Cromwell v. County of Sac/Dissent Clifford

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

94 U.S. 351

Cromwell  v.  County of Sac


Ten bonds, each for the sum of $1,000, were issued by the county for the purpose of erecting a court-house in the county seat of the county; and it appears that the bonds were made payable to bearer, one each succeeding year, till the whole were paid, with interest at the rate of ten per cent per annum. Four of the bonds are the subject of the present controversy, and the defence is the estoppel of a prior judgment in favor of the county in a suit brought to collect certain of the interest warrants annexed to the bonds.

Sufficient appears to show that the bonds were in due form, and that they contain the recital that they 'were issued by the county, in accordance with the vote of the legal voters thereof, at a special election holden on the day therein mentioned, pursuant to a proclamation made by the county judge, according to the statute of the State in such case made and provided.'

Annexed to the bonds were the coupons for the payment of the annual interest, and the plaintiff in the prior suit, being the holder of twenty-five of the coupons, instituted the suit to recover the amount, and he alleged in his declaration that he was the holder and owner of the same; that he received the coupons in good faith before their mat rity, and that he paid value for the same at the time of the transfer; that the bonds and coupons were issued by the county under and by virtue of a legal and competent authority, and that the same are valid and legal claims against the corporation.

Most of the allegations of the declaration were denied in the answer; but the defendants did not specifically deny that the plaintiff paid value for the coupons at the time he became the holder and owner.

Special findings of the facts were made by the court, from which it appears that the question whether a court-house should be built, and whether a tax sufficient to liquidate the expense should be levied, were duly submitted to the voters of the county; that the propositions were adopted at a special election held for the purpose; that the county judge made the contract for the erection of the court-house; and that he duly executed the ten bonds in question, and delivered the same to the contractor, in pursuance of the contract.

Proof of a satisfactory character was exhibited that the contract between the judge and the contractor was made in the county where the judge resided: but the court found that the bonds were signed, sealed, and delivered by the judge during his temporary absence in another county; and the findings show that the plaintiff became the owner and holder of the coupons before maturity and after the proceedings were correctly entered in the minute-book; nor is it found that the plaintiff had any notice whatever of the supposed irregularities.

Evidence of fraud in the inception of the contract is entirely wanting, except what may be inferred from the unexplained fact that the contractor gave one of the bonds, as a gratuity, to the county judge as soon as he delivered the same to the contractor. Beyond all doubt, the contractor proved to be unworthy, as he never performed his contract, or paid back the consideration.

Judgment was rendered for the defendants in the court below; and the majority of this court affirmed the judgment, holding that the evidence showed that the bonds were fraudulent in their inception, and that the plaintiff could not recover, inasmuch as he did not prove affirmatively that he paid value for the bonds.

Authorities are not necessary to show that the transferee of a negotiable instrument made payable to bearer, subsequent to its date, holds it clothed with the presumption that it was negotiated to him at the time of its execution, in the usual course of business and for value, and without notice of any equities between the prior parties to the instrument. Goodman v. Harvey, 4 A. & E. 870; Goodman v. Simonds, 20 How. 365; Noxon v. De Wolf, 10 Gray, 346; Ranger v. Cary, 1 Met. 373.

Coupons are written contracts for the payment of a definite sum of money on a given day, and, being drawn and executed in a given mode, for the very purpose that they may be separated from the bonds, it is held that they are negotiable, and that a suit may be maintained on them without the necessity of producing the bonds to which they were attached. Knox County v. Aspinwall, 21 How. 544; White v. Railroad, 21 id. 575; Aurora v. West, 7 Wall. 105; Murray v. Lardner, 2 id. 121.

Possession of the instrument is plenary evidence of title until other evidence is produced to control it, the holder being entitled to the same privileges and immunities as an indorsee of a bill of exchange or promissory note payable to bearer or indorsed in blank. He is not subject to any equities as between the promisor and original payee, nor to the set-off of any debt, legal or equitable, which the latter may owe to the former. Pettee v. Prout, 3 Gray, 503.

