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MARSHALL V. HOLMES, 141 U. S. 589 (1891)

U.S. Supreme Court

Marshall v. Holmes, 141 U.S. 589 (1891)

Marshall v. Holmes

No. 28

Argued April 6-7, 1891

Decided November 9, 1891

141 U.S. 589


Numerous judgments at law were rendered in the state court in favor of the same party, against the same defendant; in each case, the judgment was for less than five hundred dollars, but the aggregate of all the judgments was over three thousand dollars. After the close of the term, the defendant against whom the judgments were rendered filed a petition in the same court for the annulment of the judgments upon the ground that, without negligence, laches, or other fault upon the part of the petitioner, they had been fraudulently obtained.

Subsequently the petitioner filed a proper petition and bond for the removal of the case into the circuit court of the United States. The application was refused, and the state court proceeded to final judgment.


(1) Upon the tiling of a proper petition and bond for the removal of a cause pending in a state court, such cause, if removable under the act of Congress, is in law removed so as to be docketed in the circuit court of the United States notwithstanding the state court may refuse to recognize the right of removal.

(2) As all the judgments in law were held in the same right and against the same parties, and as their validity depended neon the same facts, the defendant therein, in order to avoid a multiplicity of actions and the vexation and costs arising from numerous executions and levies, was entitled to bring one snit for a final decree determining the matter in dispute that was common to all the parties, and as, under the rules of equity, such a suit could be brought in a court of the United States, the aggregate amount of all the

Page 141 U. S. 590

judgments sought to be annulled was the value of the matter in dispute; consequently, the cause was removable so far as the amount involved was concerned.

(3) A circuit court of the United States in the exercise of its equity powers, and where diverse citizenship gives jurisdiction over the parties, may deprive a party of the benefit of a judgment fraudulently obtained by him in a state court, if the circumstances are such as would authorize relief by a federal court if the judgment had been rendered by it and not by a state court, as a decree to that effect does not operate upon the state court, but upon the party.

(4) Where a suit in equity is, in its general nature, one of which a circuit court of the United States may rightfully take cognizance, upon removal, it is not for a state court to disregard the right of removal upon the ground simply that the averments of the petition or bill in equity are insufficient or too vague to justify a court of equity in granting the relief asked. It is for the federal court, after the cause is docketed there, and upon final hearing, to determine whether, under the allegations and proof, a case is made which entitles the plaintiff to the relief asked.

Barrow v. Hunton, 99 U. S. 80; Johnson v. Waters, 111 U. S. 640, and Arrowsmith v. Gleason, 129 U. S. 86, distinguished from Nougue v. Clapp, 101 U. S. 551, and Graham v. Boston, Hartford & Erie Railroad, 118 U. S. 161.

The Court stated the case as follows:

On the 20th day of April, 1885, the plaintiff in error, Mrs. Sarah E. Marshall, a citizen of New York, filed in the eighth District Court for the Parish of Madison, Louisiana, a petition for injunction representing that David Mayer, one of the defendants in error, had then recently obtained, in a suit in that court, a judgment against her for the sum of $127.50; that in pursuance of an agreement, that judgment in one suit should be decisive of other suits in the same court between the same parties and relating to the same subject matter, judgments had been entered against her in his favor in other actions, twenty-three in number, for sums aggregating $3.089.31. Each judgment was for less than $500.

The petition alleges that all the judgments were obtained on false testimony and forged documents, and that equity and good conscience required that they be annulled and avoided for the following reasons:

