Thompson v. Roberts,
65 U.S. 233 (1860)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Thompson v. Roberts, 65 U.S. 24 How. 233 233 (1860)

Thompson v. Roberts

65 U.S. (24 How.) 233


The general rule of law is that the judgment of a court of law or a decree of a court of equity, directly upon the same point and between the same parties, is good as a plea in bar and conclusive when given in evidence in a subsequent suit.

Where the court left it to the jury to say whether the defense made at law was the same which was made in a prior equity suit, this error, if it be one, does not invalidate the judgment of the court below.

The parties to the suit at law having been parties to the suit in equity, the subject matter and defense being the same, it is not a sufficient objection to the introduction of the record in the equity suit that other persons were parties to the latter.

No good reason can be given why the parties to the suit at law who litigated the same question should not be concluded by the decree because others, having an interest in the question or subject matter, were admitted by the practice of a court of chancery to assist on both sides.

Page 65 U. S. 234

In consequence of some negotiations relative to coal lands, and their eventual purchase by Pickell and Thompson, they executed to Mr. Smith the following notes:

"Promissory Note No. 1"

"BALTIMORE, June 2, 1853"

"On the 31st of December, 1856, we promise to pay William H. Smith, or order, two thousand dollars, with interest from July 20, 1853. Value received."




"Endorsed: WM. H. SMITH"

"Promissory Note No. 2"

"BALTIMORE, June 2, 1853"

"On the first day of July, in the year 1856, we promise to pay William H. Smith, or order, two thousand dollars, with interest from July 20, 1853. Value received."




"Endorsed: WM. H. SMITH"

The time for the payment of these notes was afterwards, by agreement, extended to 15th January, 1857.

On the 12th of July, 1853, Thompson and Pickell executed a mortgage of the property purchased to Smith, for the purpose of securing the payment of the purchase money, of which the notes were only a part.

On the 2d of October, 1856, Smith assigned the mortgage, as also the two notes in question, to Lewis Roberts, Gidson R. Burbank, and Addison Roberts.

The next step in the proceedings was the filing of a bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland for the foreclosure of the mortgage. To this bill the following were the parties:

William H. Smith, of the City of Richmond, and State of Virginia, and a citizen of the said State of Virginia, and Lewis Roberts, Gideon R. Burbank, and Addison F. Roberts, of the City of New York, and State of New York, and citizens of

Page 65 U. S. 235

said State of New York, bring this their bill of complaint against William Thompson, a citizen of the State of Maryland, and residing in the City of Baltimore in the said state, and John Pickell, a citizen of the said State of Maryland, and residing in Alleghany County in said state, and the Pickell Mining company, incorporated by the laws of the said State of Maryland, mining and transacting business in Alleghany County in said state, and having an office for the dispatch of business in the City of Baltimore, in said state.

The Pickell Mining company were made a party because, as the bill alleged, Thompson and Pickell had, since the date of the mortgage, assigned their equity of redemption to that company.

This gave rise to a protracted and warmly contested litigation, the defendants alleging that Smith had represented the land to contain at least three hundred acres of the big vein of coal, whereas it did not contain more than one hundred and fifty.

It is not necessary to state the evidence taken on both sides.

On the 31st of October, 1857, whilst this controversy was pending in chancery, the defendants in error brought a suit on the common law side of the court upon the two notes above mentioned, which is the present case.

In April, 1858, the court on the equity side decreed a sale of a part of the mortgaged property, but the most valuable part of it was excepted, so that the residue was not worth the debt. The suit at law therefore went on.

In November, 1858, the case came up for trial. The defendants offered a part of the chancery record for the purpose of showing that the plaintiffs were not holders of the notes for value, when the plaintiffs offered the entire record, and insisted that the decree was conclusive, and estopped the defendants from again alleging the same matter as a defense to the suit at law on the notes.

Four long prayers were made to the court on each side, which were all rejected, and the following instructions given to the jury:

"If the jury shall find from the evidence that the promissory

Page 65 U. S. 236

notes offered in evidence in this case were duly executed and delivered by the said defendants to William H. Smith, and by him endorsed over to the said plaintiff for value, and that in the cause on the equity side of this court, in which the said plaintiffs, with the said Smith, were complainants and the said Thompson and Pickell, with the Pickell Mining company, were defendants, the record of which has been offered in evidence, the same defense was made and set up in said cause to prevent the passage of a decree for the sale of the said lands to pay the said notes as is now made to prevent a recovery in this case, then the decree passed in that case is conclusive upon the point of this defense, and the plaintiffs are entitled to recover in this action."

"To which said rejection of the prayers offered on the part of plaintiffs the said plaintiffs prayed leave to except, and the said defendants prayed leave to except to the rejection of the prayers as offered by the defendants, and to the instruction given by the court to the jury, and the said parties, plaintiffs and defendants, prayed the court to sign and seal this their several bill of exceptions which is accordingly done this 18 November, 1858."


Page 65 U. S. 239

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