Title and possession are one and inseparable to clothe the instrument with the prima facie presumption that it was indorsed at the date of its execution, and that the holder paid value for it, and received it in good faith in the usual course of business, without notice of any prior equities. Evidence to show that he paid value for the instrument is unnecessary in the opening of his case; but the defendant may, if he can, give evidence that the consideration was illegal, that the instrument was fraudulent in its inception, or that it had been lost or stolen before it was negotiated to the plaintiff; and, if the defendant proves such a defence, it will follow that it must prevail, unless the plaintiff proves that he gave value for the instrument in the usual course of business, in which event he is still entitled to recover. Fitch v. Jones, 5 El. & Bl. 238; Smith v. Braine, 16 Q. B. 243; Hall v. Featherstone, 3 Hurls. & Nor. 287.

Applying that rule to the case as it was first presented, it would seem that the plaintiff should have prevailed, as it is clear that the defendant did not give any sufficient evidence to show that the consideration of the instruments was illegal, or that they were fraudulent in their inception, or that they had been lost or stolen before the plaintiff became the holder of the same, without notice of any prior equities.

Suffice it to remark, in this connection, that these views were urged against the former judgment; but they did not prevail, and the judgment was rendered for the defendant, which is unreversed and in full force. Suit is now brought upon the bonds to which those coupons were attached, and the sole question of any importance is whether the judgment in the former case is a bar to the present suit.

Nothing can be more certain in legal decision than the proposition that the title to the bonds and coupons are the same, as the coupons were annexed to the bonds when the bonds were executed and delivered to the original holder, in pursuance of the contract for building the court-house; and it is equally certain, that if it could be proved in defence that the consideration was illegal, or that the instruments were fraudulent in their inception, or that they had been lost or stolen before they were negotiated to the holder, the defence would apply to the bonds as well as the coupons.

Before proceeding to examine the legal question, it should be remarked that the former suit was prosecuted in the name of a different plaintiff; but the theory of the present defendants is that the present plaintiff was the real owner of the coupons in that action, and that the action was prosecuted for his sole use and benefit. Testimony to prove that theory was offered in the court below, and the majority of the court now hold that evidence to prove that proposition was properly admitted. Assume that to be so, and it follows that the parties, in legal contemplation, are the same; nor can it be denied that the cause of action, within the meaning of that requirement, as expounded and defined by decided cases of the highest authority, is the same as that in the former action, the rule being that the legal effect of the former judgment as a bar is not impaired, because the subject-matter of the second suit is different, provided the second suit involves the same title and depends upon the same question. Outram v. Morewood, 3 East, 346.

Holders of negotiable securities, as well as every other plaintiff litigant, are entitled to a full trial upon the merits of the cause of action; but if in such a trial judgment be rendered for the defendant, whether it be upon the verdict of a jury or upon a demurrer to a sufficient declaration, or to a material pleading involving the whole merits, the plaintiff can never after maintain against the same defendant or his privies any similar or concurrent action for the same cause, upon the same grounds as those disclosed in the first declaration, for the reason that the judgment, under such circumstances, determines the merits of the controversy, and a final judgment deciding the right must put an end to the dispute, else the litigation would be endless. Rex v. Kingston, 20 State Trials, 588; Kitchen v. Campbell, 2 W. Bl. 831; Clearwater v. Meredith, 1 Wall. 43; Ricardo v. Garcias 12 Cl. & Fin. 400.

Allegations of an essential character may be omitted in the first declaration and be supplied in the second, in which event the judgment on demurrer in the first suit is not a bar to the second, for the reason that the merits of the cause as disclosed in the second declaration were not heard and decided in the first action. Gilman v. Rives, 10 Pet. 298; Richardson v. Barton, 24 How. 188; Aurora City v. West, 7 Wall. 90.

