Laing v. Rigney
160 U.S. 531 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Laing v. Rigney, 160 U.S. 531 (1896)

Laing v. Rigney

No. 79

Argued and submitted November 21, 1895

Decided January 13, 1896

160 U.S. 531

Syllabus

In 1883, R. had his legal residence in New Jersey, but actually lived in New York. His wife resided in New Jersey, and filed a bill in the Court of Chancery of that state against him for divorce on the ground of adultery.

The defendant appeared and answered, denying the allegations in

the bill. In 1886 the plaintiff filed a supplemental bill charging other

acts of adultery subsequent to the filing of the bill. The court made an order, reciting the appearance and answer of the defendant to the original bill, directing him to appear on a day named and plead to the supplemental bill, and ordering a copy of this order, with a certified copy of the supplemental bill, to be served on him personally, which was done in the City of New York. The defendant did not so appear and answer, and the further proceedings in the case resulted in a decree finding the defendant guilty of the acts of adultery charged "in the said bill of complaint and the supplemental bill thereto," granting the divorce prayed for, and awarding the plaintiff alimony. The plaintiff commenced an action in a court of the New York to recover alimony on this decree, whereupon the defendant, by the solicitor who had appeared for him and filed his answer to the original bill, applied for and obtained from the chancellor in New Jersey an amendment to the decree so as to make it read that the defendant had been guilty of the crime of adultery charged against him in said supplemental bill. The complaint in the New York case set forth the proceedings and decree in the New Jersey case and alleged that the defendant had accepted the proceedings as valid, and had, after the decree of divorce, married another wife. The defendant answered, denying that the Court of Chancery in New Jersey had any jurisdiction to enter the decree on the supplemental bill, and admitting his second marriage. On the trial of the New York case, the evidence of an attorney and counselor of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, as an expert, was offered and received to the effect that in his opinion the chancellor erred in taking jurisdiction and proceeding to judgment on the supplemental bill without service of a new subpoena in the state or the voluntary appearance of defendant after the filing of the supplemental bill, and that the law of New Jersey did not warrant him in so doing. The trial resulted in a judgment for defendant, which was sustained by the Court of Appeals upon the ground that the law of New Jersey and the practice of its Court of Chancery had been shown by undisputed evidence to be as stated by the expert. Held:

(1) That in the absence of statutory direction or reported decision to

Page 160 U. S. 532

the contrary, this Court must find the law of New Jersey applicable to this case in the decree of the chancellor, and that the remedy of the defendant, if he felt himself aggrieved, was by appeal; (2) that the opinion of the expert could not control the judgment of the Court in this respect; (3) that the New York courts, in dismissing the plaintiff's complaint, did not give due effect to the provisions of Article IV of the Constitution of the United States, which require that full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the judicial proceedings of every other state.

This was an action brought on August 4, 1887, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, against Thomas G. Rigney on a final decree of the Court of Chancery of the State of New Jersey whereby had been awarded to Ella L. Rigney, now Ella L. Laing, certain costs, counsel fees, and alimony, as well as a decree of divorce.

The action was tried at a special term of the supreme court, before a judge without a jury, and resulted in a judgment dismissing the complaint. An appeal was taken to the general term of the supreme court, and there the judgment of the special term was reversed. From the judgment of the general term, an appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, which court reversed the judgment of the general term and affirmed that of the special term. 127 N.Y. 412. This decision of the Court of Appeals was duly remitted to the supreme court, and a judgment in accordance therewith with was entered November 4, 1891, which, by a writ of error, has been brought to this Court.

It appears that these parties were married in the State of New York on February 12, 1873, and continued to reside in that state until January, 1877, when they removed to the City of Elizabeth, in the State of New Jersey. They had two children, a girl and a boy, who were fourteen and eleven years old, respectively, at the time of the trial. In January, 1883, the defendant ceased to support his family, and subsequently abandoned his family.

On April 23, 1883, she, then being a resident of the State of New Jersey, filed a bill against the defendant in the Court of Chancery of that state wherein she alleged that the defendant,

Page 160 U. S. 533

whose legal residence was still in the City of Elizabeth, had committed adultery with several persons on different occasions in the City of New York, and prayed for an absolute divorce and for alimony. On August 4, 1883, the defendant appeared in the suit, by his solicitors and counsel, and filed an answer denying the allegations of adultery in the bill.

