Bank of State of Alabama v. Dalton
50 U.S. 522 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bank of State of Alabama v. Dalton, 50 U.S. 9 How. 522 522 (1850)

Bank of State of Alabama v. Dalton

50 U.S. (9 How.) 522

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI

Syllabus

A state has power to regulate the remedies by which contracts and judgments are sought to be enforced in its courts of justice unless its regulations are controlled by the Constitution of the United States or by laws enacted under its authority.

Therefore, where a state passed a law declaring that all judgments which had been obtained in any other state prior to the passage of the law should be barred unless suit was brought upon the judgment within two years after the passage of the act, this law was within the power of the state, and not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States or any act of Congress.

And this was true although the person against whom the judgment was given became a citizen of the said state upon the very day on which he was sued. The legislature made no exception, and courts can make none.

The facts were these.

On 7 February, 1843, the President and Directors of the Bank of the State of Alabama recovered a judgment against Robert H. Dalton for $1,844, with interest and costs, in the County Court of Tuscaloosa County and State of Alabama.

On 24 February, 1844, the State of Mississippi passed an act (Hutchinson's Mississippi Code, 830 et seq.), which provided, among other things, that judgments rendered before the passage of the act in any other state of the Union should be barred unless suit was brought thereon within two years from the passage of the act.

On 10 November, 1846, the President and Directors of the Bank of the State of Alabama brought a suit against Dalton in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Mississippi, held at the Town of Pontotoc. It was an action of debt brought upon the judgment recovered in the County Court of Tuscaloosa County, in Alabama. The writ was served upon Dalton on the same day that it was issued. The defendant pleaded the statute of limitations of Mississippi in the following manner:

"And the said defendant, by his attorneys, comes and defends the wrong and injury, when &c., and for plea says that the said plaintiff his action aforesaid ought not to have or maintain against him, because he says that the said judgment upon which this suit is founded was obtained in a court out of the limits of the State of Mississippi, to-wit, the County Court of the County of Tuscaloosa, in the State of Alabama, and was rendered up against said defendant on 7

Page 50 U. S. 523

February, 1843, and was then and there, on that day, in full force and effect in said court."

"And defendant further says that by an Act of the Legislature of the State of Mississippi entitled 'An act to amend the several acts of limitations,' approved on 24 February, 1844, it is enacted and declared, upon judgments obtained in any court out of the limits of this state, actions shall be commenced within two years after the passage of the said act, and not afterwards, and that this action was not commenced by this plaintiff until the two years had expired within which the said plaintiff was required to bring his suit as aforesaid, and this he is ready to verify; wherefore he prays judgment if the said plaintiff ought to have or maintain his aforesaid action against him,"

&c.

To this plea the plaintiff filed the following replication:

"And the said plaintiff, for replication to the pleas of the said defendant by him first above pleaded, says precludi non, because he says that the said defendant, at and from the time of the rendition of the judgment in said plea and declaration mentioned, and from thence until and within two years next before the commencement of this suit, to-wit, on 10 November, A.D. 1846, to-wit, at the district aforesaid, was and continued to be a citizen of the State of Alabama, where the said plaintiff resided, without the jurisdiction of this Court, and this they pray may be inquired of by the country,"

&c.

The defendant demurred to this replication, and, upon argument, the court sustained the demurrer.

To review this judgment, the bank brought the case up to this Court.

Page 50 U. S. 526

MR. JUSTICE CATRON delivered the opinion of the Court.

An action was brought by the plaintiff to recover of the defendant,

Page 50 U. S. 527

then a citizen of Mississippi, the sum of $1,844 debt, and $110 damages, the amount of a recovery had in the Circuit Court of Tuscaloosa County and State of Alabama on 7 February, 1843, by the plaintiff against the defendant. This suit was instituted in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Mississippi at Pontotoc. The writ was issued on 10 November, 1846. The defendant, at the December term, 1846, pleaded the statute of limitations of 1844, which bars (1) all suits on judgments recovered within the state after the lapse of seven years, and (2) all suits on judgments obtained out of the state in six years, in cases of judgments thereafter rendered, and (3) all suits on judgments obtained out of the state before the act was passed are barred, unless suit be brought thereon within two years next after the date of the act. On this latter provision the defense depends.

To this plea of the statute of limitations the plaintiff replied that at the time of the rendition of the judgment in Alabama, the defendant was a citizen of the State of Alabama, and continued so to be up to 10 November, 1846, the day on which this suit was brought. To this replication there was a demurrer by the defendant, which the court sustained upon the ground that the statute barred the action.

