CRS Annotated Constitution

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Other Types of Decrees

Probate Decrees.—Many judgments, enforcement of which has given rise to litigation, embrace decrees of courts of probate respecting the distribution of estates. In order that a court have jurisdiction of such a proceeding, the decedent must have been domiciled in the state, and the question whether he was so domiciled at the time of his death may be raised in the court of a sister State.85 Thus, when a court of State A, in probating a will and issuing letters, in a proceeding to which all distributees were parties, expressly found that the testator’s domicile at the time of death was in State A, such adjudication of domicile was held not to bind one subsequently appointed as domiciliary administrator c.t.a. in State B, in which he was liable to be called upon to deal with claims of local creditors and that of the State itself for taxes, he having not been a party to the proceeding in State A. In this situation, it was held, a court of State C, when disposing of local assets claimed by both personal representatives, was free to determine domicile in accordance with the law of State C.86

Similarly, there is no such relation of privity between an executor appointed in one State and an administrator c.t.a. appointed in another State as will make a decree against the latter binding upon the former.87 On the other hand, judicial proceedings in one State, under which inheritance taxes have been paid and the administration upon the estate has been closed, are denied full faith and credit by the action of a probate court in another State in assuming jurisdiction and assessing inheritance taxes against the beneficiaries of the estate, when under the law of the former State the order of the probate court barring all creditors who had failed to bring in their demand from any further claim against the executors was binding upon all.88


What is more important, however, is that the res in such a proceeding, that is, the estate, in order to entitle the judgment to recognition under Article IV, 1, must have been located in the State or legally attached to the person of the decedent. Such a judgment is accordingly valid, generally speaking, to distribute the intangible property of the decedent, though the evidences thereof were actually located elsewhere.89 This is not so, on the other hand, as to tangibles and realty. In order that the judgment of a probate court distributing these be entitled to recognition under the Constitution, they must have been located in the State; as to tangibles and realty outside the State, the decree of the probate court is entirely at the mercy of the lex rei sitae.90 So, the probate of a will in one State, while conclusive therein, does not displace legal provisions necessary to its validity as a will of real property in other States.91

Adoption Decrees.—That a statute legitimizing children born out of wedlock does not entitle them by the aid of the full faith and credit clause to share in the property located in another State is not surprising, in view of the general principle, to which, however, there are exceptions, that statutes do not have extraterritorial operation.92 For the same reason, adoption proceedings in one State are not denied full faith and credit by the law of the sister State which excludes children adopted by proceedings in other States from the right to inherit land therein.93

Garnishment Decrees.—A proceeding which combines some of the elements of both an in rem and an in personam action is the proceeding in garnishment cases. Suppose that A owes B and B owes C, and that the two former live in a different State than C. A, while on a brief visit to C’s State, is presented with a writ attaching his debt to B and also a summons to appear in court on a named day. The result of the proceedings thus instituted is that a judgment is entered in C’s favor against A to the amount of his indebtedness to B. Subsequently A is sued by B in their home State and offers the judgment, which he has in the meantime paid, in de[p.853]fense. It was argued in behalf of B that A’s debt to him had a situs in their home State and furthermore that C could not have sued B in this same State without formally acquiring a domicile there. Both propositions were, however, rejected by the Court, which held that the judgment in the garnishment proceedings was entitled to full faith and credit as against B’s action.94

Penal Judgments: Types Entitled to Recognition

Finally, the clause has been interpreted in the light of the “incontrovertible maxim” that “the courts of no country execute the penal laws of another.”95 In the leading case of Huntington v. Attrill,96 however, the Court so narrowly defined “penal” in this connection as to make it substantially synonymous with “criminal” and on this basis held a judgment which had been recovered under a state statute making the officers of a corporation who signed and recorded a false certificate of the amount of its capital stock liable for all of its debts to be entitled under Article IV, Sec. 1, to recognition and enforcement in the courts of sister States. Nor, in general, is a judgment for taxes to be denied full faith and credit in state and federal courts merely because it is for taxes. In Nelson v. George,97 in which a prisoner was tried in California and North Carolina and convicted and sentenced in both states for various felonies, the Court determined that the full faith and credit clause did not require California to enforce a penal judgment handed down by North Carolina; California was free to consider what effect if any it would give to the North Carolina detainer.98 Until the obligation to extradite matured, the full faith and credit clause did not require California to enforce the North Carolina penal judgment in any way.

