and we held, following in this respect a long series of decisions, that in the former case the judgment, if rendered upon the merits, is an absolute bar to a subsequent action, a finality to the demand in controversy, concluding parties and those in privity with them; and that in the latter case,-that is, where the second action between the same parties is upon a different demand,-the jUdgment in the first action operates as an estoppel as to those matters in issue, or points controverted, upon the determination of which the finding or verdict was rendered.

Of the application of this rule Gardner v. Buckbee, 3 Cow. 120, furnishes an illustration. There it appeared that two notes had been given upon the sale of a vessel. On examination, the vessel proved to be unseaworthy, and the maker of the notes refused to pay them on the ground of fraudulent representations by the vendor. Thereupon an action was brought by the holder upon one of the notes in the marine court of the city of New York. The defendant pleaded the general issue, with notice of a total failure of consideration for the notes, on the ground of fraud in the sale of the vessel, and upon that point judgment was rendered in his favor. The holder thereupon brought an action upon the other note in the court of common pleas of the city of New York, and at the trial the defendant offered in evidence, in bar of the action, the record of the judgment in the marine court, the defense being fraud in the sale of the vessel, and the judgment having been rendered directly upon that issue between the same parties. The court of common pleas decided that the judgment was not a bar, but the supreme court of the state reversed the decision, declaring the law to be well settled that a judgment of a court of concurrent jurisdiction directly upon the point is, as a plea or evidence, conclusive between the same parties upon the same matter directly in question in another court, referring to and following the rule laid down by Chief Justice DE GREY in the celebrated Case of the Duchess of Kingston. It was urged that the judgment in the marine court did not affirm any particular fact in issue in the common pleas, but was general and indefinite, and that, from the language of the record, it could not be inferred whether the two cases were founded upon the same or a different state of facts; but the court answered that it was true the record merely showed the pleadings and that judgment was rendered for the defendant, but it showed that it was competent on the trial to establish the fraud of the plaintiff; and whether fraud was the point upon which the dicision was founded could be proved by extrinsic evidence, and that the admission of such evidence was not inconsistent with the record, and did not impugn its verity.

This decision has been frequently cited with approval by this court and the courts of every state. It is everyh ere recognized as correctly applying the law as settled in the Duchess of Kingston's Case. It is not possible to distinguish it from the one before us. Fraud in procuring the lease, upon which this action is brought, was the point in issue in the action in the marine court between the same parties, and it having been found by the verdict of the jury against the plaintiff, and judgment having been rendered upon that finding, the fact thus established must necessarily defeat any subsequent action upon the same instrument between those parties. The effect of the judgment is not at all dependent upon the correctness of the verdict or finding upon which it was rendered. It not being set aside by subsequent proceedings, by appeal or otherwise, it was equally effective as an estoppel upon the point decided, whether the decision was right or wrong. Packet Co. v. Sickles, 5 Wall. 582; Lumber Co. v. Buchtel, 101 U.S. 638; Tioga R. Co. v. Blossburg & C. R. R., 20 Wall. 137; Pray v. Hegeman, 98 N. Y. 351; Merriam v. Whittemore, 5 Gray, 316.

It is stated in the brief of counsel, and it was repeated on the argument, that the judgment of the marine court has been vacated by the supreme court of the state since this case was tried, in an action brought for that purpose. If such be the fact, it cannot be made available in this court to obviate an erroneous ruling at the trial. During the pendency of the case in this court the defendant below, plaintiff in error here, has died, and the executor of his estate has been substituted as a party in his place.

Judgment of the court below reversed, and cause remanded, with direction to award a new trial.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).