Where the parties and the cause of action are the same, the prima facie presumption is that the questions presented for decision were the same, unless it appears that the merits of the controversy were not involved in the issue, the rule in such a case being that where every objection urged in the second suit was open to the party within the legitimate scope of the pleadings in the first suit, and that the whole defence might have been presented in that trial, the matter must be considered as having passed in rem judicatam, and the former judgment in such a case is conclusive between the parties. Outram v. Morewood, 3 East, 358; Greathead v. Broomley, 7 Term, 452.

Except in special cases, the plea of res judicata applies not only to points upon which the court was actually required to form an opinion and pronounce judgment, but to every point which properly belonged to the subject of the issue, and which the parties, exercising reasonable diligence, might have brought forward at the time. 2 Taylor, Evid. sect. 1513.

Other text-writers of high authority substantially concur in that view; as, for example, Mr. Greenleaf says that 'the rule should apply only to that which was directly in issue, and not to every thing which was incidentally brought into controversy during the trial;' and the reason given for that limitation is worthy of notice, which is, that the evidence must correspond with the allegations, and be confined to the point in issue; and he remarks that it is only to the material allegations of one party that the other can be called to answer, for to such alone can testimony be regularly adduced, and upon such an issue only is judgment to be rendered. Pursuant to those suggestions, he states his conclusion as follows: 'A record, therefore, is not held conclusive as to the truth of any allegations which were not material nor traversable, but as to things material and traversable it is conclusive and final.'

Unless the court, in rendering the former judgment, was called upon to determine the merits, the judgment is never a complete bar; and it is safe to add, that, if the trial went off on a technical defect, or because the debt was not yet due, or because the court had not jurisdiction, or because of a temporary disability of the plaintiff or the like, the judgment will be no bar to a future action. 1 Greenl. Evid. sect. 330.

Since the resolution in Ferrer's Case, 6 Coke, 7, the general principle has always been conceded, that, when one is barred in any action, real or personal, by judgment or demurrer, confession or verdict, he is barred as to that or a similar action of the like nature for the same thing for ever. Demurrer for want of equity in such a case is allowed in chancery, because the whole matter in controversy is open in the first suit.

Contrary to that rule, a party brought a second bill of complaint, and the Vice-Chancellor, in disposing of the case, expressed himself as follows:--

'Where a given matter becomes the subject of litigation in and of adjudication by a court of competent jurisdiction, the court requires the parties to bring forward their whole case, and will not, except under special circumstances, permit the same parties to open the same subject of litigation in respect of matter which might have been brought forward as part of the subject in contest, but which was not brought forward, only because the party has, from negligence, omitted part of his case.' And he added that the plea of res judicata applies, except in special cases, not on y to points upon which the court was actually required by the parties to form an opinion and pronounce a judgment, but to every point which properly belonged to the subject of litigation, and which the parties, exercising reasonable diligence, might have brought forward at the time. Henderson v. Henderson, 3 Hare, Ch. 115; Bagot v. Williams, 3 B. & C. 241; Roberts v. Heine, 27 Ala. 678; Safford v. Clark, 2 Bing. 382; Miller v. Covert, 1 Wend. 487.

When a fact has been once determined in the course of a judicial proceeding, say the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, and final judgment has been rendered in accordance therewith, it cannot be again litigated between the same parties without virtually impeaching the correctness of the former decision, which, from motives of public policy, the law does not permit to be done; and they proceed to say that the estoppel is not confined to the judgment, but extends to all facts involved in it, as necessary steps, or the groundwork upon which it must have been founded. Burlen v. Shannon, 99 Mass. 203; Queen v. Hartington, 4 El. & Bl. 794; Gilbert v. Thompson, 9 Cush. 349.

