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BATES v. BODIE

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


January 21, 1918

BATES
v.
BODIE

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEBRASKA

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds, Brandeis, Clarke

Author: Mckenna

[ 245 U.S. Page 524]

 MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

A motion is made to dismiss on the ground, as contended, that the decision of the Supreme Court of Nebraska was based upon a construction of the statutes of Arkansas and concluded therefrom that the District Court of Arkansas "had no jurisdiction to take the Nebraska lands of this plaintiff in error into consideration in fixing the amount of allowance to this defendant in error, and as a matter of fact did not do so." That this conclusion was reached "by reason of the peculiar statute of Arkansas which governs and controls the courts of that State in fixing the allowance of alimony to a wife, in all cases in which the divorce is granted on her petition " (italics counsel's) and the court "was limited and controlled by that statute." It is hence contended that the full faith and credit which the Constitution of the United States requires to be given to the judicial proceedings of another State was not denied to the Arkansas decree but that the Supreme Court of Nebraska, considering the statutes of Arkansas, gave to the decree the value those statutes gave to it.

But this is the question in controversy. The decision of the Supreme Court of Nebraska is challenged for not according to the decree the credit it is entitled

[ 245 U.S. Page 525]

     to and it is no answer to the challenge to say that the Supreme Court committed no error in responding to it and that, therefore, there is no federal question for review. Andrews v. Andrews, 188 U.S. 14. The motion to dismiss is denied.

The decision of the Supreme Court affirming the subsequent judgment of the district court on the merits was by a divided court and the opinion and dissenting opinion were well-reasoned and elaborate. The ultimate propositions decided were that the courts of Nebraska would entertain a suit for alimony out of real estate situated in that State after a decree for absolute divorce in another State, the latter State having no jurisdiction of the land, notwithstanding the decree awarding alimony, the decree not appearing to have been rendered by consent or not having taken such land into account; and that besides the Arkansas court had no jurisdiction to render a money judgment for alimony.

The propositions were supported and opposed by able discussion, some of which was occupied in reconciling a conflict of decision in Nebraska, a later decision made to give way to an earlier one. We are not called upon to trace or consider the reasoning of the opinion further than to determine the correctness of its elements, and this determination can be made by reference to the divorce proceedings in Arkansas and the decree of the court rendered therein.

The case is not in broad compass and depends upon the application of the quite familiar principle that determines the estoppel of judgments, and the principle would seem to have special application to a judgment for divorce and alimony. They are usually concomitants in the same suit -- some cases say must be -- or, rather, that as alimony is an incident of divorce, it must be awarded by the same decree that grants the separation. And it is the practice to unite them, as alimony

[ 245 U.S. Page 526]

     necessarily depends upon a variety of circumstances more adequately determined in the suit for divorce, not only the right to it but the measure of it, all circumstances upon which it depends being then naturally brought under the view and judgment of the court. Whether, however, the right to it should be litigated in the suit for divorce, or may be sought subsequently in another, the principle is applicable that what is once adjudged cannot be tried again. And this court has established a test of the thing adjudged and the extent of its estoppel. It is: If the second action is upon the same claim or demand as that in which the judgment pleaded was rendered, the judgment is an absolute bar not only of what was decided but of what might have been decided. If the second action was upon a different claim or demand, then the judgment is an estoppel "only as to those matters in issue or points controverted, upon the determination of which the finding or verdict was rendered." Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 353; Virginia- Carolina Chemical Co. v. Kirven, 215 U.S. 252; Troxell v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western R.R. Co., 227 U.S. 434; Radford v. Myers, 231 U.S. 725; Hart Steel Co. v. Railroad Supply Co., 244 U.S. 294.

But how find the matters in issue or the points controverted upon the determination of which the judgment was rendered? The obvious answer would seem to be that for the issues we must go to the pleadings; for the response to them and their determination, to the judgment; and each may furnish a definition of the other. National Foundry & Pipe Works v. Oconto Water Supply Co., 183 U.S. 216, 234. If there be generality and uncertainty, to what extent there may be specification and limitation by evidence aliunde there is some conflict in the cases. But we are not called upon to review or reconcile them. Our rule is that an estoppel by judgment is "not only as to every matter which was

[ 245 U.S. Page 527]

     offered and received to sustain or defeat the claim or demand, but as to any other admissible matter which might have been offered for that purpose." Cromwell v. County of Sac, supra, p. 352. Is the rule applicable to the instant case?

We have set forth the proceedings in divorce in which, we have seen, there were charges of cruelty, and counter charges. There was display of property, prayers for divorce and a prayer in addition, on the part of defendant in error, that her husband, Bates, be required to restore a sum borrowed from her "and that the court award her such alimony as the facts and law warrant, and all other proper or necessary relief."

Responding to the issues thus made and the relief thus prayed, the court adjudged plaintiff in error guilty of cruelty, granted defendant in error a divorce and awarded her the sum of "$5,111.00 in full of alimony and all other demands set forth in cross bill."

There were then presented the issues of divorce and alimony; the first was made absolute, the second in a specified sum "in full," and the sum adjudged to her was made a lien on his property in the State (Arkansas). We may remark that she was awarded other property. It would seem, therefore, that there is no uncertainty upon the face of the record and that it is clear as to the issues submitted and clear as to the decision upon them.