On May 18, 1886, the plaintiff filed a supplemental bill in the divorce suit wherein she alleged that the defendant had committed adultery with a person named, in the City of New York at various times since the commencement of the suit, and prayed that she might have the same relief against the defendant "as she might have had if the facts stated and charged by way of supplement had been stated in the original bill," and that the marriage be dissolved and a suitable allowance made to her as alimony.

On April 29, 1887, an order was made by the chancellor of New Jersey reciting the appearance and answer of the defendant to the original bill, the filing of the supplemental bill, the issuing of a subpoena thereon, and that, the defendant residing out of the State of New Jersey, process could not be served upon him, and directing that the defendant appear and plead, demur, or answer to the supplemental bill on or before May 18, 1887, or that, in default thereof, such decree be made against him as the chancellor should deem equitable and just, and further directing that a copy of the order, with a certified copy of the supplemental bill, should, within five days thereafter, be served upon the defendant personally, or, in default of such service, that notice of the order be published as therein directed. On May 4, 1887, a copy of this order and of the supplemental bill were served on the defendant personally in the City of New York.

On May 19, 1887, an order was made by the chancellor reciting that due notice of the order of the court of April 29th directing the defendant to appear and answer the said bill on or before May 18th had been duly served, with a copy of the supplemental bill, "as in said order and by the rules of this court directed and prescribed," and that the defendant had not answered the same within the time limited by law

Page 160 U. S. 534

and said order, and referring the case to a special master to ascertain and report, on evidence, as to the truth of the allegation of the said bill and his opinion thereon.

On June 10, 1887, the special master reported to the court that all material facts charged in the bill and supplemental bill were true, and that a decree of divorce should be granted as prayed for.

On June 11, 1887, a final decree was rendered by the chancellor confirming the report, granting a divorce, and awarding costs, counsel fees, and alimony. The decree found "that the said defendant has been guilty of the crime of adultery charged against him in the said bill of complaint and the supplemental bill thereto," and it was

"ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the said complainant, Ella L. Rigney, and the said defendant, Thomas G. Rigney, be divorced from the bond of matrimony for the cause aforesaid, and the marriage between them is hereby dissolved accordingly, and the said parties are hereby freed and discharged from the obligations thereof."

It was further adjudged and decreed that the custody of the children be awarded to the plaintiff, and that the defendant pay alimony pendente lite at the rate of $100 per month "from the filing of the bill up to the date of this order," and thereafter at the rate of $45 per week, together with the costs of the suit, and the sum of $150 for counsel fees.

It appears by the record that in January, 1888, shortly before the trial of the present case, which occurred in April, 1888, the defendant, by the solicitor who had appeared for him and filed his answer to the original bill in the divorce suit, applied for and obtained from the chancellor an amendment of the decree of June 11, 1887, by striking out from the recitals thereof the words "bill of complaint and the," and "thereto," so as to make the recital read, "and that the said defendant has been guilty of the crime of adultery charged against him in said supplemental bill." In other respects, the amended decree was precisely the same as the original, and, as amended, was enrolled by the procurement and at the cost of the defendant.

Page 160 U. S. 535

As already stated, on August 4, 1887, Mrs. Rigney brought this action in the Supreme Court of New York upon the final decree of the Court of Chancery of New Jersey to recover the amount awarded by the decree for alimony and costs, no part of which had been paid. The complaint, served December 3, 1887, set forth the proceedings and final decree of June 11, 1887, as they are above stated, and it further alleged that the defendant, accepting the force of the decree of the New Jersey court, had on September 18, 1887, married one Abbie Ahern. The complaint also alleged that on or about May 4, 1887, a copy of the said supplemental bill and a copy of the order for publication thereof were duly served upon the defendant in the City of New York by the delivery thereof to him personally.

The defendant in his answer admitted "the making of the order of May 2, 1887, and the service thereof and of the supplemental bill upon him," but alleged that, as said service was made in the State of New York, and not in the State of New Jersey, the Court of Chancery of New Jersey, by such service, obtained no jurisdiction to make any personal decree against him on the supplemental bill. The terms of the answer in this particular were as follows:

"This defendant denies that said Court of Chancery of New Jersey ever obtained jurisdiction of the person of this defendant under said supplemental bill, or had any power to enter a personal decree against him, and he denies that such decree, so far as it is a personal decree against this defendant, is of any validity or effect, but he admits that said decree was effectual to dissolve the marriage status existing between him and the plaintiff."

The answer admitted the truth of the allegations of the complaint that the defendant, acting on the assumption of the validity of the decree of divorce, had, on September 18, 1887, married another woman, and that said marriage had been solemnized in the State of New Jersey and also in the State of New York.

Page 160 U. S. 539

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