Disconto Gesellshaft v. Umbreit,
Annotate this Case
208 U.S. 570 (1908)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Disconto Gesellshaft v. Umbreit, 208 U.S. 570 (1908)
Disconto Gesellshaft v. Umbreit
Argued December 10, 11, 1907
Decided February 24, 1908
208 U.S. 570
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF MILWAUKEE
COUNTY (BRANCH NO. 1), STATE OF WISCONSIN
It is too late to raise the federal question on motion for rehearing in the state court unless that court entertains the motion and expressly passes on the federal question.
While aliens are ordinarily permitted to resort to our courts for redress of wrongs and protection of rights, the removal of property to another jurisdiction for adjustment of claims against it is a matter of comity, and not of absolute right, and, in the absence of treaty stipulations, it is within the power of a state to determine its policy in regard thereto.
The refusal by a state to exercise comity in such manner as would impair the rights of local creditors by removing a fund to a foreign jurisdiction for administration does not deprive a foreign creditor of his property without due process of law or deny to him the equal protection of the law, and so held as to a judgment of the highest court of Wisconsin holding the attachment of a citizen of that state superior to an earlier attachment of a foreign creditor.
While the treaty of 1828 with Prussia has been recognized as being still in force by both the United States and the German Empire, there is nothing therein undertaking to change the rule of national comity that permits a country to first protect the rights of its own citizens in local property before permitting it to be taken out of its jurisdiction for administration in favor of creditors beyond its borders.
127 Wis. 676 affirmed.
The facts are stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Disconto Gesellschaft, a banking corporation of Berlin, Germany, began an action in the Circuit Court of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, on August 17, 1901, against Gerhard Terlinden and at the same time garnisheed the First National Bank of Milwaukee. The bank appeared and admitted an indebtedness to Terlinden of $6,420. The defendant in error Umbreit intervened and filed an answer, and later an amended answer.
A reply was filed taking issue upon certain allegations of the answer, and a trial was had in the Circuit Court of Milwaukee County in which the court found the following facts:
"That on the seventeenth day of August, 1901, the above-named plaintiff, the Disconto Gesellschaft, commenced an action in
this court against the above-named defendant, Gerhard Terlinden, for the recovery of damages sustained by the tort of the said defendant, committed in the month of May, 1901; that said defendant appeared in said action by A.C. Umbreit, his attorney, on August 19, 1901, and answered the plaintiff's complaint; that thereafter such proceedings were had in said action that judgment was duly given on February 19, 1904, in favor of said plaintiff, Disconto Gesellschaft, and against said defendant, Terlinden, for $94, 145.11 damages and costs; that $85,371.49, with interest from March 26, 1904, is now due and unpaid thereon; that, at the time of the commencement of said action, to-wit, on August 17, 1901, process in garnishment was served on the above-named garnishee, First National Bank of Milwaukee, as garnishee of the defendant Terlinden."
"That, on August 9, 1901, and on August 14, 1901, a person giving his name as Theodore Grafe deposited in said First National Bank of Milwaukee the equivalent of German money aggregating $6,420.00 to his credit upon account; that said sum has remained in said bank ever since, and, at the date hereof, with interest accrued thereon, amounted to $6,969.47."
"That the defendant Gerhard Terlinden and said Theodore Grafe, mentioned in the finding, are identical and the same person."
"That the interpleaded defendant, Augustus C. Umbreit, on March 21, 1904, commenced an action in this Court against the defendant Terlinden for recovery for services rendered between August 16, 1901, and February 1, 1903; that no personal service of the summons therein was had on the said defendant; that said summons was served by publication only, and without the mailing of a copy of the summons and of the complaint to said defendant; that said defendant did not appear therein; that, on June 11, 1904, judgment was given in said action by default in favor of said Augustus C. Umbreit and against said defendant Terlinden for $7,500 damages, no part whereof has been paid; that, at the time of the commencement of said action, process of garnishment was served, to-wit, on March 22,
1904, on the garnishee, First National Bank of Milwaukee, as garnishee of said defendant Terlinden."
"That the defendant Terlinden at all the times set forth in finding No. 1 was and still is a resident of Germany; that, about July 11, 1901, he absconded from Germany and came to the State of Wisconsin and assumed the name of Theodore Grafe; that, on August 16, 1901, he was apprehended as a fugitive from justice upon extradition proceedings duly instituted against him, and was thereupon extradited to Germany."
"That the above-named plaintiff, the Disconto Gesellschaft at all the times set forth in the findings was, ever since has been, and still is, a foreign corporation, to-wit, of Germany, and during all said time had its principal place of business in Berlin, Germany; that the above-named defendant, Augustus C. Umbreit, during all said times, was and still is a resident of the State of Wisconsin."