Extended explanations upon the subject of estoppel by a prior judgment were made by this court nearly twenty years ago, by a judge very competent to perform that duty. Steam Packet Company v. Sickles, 24 How. 342. Such a judgment, he said, in order that it may operate as an estoppel, must have been made by a court of competent jurisdiction upon the same subjectmatter between the same parties for the same purpose. He then proceeded to describe the cause of action in that case, which, as he stated, was a sum of money, being a part of the consideration or price for the use of a valuable machine for which the plaintiffs had a patent; that the sum demanded was the complement of a whole, of which the sum demanded in the declaration in the former suit is the other part. Both declarations contained similar special counts; and the court remarked, that a decision in the one suit on those counts in favor of the plaintiffs necessarily included and virtually determined the sufficiency of the declaration to sustain the title of the plaintiffs, and showed that the record was admissible in evidence.

Different views were entertained by the defendants, and they submitted the proposition that a judgment was not admissible in evidence as an estoppel, unless the record showed that the very point it is sought to estop was distinctly presented by an issue, and that it was expressly found by the jury; but the court remarked, that such a rule would be impracticable, as it would restrict the operation of res judicata within too narrow bounds, and the court decided that it was not necessary as between parties and privies that the record should show that matter of the estoppel was directly in issue, 'but only that the said matter in controversy might have been litigated, and that extrinsic evidence would be admitted to prove that the particular question was material and was in fact contested, and that it was referred to the decision of the jury.'

Attempt was made in that case to maintain the proposition that the judgment in the first suit could not be held to be an estoppel, unless it was shown by the record that the very point in controversy was distinctly presented by an issue, and that it was explicitly found by the jury; but the court held otherwise, and expressly overruled the proposition, although the defence of estoppel failed for other reasons.

Two notes, in another case, were given by the purchaser of a vessel to the vendor of the same, and payment of the first note being refused, the payee sued the maker; and the maker, at the trial, set up as a defence that the vessel was rotten and unseaworthy at the time of sale, and that those facts were known to the plaintiff. They went to trial, and the verdict and judgment were for the defendant. Subsequently the plaintiff sued the other note, and the defendant set up the ju gment in the other case as a bar to the suit; and the Supreme Court of New York sustained the defence, holding that the former judgment, whether pleaded as an estoppel or given in evidence under the general issue, was conclusive that the sale was fraudulent, and that the plaintiff could not recover in the second action. Gardner v. Buckbee, 3 Cow. 127.

Certain sums of money, in a later case, were paid by a surety on two bonds given by an importer, in which the plaintiff and defendant were sureties. They were jointly liable; but the plaintiff paid the whole amount, and brought suit against the other surety for contribution. Service was made; and the defendant appeared and set up the defence that he had been released, with the consent of the plaintiff, before the payment was made; and the court sustained the defence upon demurrer, and gave judgment for the defendant.

Moneys were also paid by the same surety to discharge the liability under the second bond. Contribution being refused, the plaintiff brought a second suit, and the defendant set up the former judgment as a bar; and the court sustained the defence, it appearing that both bonds were given at the same time upon the same consideration, and as part of one and the same transaction. Bouchard v. Dias, 3 Den. 243.

Neither of the second suits in the two preceding cases were for the same cause of action as the first, but the defence was sustained as in Outram v. Morewood, 3 East, 358, because the suit was founded upon the same title.

Cases of that kind are quite numerous, and they show to a demonstration that a judgment may be a bar if the same title is involved, even though the cause of action may be founded on a different instrument, or for a different trespass upon the same premises.

Conclusive support to that proposition is found in repeated decisions, of which the following are striking examples: Burt v. Sternburgh, 4 Cow. 563; Whittaker v. Jackson, 2 Hurlst.& Colt. 931; Strutt v. Bovingdon, 5 Esp. 59.

In order to make a judgment conclusive, it is not necessary, said Mr. Justice Bigelow, that the cause of action should be the same in the first suit as that in which the judgment is pleaded or given in evidence, but it is essential that the issue should be the same. The judgment is then coextensive with the issue on which it is founded, and is conclusive only so far as the same fact or title is again in dispute. Merriam v. Whittemore, 5 Gray, 317.

