1 U.S. 261 (1788)

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U.S. Supreme Court

PHELPS v. HOLKER, 1 U.S. 261 (1788)

1 U.S. 261 (Dall.)

Phelps et al.
Holker et al.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

April Term, 1788

A Foreign attachment issued in Hampshire county, in the State of Massachusetts, against the Defendants, to which the Sheriff made return, that 'he had attached one Blanket, shown to him as the reputed property of the Defendants;' and no appearance being entered, Judgment was given for the Plaintiff at the second Term. An action of debt was afterwards brought here, upon this Judgment, and a question stated for the opinion of the Court, to wit, 'whether the Judgment was conclusive evidence of the debt?'

Ingersoll, for the Plaintiff. An action of debt lies upon Foreign Judgments; though, it is true, they are only prima facie evidence of the debt, and may be enquired into. Doug. 1. But the Judgment, upon which the present action is brought, cannot be considered as a foreign Judgment, for, it is the record of a Court of one of the States of the Union, and, as such, it is entitled to full faith and credit in each of them. Art. of Confed. art. 4.

Bowie, for the Defendant. Judgments given in one State, are not made obligatory upon the Courts of another, by the Articles of Confederation; which only provide, that, in matters of evidence,

Page 1 U.S. 261, 262

mutual faith and credit shall be given to the records, acts, and judicial proceedings of the States. But even if they were not, in this respect, generally considered as foreign Judgments, the inconveniency and injustice of receiving them as conclusive evidence, when obtained by the process of a Foreign attachment, must necessarily create an exception. The present Judgment was obtained in a Foreign attachment, which is strictly a proceeding in rem. No defence was made, nor was any notice given to the Defendant, or to any person in his behalf; but the mere attachment of a blanket, reputed to be his property, is the sole foundation upon which the jurisdiction of the Court in Massachusetts has been exercised. If, therefore, the construction raised by the Plaintiff, were to be received by the Court, the most iniquitous and oppressive consequences would ensue. A Judgment might be entered in Georgia, or New Hampshire against a citizen of this State, upon a fictitious and fraudulent claim, and it would be impossible that he should obtain any redress, since his first knowledge of the suit, would be the production of that record, into the justice of which, it is contended, the Court cannot examine, but must admit the Judgment it recites, as conclusive evidence of the Plaintiff's demand. The Court will not construe the Articles of Confederation, so as to introduce and tolerate an evil of such enormity; and of which the present case would be a striking example.

Ingersoll, in reply. The subject before the Court is naturally divided into two points: 1st, Whether a Judgment in a Sister State, is of no other force in Pennsylvania, than a Judgment in the Courts of England or Ireland? and 2ndly, Whether there is any difference between a Judgment in a Foreign attachment, and one obtained in any other species of action?

1st. Upon the first point, it is to be observed, that although the rule is established in Europe, that an action may be brought on a foreign Judgment, which is there received as prima facie evidence of the debt, there is still this difference between foreign and domestic records, that the former may be examined into, but the latter cannot be controverted or denied. Of this distinction the authors of the Articles of Confederation must have been perfectly apprized; and, therefore, it is reasonable to presume, that by introducing an express provision upon the subject, they intended to place the States upon a different footing with respect to each other, than with respect to foreign nations: for, if they did not mean to make any alteration in the system already established, between independent and unconnected countries, they would either have been totally silent, or they would have qualified the terms of the article, so as to have met their object fully and unequivocally. But, having premised, that 'the free inhabitants of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States' (so that, in fact, a citizen of New Hampshire the moment he enters South Carolina, derives from this sentence, a title to the privileges of citizenship in that Commonwealth also) the article concludes, that 'full faith and credit [1 U.S. 261, 263]

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