But it is answered that -- (1) The court had no jurisdiction of the Nebraska lands, and (2) that besides it did not take them into account in its judgment.

(1) Counsel make too much of this point. It may be that the Arkansas court had no jurisdiction of the Nebraska lands so as to deal with them specifically, but it had jurisdiction over plaintiff in error to require him to perform any order it might make. But even this power need not be urged. The court had jurisdiction of the controversy between the parties and all that

[ 245 U.S. Page 528]

     pertained to it, jurisdiction to determine the extent of the property resources of plaintiff in error and what part of them should be awarded to defendant in error. It was not limited to any particular sum if it had jurisdiction to render a money judgment at all.

But such jurisdiction does not exist, the Supreme Court of Nebraska decides and counsel urges. The argument to sustain this is that the Arkansas statute*fn1 (§ 2684, Kirby's Digest) provides that when a divorce is granted to the wife the only power the court possesses is to restore to the parties respectively the property one may have obtained from the other during the marriage and adjudge to the wife one-third of her husband's personal property absolutely and one-third of all the lands whereof he was seized of an estate of inheritance at any time during the marriage for her life unless she shall have relinquished the same in legal form. In other words, against a guilty husband the courts of Arkansas were without power to render a money judgment for alimony, but were confined to an allotment of his personal property and real estate in the proportions stated. But the court was confronted with the question of the relation of that section to § 2681 of the Digest, which provides that "when a decree shall be entered, the court shall make such order touching the alimony of the wife and care of the children, if there be any, as from the circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case shall

[ 245 U.S. Page 529]

     be reasonable." In answer to the question the court decided that the latter section is applicable only when a divorce is granted for the fault of the wife.

Plaintiff in error contests the conclusion and strong argument may be made against it to show that the sections are reconcilable and each applicable to particular conditions. And such was the view of the dissenting members of the court. However, we are not called upon for a definitive decision on account of the view we entertain of proposition 2 and the reason which, we think, induced the court to render a money judgment.

(2) This proposition is based on the record which, the Supreme Court said, "shows that the court [Arkansas court] did not in fact make any allowance on account of the Nebraska lands," and resort is had to parol testimony for the purpose of limiting the decree. But we cannot give the testimony such strength. It is conflicting. It consists of the impressions of opposing counsel and of the parties of the opinion of the court orally delivered in direction for the decree.

The Bodie version is supported by the clerk of the court, whose recollection was that the court did not take into consideration "the land outside of Benton County." But he further testified that there was testimony of the rental value of the Nebraska lands and that "the chancellor announced that while he did not have jurisdiction over the lands in Nebraska, he did have jurisdiction over the person of Bates, as he was personally present in court. The court required Bates to deposit security for the payment of the alimony awarded. . . . As I recollect it the decree rendered was on the consent of Bates on condition that Bodie would not appeal."

On the Bates side is the evidence of the chancellor, whose opinion was the subject of the testimony of the others. He was specific and direct and the following, in summary, is his testimony: Depositions were introduced

[ 245 U.S. Page 530]

     showing the value of and rental income from the Nebraska lands, which were supposed to be in the name of Bates' children or in his name as trustee for his children. The decree for alimony was a lump sum of $5,111.00 "in lieu of any interest that she might have or claim she might have for any sum." (It does not appear from what this is a quotation -- probably from the witness' opinion.) He, the witness, intimated what he would do in the way of a property finding and the parties agreed upon a lump sum as a final settlement, from which no appeal was to be taken. His view was that the court had jurisdiction of the parties, and held it had not of the land in Neraska, but it did have jurisdiction to consider its value in determining the amount of alimony. Knowing, as he testified, the law, he did not think he stated that there was no law justifying the court to take into consideration the Nebraska lands. It was not the first time the proposition had been raised before him.

He remembered that Bodie claimed $2,500 as borrowed money, but the money had merged in Bates' estate. He did not understand that it entered in the decree. It was a lump-sum agreement provided cash could be got to end the controversy both as to divorce and as to property rights. Counsel adjusted it on the outside, for he was quite sure that it was not the amount the court indicated it would allow. The court understood that counsel on both sides agreed to the amount; that the judgment was a complete and amicable settlement between the parties of all property rights involved.

We must ascribe to the representation of the decree the same judicial impartiality that induced its rendition and the representation was circumstantial, without material qualification, doubt or hesitation. It accords besides with the issues in the case and the decree. As we have seen, the amount it awarded was "in full of alimony and all other demands set forth in cross bill."

[ 245 U.S. Page 531]

     It also recited that it was "rendered by the consent of the plaintiff on condition that no appeal be taken by the defendant from the judgment and decree." The amount was secured, as the chancellor declared he would secure it; it was paid as it was required to be paid.

The evidence, therefore, confirms the face of the decree and that it was rendered by consent of the parties. It is admitted that consent would give jurisdiction to the court to render a money judgment for alimony.

We think, therefore, that due faith and credit required by the Constitution of the United States was not given to the decree.

The judgment of the Supreme Court is reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.


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