Decided cases in that State to the same effect are numerous, the highest court of the State holding that it is well settled that a judgment in a former suit between the same parties is a bar to a subsequent action only when the point or question in issue is the same in both; that the judgment is conclusive in relation to all matters in the suit which were put in issue, but has no effect upon questions not involved in the issue, and which were neither open to inquiry nor the subjects of litigation. Norton v. Huxley, 13 id. 290.

Damages were claimed by the plaintiff for the loss of his shop by fire communicated to it by the defendants' locomotive engine, and he recovered judgment for the injury. He subsequently brought a second suit, for the loss of his dwelling-house and shed by fire, it appearing that the house and shed took fire from the shop. Process being served, the defendants appeared and set up the former judgment as a bar. The court sustained the defence, holding that the plaintiff did not show any right to maintain another action merely by proving his omission to produce upon the trial all the evidence which was admissible in his behalf, and that having chosen to submit his case upon the evidence introduced, he was bound to abide by the verdict and judgment in the first suit. Trask v. Railroad, 2 Allen, 332.

Where a party took a bill of sale of property from the owner, and the same was subsequently attached by an officer at the suit of the creditors of the former owner, and the purchaser under the bill o sale having converted part of the property to his own use was sued by the officer, and the latter recovered judgment upon the ground that the bill of sale was fraudulent and void as to the creditors, it was held that the judgment was a bar to a subsequent suit of replevin commenced by the grantee in the bill of sale for the residue of the property in the hands of the officer. Doty v. Brown, 4 Comst. 75.

Beyond question, the bar is not defeated because the subjectmatter of the second suit is different from the first, if it be founded on the same title; and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania have held, in accordance with that view, that a judgment in trespass upon a traverse of liberum tenementum estops the party against whom it has been rendered, and his privies, from afterward controverting the title to the same freehold in a subsequent action of trespass. Stevens v. Hughes, 31 Penn. St. 385; Hatch v. Garza, 22 Tex. 187; Clark v. Sammons, 12 Iowa, 370.

Tested by these several considerations, it is clear that a former judgment is a bar in all cases where the matters put in issue in the first suit were the same as the matters in issue in the second suit. Ricardo v. Garcias, 12 Cl. & Fin. 401; Beloit v. Morgan, 7 Wall. 623. 'It results from these authorities that an adjudication by a competent tribunal is conclusive, not only in the proceeding in which it is pronounced, but in every other where the right or title is the same, although the cause of action may be different.' 2 Smith, Lead. Cas. (7th Am. ed.) 788, 789; Bigelow on Estoppel (2d ed.), 45; Aurora City v. West, 7 Wall. 96; Outram v. Morewood, 3 East, 346; Gould v. Railroad Company, 91 U.S. 526.

Grant that, and still it is suggested that the plaintiff in the suit on the coupons did not introduce evidence to prove that he paid value for the bonds with the coupons; but the answer to that is, that he might have done so. He alleged in the declaration that he paid value, and consequently he might have given evidence to prove it, which shows that the question was directly involved in the issue between the parties.

Doubtless the plaintiff neglected to give evidence in that behalf, for the reason that he and his counsel were of the opinion that the evidence introduced by the defendants was not sufficient to repel the prima facie presumption, arising from his possession of the instruments, that he paid value for the transfer, and I am still of that opinion; but the remedy of the plaintiff, if surprised, was to except to the ruling, or to submit a motion for new trial.

Suggestions of that sort are now too late, nor are they sufficient to modify the effect of the judgment. When once finally rendered, the judgment must be considered conclusive, else litigation will be endless. Litigants sometimes prefer not to bring forward their whole case or defence, in order to enjoy the opportunity to bring up a reserve in case of defeat in the first contest; but a rule which would sanction that practice would be against public policy, as it would enable a party to protract the litigation as long as he could find means or credit to compel the attendance of witnesses and to secure the services of counsel.

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).