Voorhees v. Jackson
35 U.S. 449

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U.S. Supreme Court

Voorhees v. Jackson, 35 U.S. 10 Pet. 449 449 (1836)

Voorhees v. Jackson

35 U.S. (10 Pet.) 449

Syllabus

Ejectment for a tract of land commenced in 1831 which had been sold under the foreign attachment laws of Ohio, the defendants in the ejectment being in possession under the defendant in the attachment. The judgment in the Common Pleas of Hamilton County, Ohio, in the attachment suit was entered in 1808. The writ of attachment was returnable to April, 1807, and it recited that it had been sufficiently testified to the court that the defendant, not residing in the state, was indebted to the plaintiff. The tract of land was attached and returned with an inventory and appraisement. The defendant having made default, auditors were appointed, and at December term they made a report finding due to the plaintiff $267. The court ordered the property to be sold by the auditors. At April term, 1808, they reported they had sold the premises for $170. The court, on inspection, confirmed the sale. The auditors afterwards conveyed by deed to Samuel Foster and William Woodward, who on the same day, 25 May, 1808, conveyed the premises to William Stanley with covenant of seizin, power to sell and general warranty, under whom the plaintiffs in the ejectment derived title. The proceedings in the attachment were in conformity with the Ohio attachment laws in all particulars except

1. No affidavit, as required by the statute, was found filed with the clerk, and the law provides that, if this is not done, the writ shall be quashed on motion.

2. Three months' notice of the attachment is to be given in a newspaper, and fifteen days' notice is to be given by the auditors, which did not appear to have been done.

3. The defendant is to be called three times preceding judgment, and the defaults recorded. No record appeared to have been made.

4. Auditors are not to sell until twelve months, and it did not appear when the sale was made.

5. The return of the sale shows a sale to Foster and Woodward, and a deed was made to Stanley, and no connection between them was shown in the record.

By the court.

"The several courts of common pleas of Ohio, at the time of these proceedings were courts of general civil jurisdiction, to which was added by the act of 1805 power to issue writs of attachment and order a sale of the property attached on certain conditions; no objection therefore can be made to their jurisdiction over the case, the cause of action, or the property attached. The process which they adopted was the same as prescribed by the law; they ordered a sale, which was executed; and on the return thereof gave it their confirmation. This was the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction on all the acts preceding the sale, affirming their validity in the same manner as their judgment had affirmed the existence of a debt. There is no principle of law better settled than that every act of a court of competent jurisdiction shall be presumed to have been rightly done till the contrary appears. This rule applies as well to every judgment or decree rendered in the various stages of their proceedings from the initiation to their completion, as to their adjudication that the plaintiff has a right of action.

Page 35 U. S. 450

Every matter adjudicated becomes a part of their record, which thenceforth proves itself without referring to the evidence on which it has been adjudged."

That some sanctity should be given to judicial proceedings, some time limited beyond which they should not be questioned, some protection afforded to those who purchase at sales by judicial process, and some definite rules established by which property thus acquired may become transmissible with security to the possessors cannot be denied. In this country particularly, where property which within a few years was but of little value in a wilderness is now the site of large and flourishing cities, its enjoyment should be at least as secure as in that country where its value is less progressive.

It is among the elementary principles of the common law that whoever would complain of the proceedings of a court must do it in such time as not to injure his adversary by unnecessary delay in the assertion of his right. If he objects to the mode in which he is brought into court, he must do it before he submits to the process adopted. If the proceedings against him are not conducted according to the rules of law and the court, he must move to set them aside for irregularity, or, if there is any defect in the form or manner in which he is sued, he may assign those defects specially, and the court will not hold him answerable till such defects are remedied. But if he pleads to the action generally, all irregularity is waived, and the court can decide only on the rights of the parties to the subject matter of controversy; its judgment is conclusive unless it appears on the record that the plaintiff has no title to the thing demanded or that in rendering judgment it has erred in law. All defects in setting out a title or in the evidence to prove it are cured, as well as all irregularities which may have preceded the judgment.

So long as this judgment remains in force, it is in itself evidence of the right of the plaintiff to the thing adjudged, and gives him a right to process to execute the judgment; the errors of the court, however apparent, can be examined only by an appellate power, and by the laws of every country, a time is fixed for such examination, whether in rendering judgment, issuing execution, or enforcing it by process of sale or imprisonment. No rule can be more reasonable than that the person who complains of an injury done him should avail himself of his legal rights in a reasonable time or that that time should be limited by law.

The line which separates error in judgment from the usurpation of power is very definite, and is precisely that which denotes the cases where a judgment or decree is reversible only by an appellate court or may be declared a nullity collaterally when it is offered in evidence in an action concerning the matter adjudicated or purporting to have been so. In the one case it is a record importing absolute verity; in the other, mere waste paper; there can be no middle character assigned to judicial proceedings, which are irreversible for error. Such is their effect between the parties to the suit, and such are the immunities which the law affords to a plaintiff who has obtained an erroneous judgment or execution.

The cases of Blaine v. The Charles Carter, 4 Cranch 328, 2 Cond. 127; Wheaton v. Sexton, 4 Wheat. 506, 5 Cond. 119; Tolmie v. Thompson, 2 Pet. 157; Elliott v. Piersol, 1 Pet. 340; Wright v. Lessee of Hollingsworth, 1 Pet. 169; Taylor v. Thompson, 5 Pet. 370; United States v. Arredondo, 6 Pet. 729 cited.

The President and Directors of the Bank of the United States instituted

Page 35 U. S. 451

an action of ejectment in 1831, for the recovery of a tract of land in the County of Hamilton in the State of Ohio. On the trial of the case, in order to establish their title, they gave in evidence to the jury the proceedings in an attachment against Seth Cutter in the County Court of Hamilton County commenced in 1807, under which the tract of land in the ejectment was sold in 1808 and the sale returned by the auditors appointed by the court to make the same on 16f April, 1808. The sale was confirmed by the court at August term, 1808, and, according to the provisions of the attachment law of the State of Ohio, the auditors had previously made a deed to William Woodward and William Foster the purchasers of the property sold.

This deed was executed on 28 May, 1828, to Woodward & Foster, who on the same day conveyed the same to William Stanley.

The defendants in the ejectment claimed title to the premises, which were in their possession, under Seth Cutter. They insisted that the proceedings in attachment did not divest Seth Cutter of his title to the land, but the court instructed the jury otherwise. The jury gave a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. To the judgment of the circuit court on the verdict the defendants below prosecuted this writ of error.

The record of the County Court of Hamilton County in the attachment against Seth Cutter, and the opinion of the circuit court upon the title derived under it by the plaintiffs below, were brought up by a bill of exceptions. The whole proceedings in the attachment are stated fully in the opinion of the Court.

Page 35 U. S. 469

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