Thompson v. Whitman
85 U.S. 457

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U.S. Supreme Court

Thompson v. Whitman, 85 U.S. 18 Wall. 457 457 (1873)

Thompson v. Whitman

85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 457

Syllabus

1. Neither the constitutional provision, that full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial, proceedings of every other state nor the act of Congress passed in pursuance thereof prevents an inquiry into the jurisdiction of the court by which a judgment offered in evidence was rendered.

2. The record of a judgment rendered in another state may be contradicted as to the facts necessary to give the court jurisdiction, and if it be shown that such facts did not exist, the record will be a nullity notwithstanding it may recite that they did exist.

3. Want of jurisdiction may be shown either as to the subject matter or the person, or, in proceedings in rem, as to the thing.

4. By a law of New Jersey, nonresidents were prohibited from raking clams and oysters in the waters of that state under penalty of forfeiture of the vessel employed, and any two justices of the county in which the seizure of the vessel should be made were authorized, on information given, to hear and determine the case. Held that if the seizure was not made in the county where the prosecution took place, the justices of that county had no jurisdiction, and that this fact might be inquired into in an action for making such seizure brought in New York, notwithstanding the record of a conviction was produced which stated that the seizure was made within such county.

A statute of New Jersey approved April 16, 1846, and commonly known there as the Oyster Law, thus enacts:

"SECTION 7. It shall not be lawful for any person who is not at the time an actual inhabitant and resident of this state, . . . to rake or gather claims, oysters, or shellfish, . . . in any of

Page 85 U. S. 458

the rivers, bays, or waters of this state on board of any . . . boat or other vessel, and every person who shall offend herein shall forfeit and pay $20; . . . and the said . . . boat or other vessel, used and employed in the commission of such offense, with all the clams, oysters, clam rakes, tongs, tackle, furniture, and apparel, shall be forfeited, and the same seized, secured, and disposed of, in the manner prescribed in the ninth and tenth sections of this act."

"SECTION 9. It shall be the duty of all sheriffs . . . to seize and secure any such . . . boat or other vessel as aforesaid, and immediately thereupon give information thereof to two justices of the peace of the county where such seizure shall have been made, who are hereby empowered and required to meet at such time and place as they shall appoint for the trial thereof and hear and determine the same, and in case the same shall be condemned, it shall be sold by the order and under the direction of the said justices, who, after deducting all legal costs and charges, shall pay one-half of the proceeds of said sale to the collector of the county in which such offense shall have been committed and the other half to the person who shall have seized and prosecuted the same."

This statute being in force, Whitman, a citizen of New York, sued Thompson, Sheriff of Monmouth County, New Jersey, in the court below in an action of trespass for taking and carrying away a certain sloop of his named the Anna Whitman, her cargo, furniture, and apparel.

The declaration charged that on the 26th of September, 1862, the defendant, with force and arms, on the high seas, in the outward vicinity of the Narrows of the port of New York and within the Southern District of New York, seized and took the said sloop, with her tackle, furniture &c., the property of the plaintiff, and carried away and converted the same. The defendant pleaded not guilty and a special plea in bar. The latter plea justified the trespass by setting up that the plaintiff, a resident of New York, on the day of seizure, was raking and gathering clams with said sloop in the waters of the State of New Jersey, to-wit, within the limits of the County of Monmouth, contrary to a law of that state, and that by virtue of the said law the defendant, who

Page 85 U. S. 459

was sheriff of said county, seized the sloop within the limits thereof, and informed against her before two justices of the peace of said county, by whom she was condemned and ordered to be sold. In answer to this plea, the plaintiff took issue as to the place of seizure, denying that it was within the State of New Jersey or the County of Monmouth, thus challenging the jurisdiction of the justices as well as the right of the defendant to make the seizure. On the trial, conflicting testimony was given upon this point, but the defendant produced a record of the proceedings before the justices which stated the offense as having been committed, and the seizure as made, within the County of Monmouth, with a history of the proceedings to the condemnation and order of sale. The defendant, relying on the provision of the Constitution [Footnote 1] which says that:

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

and on the Act of Congress of May 26, 1790, [Footnote 2] which, after prescribing a mode in which the records and judicial proceedings of the courts of any state shall be authenticated, enacts that

"The said records and 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 may be taken,"

asserted that this record was conclusive both as to the jurisdiction of the court and the merits of the case, and that it was a bar to the action, and requested the court so to charge the jury. But the court refused so to charge, and charged that the said record was only prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated, and threw upon the plaintiff the burden of proving the contrary. The defendant excepted,

Page 85 U. S. 460

and the jury, under the direction of the court, found for the plaintiff generally and, in answer to certain questions framed by the court, found specially first, that the seizure was made within the State of New Jersey; secondly, that it was not made in the County of Monmouth; thirdly, that the plaintiff was not engaged on the day of the seizure in taking clams within the limits of the County of Monmouth. Judgment being rendered for the plaintiff, the case was brought here for review.

The chief error assigned was the charge of the court, above mentioned, that the record from New Jersey was only prima facie evidence of the facts which it stated, though the counsel for the plaintiff in error also argued that if the record was not conclusive of the facts stated in it, and if the seizure was first made outside of the limits of Monmouth County, yet that confessedly the vessel was brought right into Monmouth County, so that the seizure, being continuous, might properly enough be held to have been made there, and that this was particularly true if it was assumed, as it was on the other side, that the vessel, when first seized, though seized within the state, was not seized within the limits of any county.

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