"That on or about the 27th day of July, 1901, proceedings in bankruptcy were instituted in Germany against said defendant Terlinden, and Paul Hecking, appointed trustee of his estate in such proceedings on said date; that thereafter, and on or after August 21, 1901, the above-named plaintiff, the Disconto Gesellschaft, was appointed a member of the committee of creditors of the defendant Terlinden's personal estate, and accepted such appointment, and that the above-named plaintiff, the Disconto Gesellschaft, presented its claim to said trustee in said bankruptcy proceedings; that said claim had not been allowed by said trustee in January, 1902, and there is no evidence that it has since been allowed; that nothing has been paid upon said claim; that said claim so presented and submitted is the same claim upon which action was brought by the plaintiff in this Court and judgment given, as set forth in finding No. 1; that said action was instituted by said plaintiff, the Disconto Gesellschaft, through the German consul in Chicago, and that the steps so taken by the plaintiff, the Disconto Gesellschaft, had the consent and approval of Dr. Paul Hecking as trustee in bankruptcy, so appointed in the bankruptcy
proceedings in Germany, and that, after the commencement of the same the plaintiff, the Disconto Gesellschaft, agreed with said trustee that the moneys it should recover in said action should form part of the said estate in bankruptcy and be handed over to said trusted; that, among other provisions, the German Bankrupt Act contained the following:"
" Sec. 14. Pending the bankruptcy proceedings, neither the assets nor any other property of the bankrupt are subject to attachment or execution in favor of individual creditors."
Upon the facts thus found, the circuit court rendered a judgment giving priority to the levy of the Disconto Gesellschaft for the satisfaction of its judgment out of the fund attached in the hands of the bank. Umbreit then appealed to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. That court reversed the judgment of the circuit court and directed judgment in favor of Umbreit that he recover the sum garnisheed in the bank. 127 Wis. 651. Thereafter, a remittitur was filed in the Circuit Court of Milwaukee County and a final judgment rendered in pursuance of the direction of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. This writ of error is prosecuted to reverse that judgment. At the same time, a decree in an equity suit, involving a fund in another bank, was reversed and remanded to the circuit court. This case had been heard, by consent, with the attachment suit. With it we are not concerned in this proceeding.
No allegation of federal rights appeared in the case until the application for rehearing. In this application, it was alleged that the effect of the proceedings in the state court was to deprive the plaintiff in error of its property without due process of law, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, and to deprive it of certain rights and privileges guaranteed to it by treaty between the Kingdom of Prussia and the United States. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin, in passing upon the petition for rehearing and denying the same, dealt only with the alleged invasion of treaty rights, overruling the contention of the plaintiff in error. 127 Wis. 676. It is well settled in this Court that it is too late to raise federal questions reviewable
here by motions for rehearing in the state court. Pim v. St. Louis, 165 U. S. 273; Fullerton v. Texas, 196 U. S. 192; McMillen v. Ferrum Mining Company, 197 U. S. 343, 197 U. S. 347; French v. Taylor, 199 U. S. 274, 199 U. S. 278. An exception to this rule is found in cases where the supreme court of the state entertains the motion and expressly passes upon the federal question. Mallett v. North Carolina, 181 U. S. 589; Leigh v. Green, 193 U. S. 79.
Conceding that this record sufficiently shows that the supreme court heard and passed upon the federal questions made upon the motion for rehearing, we will proceed briefly to consider them.
The suit brought by the Disconto Gesellschaft in attachment had for its object to subject the fund in the bank in Milwaukee to the payment of its claim against Terlinden. The plaintiff was a German corporation and Terlinden was a German subject. Umbreit, the intervener, was a citizen and resident of Wisconsin. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin adjudged that the fund attached could not be subjected to the payment of the indebtedness due the foreign corporation as against the claim asserted to the fund by one of its own citizens, although that claim arose after the attachment by the foreign creditor; and, further, that the fact that the effect of judgment in favor of the foreign corporation would be, under the facts found, to remove the fund to a foreign country, there to be administered in favor of foreign creditors, was against the public policy of Wisconsin, which forbade such discrimination as against a citizen of that state.
Alien citizens, by the policy and practice of the courts of this country, are ordinarily permitted to resort to the courts for the redress of wrongs and the protection of their rights. 4 Moore, International Law Digest, § 536, p. 7; Wharton, Conflict of Laws, § 17.
But what property may be removed from a state and subjected to the claims of creditors of other states is a matter of comity between nations and states, and not a matter of absolute
right in favor of creditors of another sovereignty when citizens of the local state or country are asserting rights against property within the local jurisdiction.
"is neither a matter of absolute obligation, on the one hand, nor of mere courtesy and goodwill, upon the other. But it is the recognition which one nation allows within its territory to the legislative, executive, or judicial acts of another nation, having due regard both to international duty and convenience, and to the rights of its own citizens or of other persons who are under the protection of its laws."
In the elaborate examination of the subject in that case, many cases are cited and the writings of leading authors on the subject extensively quoted as to the nature, obligation, and extent of comity between nations and states. The result of the discussion shows that how far foreign creditors will be protected and their rights enforced depends upon the circumstances of each case, and that all civilized nations have recognized and enforced the doctrine that international comity does not require the enforcement of judgments in such wise as to prejudice the rights of local creditors and the superior claims of such creditors to assert and enforce demands against property within the local jurisdiction. Such recognition is not inconsistent with that moral duty to respect the rights of foreign citizens which inheres in the law of nations. Speaking of the doctrine of comity, Mr. Justice Story says:
"Every nation must be the final judge for itself, not only of the nature and extent of the duty, but of the occasions on which its exercise may be justly demanded."