Page 141 U. S. 591

"That your petitioner, as usufructuary of the plantation Cabin Teele, in your said parish, employed one Elijah Boyd as an agent on the said plantation to collect the rents and ship the cotton received; that the said Boyd died in the year 1884, and that said Mayer, pretending to have a contract with said Boyd by which your petitioner was bound to him as a furnisher of supplies in solido with the several defendants named in the suits hereinbefore mentioned, brought said suits, and made petitioner a party defendant thereto; that petitioner answered in the several suits petitioner a party defendant thereto; that said Boyd, if he made any such contract as alleged, had no power, right, or authority to do so; that a trial was had of the suit No. 607, and the said Mayer introduced evidence of the existence of a letter from your petitioner to the said Boyd authorizing him, the said Boyd, to make a contract by which her lien as lessor on the crops produced by the several defendants and other tenants on said plantation should be waived in favor of the said Mayer or of others as furnishers of supplies to said tenants; that upon such evidence so offered, and of the existence of which petitioner could not possibly be aware, and of which she had no knowledge until subsequent to the trial, judgment was rendered against her in said suit and in the several other suits mentioned. Your petitioner shows that the said Boyd, who was an agent, with only a general power of administration, had no authority to bind her or to waive her lien as lessor in order to procure supplies for the several defendants and other tenants, and that the pretended letter authorizing him to make such contract, if it ever had an existence, which petitioner denies, was a false and forged document, not written and not signed by her; that your petitioner has never authorized the said Boyd, or any other person whatsoever, to waive her lien as lessor in favor of the said Mayer or any other furnisher of supplies, and has never written the pretended letter, or any other letter, to the said Boyd, or to any other person whatsoever, containing such authority; that, to the contrary, as soon as she was informed after the death of said Boyd that he had made such pretended contract and other contracts by which it was sought to bind her, she instructed

Page 141 U. S. 592

her agents and attorneys to take immediate steps to disavow the authority of said Boyd to make such contracts; that the testimony of said Mayer as to the existence of said pretended letter is false, and in pursuance of a conspiracy to defraud petitioner, or that said pretended letter, if it ever had an existence, is a false and forged document; that this testimony, and much more testimony necessary to establish the falsity of said evidence upon which said judgments were obtained, and the forgery of said pretended letter to said Boyd, was unknown to petitioner at the time of the trial, and could not have been known to or anticipated by her, and has been discovered by her since the rendition of said judgments in said suit, and since the lapse of the legal delays within which a motion could be made for a new trial, and that there has been no laches on her part in failing to show the falsity of such evidence and the forgery of such pretended letter on the trial of the cause."

Such was the case made in the petition. The relief asked was an injunction against Mayer and the defendant in error, Holmes, sheriff of the parish, restraining them from executing the above judgments or any of them; that Mayer be cited to answer the petitioner's demand; that the judgments be annulled and avoided as obtained upon false testimony and forged documents, and that the petitioner have general and equitable relief.

A writ of injunction was issued as prayed for, and upon a supplemental petition, showing Mayer to be a nonresident of Louisiana, a curator ad hoc was appointed to represent him.

Mayer appeared and filed exceptions and pleas of estoppel and res adjudicata.

Subsequently, June 5, 1885, Mrs. Marshall filed a petition, accompanied by a proper bond, for the removal of her suit into the circuit court of the United States upon the grounds that she was a citizen of New York, and the defendants, respectively, were citizens of Mississippi and Louisiana; that the controversy was wholly between citizens of different states, and that it could be fully tried and determined between them. The court made an order refusing the application for removal. The pleas were referred to the merits, and ordered to stand as

Page 141 U. S. 593

an answer. Mayer answered, reiterating the allegations of the pleas previously filed by him, excepting to the petition as not disclosing any cause of action, denying each averment of the petition not admitted in the pleas, and praying that the plaintiff's demand be rejected.

Upon the trial of the case, judgment was rendered dissolving the injunction and authorizing Mayer to execute the judgments enjoined. Judgment was also rendered in his favor on the injunction bond for ten percent on the amounts enjoined (special damages as attorney's fees) and for twenty percent on such amounts as general damages. An appeal by the plaintiff to the Supreme Court of Louisiana was dismissed for want of jurisdiction in that court to review the judgment. It was held that the appeal should have gone to the proper state court of appeals. 39 La.Ann. 313. Thereupon an appeal was prosecuted to the for the Second Circuit of the State of Louisiana, where the original judgment, after being amended by reducing the general damages to ten percent, was affirmed. From that judgment Mrs. Marshall has prosecuted the present writ of error.

Page 141 U. S. 594

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