It would seem that the defendant removed his domicile from Alabama to Mississippi, and was followed by the judgment, and immediately sued on reaching there, as he does not call in question the allegation contained in the declaration that he was, when sued, a citizen of Mississippi.

The stringency of the case is that the act of limitations of Mississippi invites to the state and protects absconding debtors from other states, by refusing the creditor a remedy on his judgment, which is in full force in the state whence the debtor absconded. And it is insisted on behalf of the plaintiff that here is a case where the laws of Mississippi did not operate on either party plaintiff or defendant, nor on the foreign judgment, until the day on which suit was brought, and that therefore no bar could be interposed founded on the lapse of time, as none had intervened.

That acts of limitation furnish rules of decision, and are equally binding on the federal courts as they are on state courts, is not open to controversy; the question presented is one of legislative power, and not practice.

In administering justice to enforce contracts and judgments, the states of this Union act independently of each other, and their courts are governed by the laws and municipal regulations

Page 50 U. S. 528

of that state where a remedy is sought unless they are controlled by the Constitution of the United States or by laws enacted under its authority. And one question standing in advance of others is whether the courts of Mississippi stood thus controlled, and were bound to reject the defense set up under the state law, because, by the supreme laws of the Union, it could not be allowed.

The Constitution declares that

"Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved and the effect thereof."

No other part of the Constitution bears on the subject.

The act of 26 May, 1790, provides the mode of authentication, and then declares that

"The said records and judicial proceedings, authenticated as aforesaid, shall have such faith and credit given to them in every court within the United States, as they have by law or usage in the courts of the state from whence the said records are or shall be taken."

The legislation of Congress amounts to this -- that the judgment of another state shall be record evidence of the demand, and that the defendant, when sued on the judgment, cannot go behind it and controvert the contract or other cause of action on which the judgment is founded; that it is evidence of an established demand which, standing alone, is conclusive between the parties to it. This is the whole extent to which Congress has gone. As to what further "effect" Congress may give to judgments rendered in one state and sued on in another does not belong to this inquiry; we have to deal with the law as we find it, and not with the extent of power Congress may have to legislate further in this respect. That the legislation of Congress, so far as it has gone, does not prevent a state from passing acts of limitation to bar suits on judgments rendered in another state is the settled doctrine of this Court. It was established, on mature consideration, in the case of McElmoyle v. Cohen, 13 Pet. 312, and to the reasons given in support of this conclusion we refer.

But the argument here is that the law of Mississippi carries with it an exception, for the palpable reason that neither party nor the cause of action was within the operation of the act for a single day before suit was brought.

1. The act itself makes no exception in favor of a party suing under the circumstances of these plaintiffs. So the Supreme Court of Mississippi held in the case of McClintock v. Rogers, 12 Smedes & Marsh. 702, and this is manifestly true on the face of the act.

Page 50 U. S. 529

2. The legislature having made no exception, the courts of justice can make none, as this would be legislating. In the language of this Court in the case of McIver v. Ragan, 2 Wheat. 29,

"Wherever the situation of the party was such as, in the opinion of the legislature, to furnish a motive for excepting him from the operation of the law, the legislature has made the exception, and it would be going far for this Court to add to those exceptions."

The rule is established beyond controversy. It was so held by the supreme court of New York in Troup v. Smith, 20 Johns. 33. and again in Callis v. Waddy, 2 Munf. 511, by the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and also in Hamilton v. Smith, 3 Murph. 115, by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, and in Cocke and Jack v. McGinnis, Mart. & Yerg. 361, in the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Nor are we aware that at this time the reverse is held in any State of this Union. It is the doctrine maintained in Stowell v. Zouch, found in Plowden's Reports and not departed from by the English courts, even in cases of civil war, when the courts of justice were closed and no suit could be brought.

In the first place, as the act of limitations of Mississippi has no exception that the plaintiff can set up, and as none can be implied by the courts of justice, and secondly, as the state law is not opposed to the Constitution of the United States or to the act of Congress of 1790, it is our duty to affirm the judgment.

The case of Dulles, Wilcox, and Welsh against Richard S. Jones, No. 108, being in all its features like the one next above, the judgment therein is also affirmed for the reasons stated in the foregoing opinion.

Order

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Mississippi and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof it is now here ordered and adjudged by this Court that the judgment of the said district court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed with costs.

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