Story on Conflict of Laws, § 33.
The doctrine of comity has been the subject of frequent discussion in the courts of this country when it has been sought to assert rights accruing under assignments for the benefit of creditors in other states as against the demands of local creditors, by attachment or otherwise in the state where the property is situated. The cases were reviewed by Mr. Justice Brown,
delivering the opinion of the court in Security Trust Co. v. Dodd, 173 U. S. 624, and the conclusion reached that voluntary assignments for the benefit of creditors should be given force in other states as to property therein situate, except so far as they come in conflict with the rights of local creditors, or with the public policy of the state in which it is sought to be enforced; and, as was said by Mr. Justice McLean in Oakey v. Bennett, 11 How. 33, 52 U. S. 44,
"national comity does not require any government to give effect to such assignment [for the benefit of creditors] when it shall impair the remedies or lessen the securities of its own citizens,"
There being, then, no provision of positive law requiring the recognition of the right of the plaintiff in error to appropriate property in the State of Wisconsin and subject it to distribution for the benefit of foreign creditors as against the demands of local creditors, how far the public policy of the state permitted such recognition was a matter for the state to determine for itself. In determining that the policy of Wisconsin would not permit the property to be thus appropriated to the benefit of alien creditors as against the demands of the citizens of the state, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin has done no more than has been frequently done by nations and states in refusing to exercise the doctrine of comity in such wise as to impair the right of local creditors to subject local property to their just claims. We fail to perceive how this application of a well known rule can be said to deprive the plaintiff in error of its property without due process of law.
Upon the motion for rehearing, the plaintiff in error called attention to two alleged treaty provisions between the United States and the Kingdom of Prussia, the first from the Treaty of 1828 and the second from the treaty of 1799. As to the last-mentioned treaty, the following provision was referred to:
"Each party shall endeavor by all the means in their power to protect and defend all vessels and other effects belonging to the citizens or subjects of the other, which shall be within the extent of their jurisdiction by sea or by land. "
The Treaty of 1799 expired by its own terms on June 2, 1810, and the provision relied upon is not set forth in so much of the treaty as was revived by Article 12 of the Treaty of May 1, 1828. See Compilation of Treaties in Force, 1904, prepared under resolution of the Senate, pp. 638 et seq. If this provision of the treaty of 1799 were in force, we are unable to see that it has any bearing upon the present case.
Article one of the Treaty of 1828 between the Kingdom of Prussia and the United States is as follows:
"There shall be between the territories of the high contracting parties a reciprocal liberty of commerce and navigation. The inhabitants of their respective states shall mutually have liberty to enter the ports, places, and rivers of the territories of each party wherever foreign commerce is permitted. They shall be at liberty to sojourn and reside in all parts whatsoever of said territories, in order to attend to their affairs, and they shall enjoy, to that effect, the same security and protection as natives of the country wherein they reside, on condition of their submitting to the laws and ordinances there prevailing."
This treaty is printed as one of the treaties in force in the compilation of 1904, p. 643, and has undoubtedly been recognized by the two governments as still in force since the formation of the German Empire. See Terlinden v. Ames, 184 U. S. 270; Foreign Relations of 1883, p. 369; Foreign Relations of 1885, pp. 404, 443, 444; Foreign Relations of 1887, p. 370; Foreign Relations of 1895, pt. 1, 538.
Assuming, then, that this treaty is still in force between the United States and the German Empire, and conceding the rule that treaties should be liberally interpreted with a view to protecting the citizens of the respective countries in rights thereby secured, is there anything in this article which required any different decision in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin than that given? The inhabitants of the respective countries are to be at liberty to sojourn and reside in all parts whatsoever of said territories in order to attend to their affairs, and they shall enjoy, to that effect, the same security and protection as
the natives of the country wherein they reside, upon submission to the laws and ordinances there prevailing. It requires very great ingenuity to perceive anything in this treaty provision applicable to the present case. It is said to be found in the right of citizens of Prussia to attend to their affairs in this country. The treaty provides that for that purpose they are to have the same security and protection as natives in the country wherein they reside. Even between states of the American Union, as shown in the opinion of Mr. Justice Brown in Security Trust Co. v. Dodd, supra, it has been the constant practice not to recognize assignments for the benefit of creditors outside the state where the same came in conflict with the rights of domestic creditors seeking to recover their debts against local property. This is the doctrine in force as against natives of the country residing in other states, and it is this doctrine which has been applied by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin to foreign creditors residing in Germany. In short, there is nothing in this treaty undertaking to change the well recognized rule between states and nations which permits a country to first protect the rights of its own citizens in local property before permitting it to be taken out of the jurisdiction for administration in favor of those residing beyond their borders.
The judgment of the Circuit Court of Milwaukee County, entered upon the remittitur from the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, is