FITZGERALD v. CALDWELL'S EX'RS
4 U.S. 251 (1802)

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U.S. Supreme Court

FITZGERALD v. CALDWELL'S EX'RS, 4 U.S. 251 (1802)

4 U.S. 251 (Dall.)

Fitzgerald
v.
Caldwell's Executors.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

December Term, 1802

THE original cause being remitted to the Supreme Court, upon the decision of the High Court of Errors and Appeals,1 this scire facias was brought to enforce the judgment against Caldwell's executors, returnable to September term 1798; and issue was therein joined upon the plea of 'Payment.'

To maintain the plea, the defendant's counsel recapitulated the facts set forth in the report of Fitzgerald v. Caldwell, 2 Dall. Rep. 215.; and contended, that, while the attachments were depending, Caldwell was not liable for interest; that as soon as the original question had been decided, upon the trial of one of the attachments, (in January 1793) favourably to the claim of the present plaintiff, Caldwell, at his own peril, paid the principal sum, due at the time the note was given to Fitzgerald;2 that no question of interest was decided by the High Court of Errors and Appeals; and that the judgment of that Court, is not a bar to the inquiry, in the present suit, whether any thing is due, either for principal, or interest. [251-Continued.]

For the plaintiff, it was urged, that by the agreement of the parties, the judgment nisi, rendered on the report of the referees, in January 1791, was made absolute, with a stay of proceedings, till one of the attachments should be tried; that this judgment, being for a sum certain, to wit, 5009 l. 5s. 1d. carried interest, of course, unless the terms of the agreement, or the operation of law, in cases of attachment, affected the right; 1 State Laws, 13. Dall. edit. that in point of morality, as well as law, Caldwell, who had long detained, and advantageously employed, the money of another man, was bound to make a reasonable compensation for the use; that the decision of the Supreme Court, releasing Caldwell from the payment of interest, was the very foundation of the writ of error; and that the High Court of Errors and Appeals

Page 4 U.S. 251, 252

(whose sentence could not now be revised, modified, or annulled) had not only affirmed the judgment rendered in January 1791, for the fixed sum of 5009l. 5s. 1d., but had expressly reversed the order to discharge Caldwell, on payment of the principal sum.

SHIPPEN, Chief Justice.

We have neither the power, nor the inclination, to impair the judgment of the High Court of Errors and Appeals, by asserting a contrary opinion, in point of law; nor by admitting evidence to undermine its authority with the jury. The judgment of January 1791, with all its legal incidents, can only now be affected, by proof of actual payment and satisfaction. As to the principal sum for which the judgment is affirmed ( 5009l. 5s. 1d.) there must be no dispute; and we can only now consider that part of the defendant's argument which insists, that, at least, upon the amount of the judgment, no interest ought to be allowed.

An act of the general assembly has declared, 'that lawful interest shall be allowed to the creditor, for the sum, or value, he obtained judgment for, from the time the said judgment was obtained, till the time of sale, or till satisfaction be made.' 1 State Laws, 13. Interest is, therefore, generally speaking, a legal incident of every judgment: but, it is contended, that the present case ought to be excepted from the rule, because an immediate payment was not contemplated by the parties themselves; and because the judgment was made absolute, on the express condition, that it should wait the trial of certain foreign attachments.

The agreement, on which the judgment was made absolute, is recognised in the decision of the High Court of Errors and Appeals, 'according to its terms.' The genuine meaning of its terms can only be ascertained, by considering what was the real subject in dispute under the attachments. In the attachment that was tried in January 1793, the dispute appeared to be simply, whether the evidence of Moore's interest in the debt, due from Caldwell to Vance, Caldwell and Vance, amounted to an assignment, legal or equitable. The meaning of the agreement, therefore, must have been to stay proceedings on the judgment, till that subject was investigated. Now, the subject was completely investigated on the trial, to which I allude; and the jury determined, that the debt did not remain subject to attachments, as a debt stilldue to Vance, Caldwell, and Vance; but had been previously appropriated and assigned to Moore and Johnson. It is true, that the decision of the High Court of Errors and Appeals recognises the agreement generally; and that the agreement, in its own general terms, embraces a trial of all the attachments: but, if the first attachment could not prevail, it is improbable that any subsequent attachment would succeed; and, I repeat, that in the [4 U.S. 251, 253]


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