Baker v. Cummings (181 U.S. 117)
The petitioner (plaintiff below) commenced this action at law in the supreme court of the District of Columbia on December 19, 1889, to recover from the defendant the sum of $2,712.81 with interest at 6 per centum from July 31, 1889, and annexed to his declaration a bill of particulars of his demand. Plaintiff claimed in his declaration that the money was due, among other things, on an account stated between the parties. The plaintiff obtained judgment in the trial court for the amount of his claim, which was reversed by the court of appeals of the District.
A case between the same parties and growing out of the same transaction has already been before this court and decided. 169 U.S. 189, 42 L. ed. 711, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 367. The question in this case involves the construction and effect of that decision, and therefore a writ of certiorari was applied for and granted, and the case brought here.
Soon after the commencement of this action, and before pleading to the declaration filed therein, Cummings, the defendant, commenced a suit on the equity side of the supreme court of the District against Baker, for the purpose of enjoining him from the further prosecution of this action, and to obtain a full and complete accounting under the order and direction of the court between complainant and Baker in respect to the partnership dealings alleged and set up in the bill; and he prayed that the defendant should be decreed to pay to him the amount which should be found due him and for other relief. In his bill the complainant alleged the formation of a copartnership on January 1, 1876, between the parties, to prosecute the practice of the law in the city of Washington, terminable by mutual consent, each to share equally in all the profits and losses of the business; and it was averred that the partnership continued until September 1, 1889, when it was dissolved. It was then alleged that the terms of the dissolution were agreed upon through false and fraudulent representations of Baker as to the condition of the partnership affairs in relation to what were called 'the inspector cases,' made to the complainant, with the facts in regard to which the defendant was, as the complainant alleged, much more familiar than the complainant, and that, based upon the misrepresentations, terms of agreement for dissolution were arrived at, and in carrying out the same the complainant assigned by a written assignment his claims under the partnership to all moneys then due or that might thereafter become due arising from those cases, and as consideration therefor the complainant received from the defendant the sum of $15,000; that, instead of the amount stated by the defendant to be due the partnership in relation to the cases mentioned, a very much larger amount was due, and instead of there being only a certain named amount of claims in cases where no congressional appropriation had been made, as stated by the defendant, a very much larger amount existed to his knowledge, of which the complainant was ignorant, and upon the faith of these untrue and fraudulent statements the complainant assigned by a written assignment all his interest in the cases for a sum largely below the amount actually belonging to him under the terms of the partnership.
The complainant then alleged the commencement of an action at law by Baker against him to recover $2,712.81, and stated that appended to the declaration in that action was a bill of particulars of Baker's claim, and that all of the items in that bill of particulars originated in and grew out of the partnership dealings of the parties, and not otherwise, and that only by a full, proper, and complete accounting and discovery, under the order and direction of a court of equity, could a proper adjustment be had of the rights of the complainant and defendant growing out of their partnership dealings.
Complainant further alleged that the action at law was not yet at issue, but that the time for pleading thereto had nearly approached, and that the complainant could not, under the rules at law, incorporate in his plea the equitable defenses herein set forth, and which in a court of equity would avail against Baker's demand; and especially that the equitable right of the complainant to have discovery in the premises and to have the said assignment canceled and held for naught was not cognizable by a court of law; and that if the defendant (Baker) were therefore permitted to prosecute his action at law against the complainant, the latter would be deprived of his defenses to that suit which were set up in the bill; and the complainant therefore alleged that he was entitled to have the defendant enjoined from prosecuting his action at law, and to have the court order and direct a full and complete accounting between the complainant and defendant in respect to their partnership dealings. An order was thereupon issued restraining the further prosecution of this action, which order was subsequently and about February 1, 1892, dissolved.
To this bill the defendant Baker filed an answer February 10, 1890, denying all allegations of fraud in the settlement between the parties or in the procuring of the assignment, and also alleging that he furnished the complainant with all needed data, and all the data and information which existed in connection with the facts within his control, and that the settlement was made with full knowledge of all the facts on the part of the complainant, and that after such settlement was made he left in the possession of the complainant papers and accounts plainly showing the whole transaction and all the facts in regard to the case, an examination of which would give all necessary information about the partnership affairs. He also alleged that the complainant was endeavoring, after a lapse of more than three years and with a full knowledge of all the facts, to attack this settlement as void, and he alleged that the claim made by the complainant was old and stale, and he pleaded the statute of limitations in his behalf, and alleged that the claim did not accrue, nor was any demand made to show whether error or otherwise were made within the period of three years.
