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GRIFFIN V. GRIFFIN, 327 U. S. 220 (1946)

U.S. Supreme Court

Griffin v. Griffin, 327 U.S. 220 (1946)

Griffin v. Griffin

No. 86

Argued December 10, 1945

Decided February 25, 1946

327 U.S. 220


In 1924, a New York court entered an interlocutory decree divorcing respondent from petitioner. The decree was modified in 1926 to provide that petitioner should pay to respondent alimony in a specified amount annually. Both parties were then residents of New York, and the proceedings were contested. In 1936, the court, also in contested proceedings, entered an order declaring that there was due from petitioner to respondent, for the period ending October 25, 1935, alimony arrears and accrued interest in a specified amount. In 1938, without notice to the petitioner, a judgment was by order of the court docketed in favor of the respondent against petitioner, and execution ordered to issue thereon, in an amount embracing what was due upon the 1936 order plus alimony arrears and interest from October 25, 1935, to the date of the 1938 order. Respondent sued petitioner in the district court of the District of Columbia upon the 1938 judgment, and was awarded summary judgment in the amount of the 1938 judgment plus interest.


1. To the extent that it adjudged as due and owing arrears of alimony accrued since October 25, 1935, the 1938 judgment was wanting in procedural due process, and unenforceable. Pp. 327 U. S. 223, 327 U. S. 233.

(a) Because of the want of notice to petitioner of the proceeding to docket judgment against him for accrued alimony, and to the extent that petitioner was thus deprived of an opportunity which under the law of New York was open to him to raise defenses in such a proceeding, there was want of procedural due process, and hence want of that jurisdiction over the person of petitioner prerequisite to the rendition of a judgment in personam against him. P. 327 U. S. 228.

The law of New York is examined and found to differ significantly from that involved in Sistare v. Sistare, 218 U. S. 1. P. 327 U. S. 233.

(b) It is immaterial whether petitioner, at the time of the 1938 proceeding, was a domiciled resident of New York, either within or temporarily without the State, or a resident of some other jurisdiction. In any event, a judgment in personam directing

Page 327 U. S. 221

execution to issue against petitioner, and thus purporting to cut off all available defenses, could not be rendered on any theory of the State's power over him, without some form of notice by personal or substituted service. P. 327 U. S. 228.

(c) Although the 1926 decree, in light of the New York practice, gave petitioner notice at the time of its entry that further proceedings might be taken to docket in judgment form the obligation to pay installments accruing under the decree, due process nevertheless required further notice of the time and place of such further proceedings, inasmuch as they undertook substantially to affect his rights in ways in which the 1926 decree did not. P. 327 U. S. 229.

(d) The assertion for the first time by the 1938 judgment of power to adjudicate petitioner's liability for accrued alimony and to direct its enforcement by execution does not differ in its nature and constitutional effect from the like assertion of power to issue execution by any other judgment rendered without notice. P. 327 U. S. 231.

(e) The contention that the 1938 judgment is not a final adjudication of the defenses which the petitioner might have had, and that notice was therefore not required, is irreconcilable with the fact that the judgment authorizes immediate execution thereon. P. 327 U. S. 232.

(f) Even though petitioner could, if he knew of the judgment before execution is actually levied, move to set the judgment aside, that could not save the judgment from its due process infirmity, since it and the New York practice purport to authorize the levy of execution before petitioner is notified of the proceeding or the judgment. P. 327 U. S. 232.

2. To the extent that the 1938 judgment infringes due process, it cannot be made the instrument for enforcing in another jurisdiction the rights purportedly adjudicated by it. P. 327 U. S. 232.

(a) A judgment obtained in violation of procedural due process is not entitled to full faith and credit when sued upon in another jurisdiction. P. 327 U. S. 228.

(b) Due process requires that no other jurisdiction shall give effect, even as a matter of comity, to a judgment elsewhere acquired without due process. P. 327 U. S. 232.

3. To the extent that the 1938 judgment confirmed the 1936 adjudication of the amount of alimony and interest due as of October 25, 1935, respondent was entitled to maintain suit upon it. P. 327 U. S. 233.

Page 327 U. S. 222

(a) The 1936 order was a final adjudication between the parties that arrears of alimony were then due and owing by petitioner to respondent in the specified amount. P. 327 U. S. 233.

(b) Existence of a power to modify or revoke installments of alimony already accrued is not lightly to be implied. P. 327 U. S. 233.

(c) The 1938 judgment, so far as it confirmed the 1936 order by which petitioner was already bound, impaired no rights of petitioner and foreclosed no defense which he had not had opportunity to offer. P. 327 U. S. 233.

(d) Due process does not require that notice be given before confirmation of rights theretofore established in a proceeding of which adequate notice was given. Pp. 327 U. S. 233-234.

(e) Upon remand of the cause, respondent will be taken as having established the amount of alimony accrued to October 25, 1935, remaining due and unpaid as of February 25, 1936, subject to any subsequent defense going to the discharge of the obligation so established, which petitioner should be permitted to raise, if any he has. P. 327 U. S. 234.

4. Upon remand, the district court will be free to consider whether respondent, upon issues appropriately framed in conformity to the summary judgment procedure, or by amended pleadings, may recover on the basis of the 1926 decree arrears of alimony accruing since October 25, 1935. P. 327 U. S. 235.

5. Petitioner's claim that the judgment of the New York court was procured or affected by fraud, and that parts of his answer and response to the motion for summary judgment were improperly stricken by the district court, is unsupported. P. 327 U. S. 236.

148 F.2d 17, reversed.

In a suit in the District of Columbia to enforce a New York decree for alimony, the plaintiff was awarded summary judgment. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed. 148 F.2d 17. This Court granted certiorari. 326 U.S. 705. Reversed and remanded, p. 327 U. S. 236.

Page 327 U. S. 223

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