Fraud as a Defense to Suits on Foreign Judgments

With regard to whether recognition of a state judgment can be refused by the forum State on other than jurisdictional grounds, there are dicta to the effect that judgments for which extraterritorial operation is demanded under Article IV, Sec. 1 and[p.854]acts of Congress are “impeachable for manifest fraud.” But unless the fraud affected the jurisdiction of the court, the vast weight of authority is against the proposition. Also, it is universally agreed that a judgment may not be impeached for alleged error or irregularity,99 or as contrary to the public policy of the State where recognition is sought for it under the full faith and credit clauses.100 Previously listed cases indicate, however, that the Court in fact has permitted local policy to determine the merits of a judgment under the pretext of regulating jurisdiction.101 Thus in one case, Cole v. Cunningham,102 the Court sustained a Massachusetts court in enjoining, in connection with insolvency proceedings instituted in that State, a Massachusetts creditor from continuing in New York courts an action which had been commenced there before the insolvency suit was brought. This was done on the theory that a party within the jurisdiction of a court may be restrained from doing something in another jurisdiction opposed to principles of equity, it having been shown that the creditor was aware of the debtor’s embarrassed condition when the New York action was instituted. The injunction unquestionably denied full faith and credit and commanded the assent of only five Justices.


85 Tilt v. Kelsey, 207 U.S. 43 (1907); Burbank v. Ernst, 232 U.S. 162 (1914).
86 Riley v. New York Trust Co., 315 U.S. 343 (1942).
87 Brown v. Fletcher’s Estate, 210 U.S. 82, 90 (1908). See also Stacy v. Thrasher, 6 How. (47 U.S.) 44, 58 (1848); McLean v. Meek, 18 How. (59 U.S.) 16, 18 (1856).
88 Tilt v. Kelsey, 207 U.S. 43 (1907). In the case of Borer v. Chapman, 119 U.S. 587, 599 (1887), involving a complicated set of facts, it was held that a judgment in a probate proceeding, which was merely ancillary to proceedings in another State and which ordered the residue of the estate to be assigned to the legatee and discharged the executor from further liability, did not prevent a creditor, who was not a resident of the State in which the ancillary judgment was rendered, from setting up his claim in the state probate court which had the primary administration of the estate.
89 Blodgett v. Silberman, 277 U.S. 1 (1928).
90 Kerr v. Moon, 9 Wheat. (22 U.S.) 565 (1824); McCormick v. Sullivant, 10 Wheat. (23 U.S.) 192 (1825); Clarke v. Clarke, 178 U.S. 186 (1900). The controlling principle of these cases is not confined to proceedings in probate. A court of equity “not having jurisdiction of the res cannot affect it by its decree nor by a deed made by a master in accordance with the decree.” Fall v. Eastin, 215 U.S. 1, 11 (1909).
91 Robertson v. Pickrell, 109 U.S. 608, 611 (1883). See also Darby v. Mayer, 10 Wheat. (23 U.S.) 465 (1825); Gasquet v. Fenner, 247 U.S. 16 (1918).
92 Olmstead v. Olmstead, 216 U.S. 386 (1910).
93 Hood v. McGehee, 237 U.S. 611 (1915).
94 Harris v. Balk, 198 U.S. 215 (1905). See also Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. v. Sturm, 174 U.S. 710 (1899); King v. Cross, 175 U.S. 396, 399 (1899); Louisville & Nashville Railroad v. Deer, 200 U.S. 176 (1906); Baltimore & Ohio R.R. v. Hostetter, 240 U.S. 620 (1916). Harris itself has not survived the due process reformulation of Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977). See Rush v. Savchuk, 444 U.S. 320 (1980).
95 The Antelope, 10 Wheat. (23 U.S.) 66, 123 (1825). See also Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co., 127 U.S. 265 (1888).
96 146 U.S. 657 (1892). See also Dennick v. Railroad Co., 103 U.S. 11 (1881); Moore v. Mitchell, 281 U.S. 18 (1930); Milwaukee County v. White Co., 296 U.S. 268 (1935).
97 399 U.S. 224 (1970).
98 Id., 229.
99 Christmas v. Russell, 5 Wall. (72 U.S.) 290 (1866); Maxwell v. Stewart, 21 Wall. (88 U.S.) 71 (1875); Hanley v. Donoghue, 116 U.S. 1 (1885); Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co., 127 U.S. 265 (1888); Simmons v. Saul, 138 U.S. 439 (1891); American Express Co. v. Mullins, 212 U.S. 311 (1909).
100 Fauntleroy v. Lum, 210 U.S. 230 (1908).
101 Anglo–American Prov. Co. v. Davis Prov. Co. No. 1, 191 U.S. 373 (1903).
102 133 U.S. 107 (1890).
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