After the injunction restraining the further prosecution of this action had been dissolved, and on February 10, 1892, the defendant filed a plea to the declaration herein, in which he denied (1) that he was indebted to the plaintiff; (2) he alleged that he never promised as set up in the declaration; (3) that the plaintiff's cause of action did not accrue within three years; (4 and 5) a set-off of $35,873.35. This set-off was alleged to have arisen out of the dealings between the parties in the partnership already mentioned.
The plaintiff Baker joined issue upon the plea on August 24, 1892. Further proceedings in this action were delayed by mutual consent until the trial of the suit in equity. Upon that trial the complainant obtained a decree for thirty-odd thousand dollars, after deducting the amount claimed to be due the plaintiff in this action. That decree was affirmed by the court of appeals of the District, and the case was taken by appeal to this court, where the decrees of the courts below were reversed and the case remanded with instructions to the supreme court to dismiss the bill. The dismissal was general, and not 'without prejudice' or any similar expression. 169 U.S. 189, 42 L. ed. 711, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 367. After the entry of the decree dismissing the bill on the mandate of this court in the equity suit, Baker, the plaintiff herein, by leave of the court filed in this action a replication to the plea of set-off, setting up the commencement of the equity suit, and stating the issues involved therein and the decree made upon the decision of this court dismissing the bill, and claimed that judgment as res judicata of the matters of set-off contained in the 4th and 5th counts of the defendant's plea. Then by a series of pleadings, too long and too technical for repetition, the final question was raised by demurrer as to whether the plaintiff's replication of res judicata to the defendant's plea of set-off was good or not. Upon the argument of the demurrer the supreme court held that the replication was good; that the merits of the whole case had been decided in the equity suit, and that the judgment in that suit was a bar to all claims of set-off on the part of the defendant Cummings in the action at law. The parties came to trial after the argument and decision upon the demurrer, and having waived a jury the following stipulation was filed:
'It is hereby stipulated and agreed by and between the parties to this cause, by their respective attorneys, that this cause may be tried by the court without a jury, the parties hereby expressly waiving the same, upon the following agreed statement of facts, subject to the limitations herein contained:
'That on the 31st day of July, A. D. 1889, and for a long time prior thereto, the plaintiff and the defendant were copartners engaged as attorneys in the prosecution of claims against the United States, the net fees derived therefrom being under the contract of partnership equally to be divided between them, the said partners; that on the 19th day of December, A. D. 1889, the plaintiff instituted this action to recover the sum of $2,712.81, with interest from the 31st day of July, A. D. 1889; that the said sum is the identical sum referred to on pages 227 and 248 of the record on appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States in the equity cause hereinafter referred to; that after the institution of this suit the defendant herein instituted a certain equity proceeding against the plaintiff herein in the supreme court of the District of Columbia, the same being known and numbered on the dockets of said court as equity cause No. 12,263; the record, decrees, and opinions of the respective courts therein, both in this and the appellate courts, are hereby referred to and made part hereof; that the several items of account set forth in the pleas of set-off herein are respectively the identical items set up, referred to, and claimed in said equity cause.
'If the court, on inspection of said record and proceedings in said equity cause and of the record and proceedings of this cause, shall be of opinion that the defendant herein may not set up in bar of the plaintiff's action any of said items of set-off and counterclaim as pleaded in this action, but is concluded by the proceedings and decree in said equity cause, then this court may enter judgment for the plaintiff in this action for the sum of $2,712.81, with interest thereon from the 31st day of July, A. D. 1889, as claimed in his declaration herein; but if the court shall be of opinion that any of said items of set-off and counterclaim may be set up in bar of the plaintiff's action herein, then this cause shall be remanded to the docket for trial by jury. Both parties hereto reserve the right of appeal or by writ of error from the judgment of this court or of any court of review passing hereon, and also any other remedy which they may by law be entitled to.'
Upon this stipulation in connection with the record in the equity suit, the supreme court held that the defendant Cummings could not in this action set up in bar to plaintiff's action any of the items of set-off attached to his plea, and therefore judgment was rendered for the plaintiff for the amount claimed by him. On appeal to the court of appeals the judgment was reversed, and a new trial granted, Mr. Chief Justice Alvey dissenting.
Mr. Clarence A. Brandenburg for petitioner.
Messrs. Holmes Conrad and Franklin H. Mackey for respondent.
Mr. Justice Peckham, after making the above statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court: