Davis v. Wakelee
156 U.S. 680 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Davis v. Wakelee, 156 U.S. 680 (1895)

Davis v. Wakelee

No. 181

Argued January 25, 1895

Decided March 4, 1895

156 U.S. 680

Syllabus

An appeal authorized by the appellant personally, and in good faith entered in this Court in the name of his attorney and counsel below, will not be dismissed simply because that counsel had not authorized such entry, when the appellant, on learning of the mistake, appears by other counsel and prosecutes it in good faith.

The omission to describe in an appeal bond the term at which the judgment appealed from was rendered is an error which may be cured by furnishing new security.

D. was adjudicated a bankrupt in 1869 in California. W. then held six promissory notes executed by him which were proved in bankruptcy against D. D. then removed to New York. After that, W., by leave of court, reduced his claim to judgment in a state court of California, the only notice to D. being by publication, and D. never appearing. In 1875, D. petitioned for his discharge. W. opposed it. D. moved to dismiss the objection on the ground that the claim of W. had been absorbed in a judgment obtained after the commencement of the proceedings in bankruptcy, which would remain in force. The court sustained the motion, cancelled the proof of the debt and dismissed the specification of opposition. W. then filed a bill in equity in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York to enforce an estoppel, and to enjoin D. from asserting in defense of any suit which might be brought upon the judgment that the debt upon which it was obtained was not merged in it, and from denying its validity as a debt against D. unaffected by the discharge. Held:

(1) That the judgment was undoubtedly void for want of jurisdiction.

Page 156 U. S. 681

(2) That nevertheless D. was estopped in equity from claiming that it was void.

(3) That in view of the uncertainty which appeared to exist in New York as to whether a complaint in an action at law would or would not be demurrable, it must be held that the remedy at law was not so plain or clear as to oust a court of equity of jurisdiction.

(4) That the decree below restraining D. from asserting that the judgment was invalid should be affirmed.

This was a bill in equity, filed by Angelica Wakelee, a citizen of the State of California, against Davis, a citizen of New York, to enforce an estoppel and to enjoin the defendant from asserting, in defense of any suit which may be brought upon a certain judgment recovered by Henry P. Wakelee against Davis in one of the state courts of California, that the debts upon which such judgment was obtained were not merged in such judgment, and from denying the validity of the judgment as a debt against Davis, unaffected by his discharge in bankruptcy.

The bill averred in substance that in August and September, 1869, Davis executed six promissory notes, amounting to about $15,725, to the order of Henry P. Wakelee, and delivered them to him, and that they subsequently became the property of the plaintiff; that on or about September 30, 1869, Davis was adjudged a bankrupt, upon his own petition, by the District Court for the District of California, and the notes in question were duly proved against his estate; that on July 8, 1873, the bankruptcy court granted the said Henry P. Wakelee leave to bring an action upon these notes, and that such action was begun by publication of a summons, under the laws of the state, and without personal service upon Davis; that on November 18, 1873, Davis not appearing and no service having been made upon him, judgment was entered against him in the sum of $22,760.26.

The bill further alleged that on December 23, 1875, Davis filed in the bankruptcy court a petition for his discharge, and that Wakelee thereupon filed specifications of opposition, which Davis moved to dismiss upon the ground that Wakelee, subsequent to the commencement of the proceedings in

Page 156 U. S. 682

bankruptcy, had, by leave of the court, brought suit upon such notes, obtained judgment thereon, "and that said judgment still stood of record in said Fifteenth District Court, and was in full force." That such motion came on for argument, and it was there claimed by counsel duly authorized to represent Davis that by reason of the above facts the original debt of Davis to Wakelee, which had been proved up in the bankruptcy proceeding, had become merged in the judgment obtained November 18, 1873, in the state court of California, and thereby became a new debt, created since the adjudication of Davis as a bankrupt. That such judgment was subsisting, valid, and enforceable, and would not be barred, discharged, or in any wise affected by the discharge of the defendant in bankruptcy. That by reason thereof, Wakelee had no standing, was not interested in the bankruptcy proceedings, and was not therefore competent to oppose the discharge of Davis. That upon such motion, an order was made by the district court in bankruptcy that Wakelee's proof of debt be cancelled, and his specifications of opposition to the discharge be dismissed and set aside. That Wakelee relied upon the claims and admissions of Davis and of his counsel, and accepted as correct and binding the order of the district court dismissing his opposition, and did not appeal therefrom. That the order was accepted by Davis, who subsequently obtained his discharge.

That the judgment was subsequently assigned to Angelica Wakelee, the plaintiff, and in equity was of full and binding force and validity by reason of the facts above stated, but that in sundry action instituted upon such judgment between Davis and the then owner of the judgment, Davis claimed and set up that the judgment was void because of the lack of jurisdiction of the court wherein it was entered, for the reason that he was not personally served with process and did not appear in the action, and also pleaded his discharge in bankruptcy as a bar to a recovery upon such judgment. That plaintiff is about to commence an action at law upon such judgment against Davis in the State of New York, wherein defendant now resides, and that she is informed that under

Page 156 U. S. 683

the law of the State of New York, the facts herein set forth cannot be pleaded in the plaintiff's complaint in aid of her cause of action, but that such action must be brought upon such judgment alone, and that it is necessary to allege in the complaint either the facts showing the jurisdiction of the court or that the judgment was duly entered, which cannot be truthfully done.

Wherefore plaintiff prayed for the assistance of a court of equity to adjudge Davis to be estopped by his conduct, and that he be enjoined from asserting that the debts proved up by Wakelee against him were not merged in the judgment, or from asserting the invalidity of the judgment, or that the same does not constitute a new debt unaffected by Davis' final discharge in bankruptcy.

A demurrer was filed to this amended bill, which was overruled, 38 F. 878, and defendant answered, admitting, denying, or ignoring the several allegations of the bill, but setting up no new matter.

Upon a final hearing upon pleadings and proofs, the plaintiff was awarded a decree for an injunction restraining the defendant from asserting that the judgment of November 18, 1873, was invalid, and did not still stand of record. 44 F. 532. From this decree the defendant appealed to this Court. A motion to dismiss the appeal was made and submitted.

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