HILTON V. GUYOT, 159 U. S. 113 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hilton v. Guyot, 159 U.S. 113 (1895)

Hilton v. Guyot

Nos. 130, 34

Argued April 10, 1894

Decided June 3, 1895

159 U.S. 113


A citizen and resident of this country who has his principal place of business here but has an agent in a foreign country and is accustomed to purchase and store large quantities of goods there, and, in a suit brought against him by a citizen and in a court of that country, appears and defends with the sole object of preventing his property within the jurisdiction, but not in the custody of that court, from being taken in satisfaction of any judgment that may be recovered against him there cannot, in an action brought against him in this country upon such a judgment, impeach it for want of jurisdiction of his person.

The admission at the trial in a court of a foreign country, according to its law and practice, of testimony not under oath and without opportunity of cross-examination, and of documents with which the defendant had no connection and which by our law would not be admissible against him, is not of itself a sufficient ground for impeaching the judgment of that court in an action brought upon it in this country.

When an action is brought in a court of this country by a citizen of a foreign country against one of our own citizens to recover a sum of money adjudged by a court of that country to be due from the defendant to the plaintiff, and the foreign judgment appears to have been rendered by a competent court, having jurisdiction of the cause and of the parties, and upon due allegations and proofs and opportunity to defend against them, and its proceedings are according to the course of a civilized jurisprudence, and are stated in a clear and formal record, the judgment is prima facie evidence, at least, of the truth of the matter adjudged, and the judgment is conclusive upon the merits tried in the foreign court unless some special ground is shown for impeaching it, as by showing that it was affected by fraud or prejudice or that, by the principles of international law and by the comity of our own country, it is not entitled to full credit and credit.

A judgment for a sum of money, rendered by a court of a foreign country, having jurisdiction of the cause and of the parties, in a suit brought by

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one of its citizens against one of ours, is prima facie evidence only, and not conclusive of the merits of the claim in an action brought here upon the judgment if by the law of the foreign country, as in France, judgments of our own courts are not recognized as conclusive.

The first of these two cases was an action at law, brought December 18, 1885, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, by Gustave Bertin Guyot, as official liquidator of the firm of Charles Fortin & Co., and by the surviving members of that firm, all aliens and citizens of the Republic of France, against Henry Hilton and William Libbey, citizens of the United States and of the State of New York and trading as copartners in the cities of New York and Paris and elsewhere under the firm name of A. T. Stewart & Co. The action was upon a judgment recovered in a French court at Paris, in the Republic of France, by the firm of Charles Fortin & Co., all of whose members were French citizens, against Hilton & Libbey, trading as copartners, as aforesaid, and citizens of the United States and of the State of New York.

The complaint alleged that in 1886 and since, during the time of all the transactions included in the judgment sued on, Hilton and Libbey, as successors to Alexander T. Stewart and Libbey, under the firm name of A. T. Stewart & Co., carried on a general business as merchants in the Cities of New York and Paris and elsewhere, and maintained a regular store and place of business at Paris; that during the same time, Charles Fortin & Co. carried on the manufacture and sale of gloves at Paris, and the two firms had there large dealings in that business, and controversies arose in the adjustment of accounts between them.

The complaint further alleged that between March 1, 1879, and December 1, 1882, five suits were brought by Fortin & Co. against Stewart & Co. for sums alleged to be due, and three suits by Stewart & Co. against Fortin & Co., in the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine, a judicial tribunal or court organized and existing under the laws of France, sitting at Paris and having jurisdiction of suits and controversies between merchants or traders growing

Page 159 U. S. 115

out of commercial dealings between them; that Stewart & Co. appeared by their authorized attorneys in all those suits, and that, after full hearing before an arbitrator appointed by that court and before the court itself, and after all the suits had been consolidated by the court, final judgment was rendered on January 20, 1883, that Fortin & Co. recover of Stewart & Co. various sums, arising out of the dealings between them, amounting to 660,847 francs, with interest, and dismissed part of Fortin & Co.'s claim.

The complaint further alleged that appeals were taken by both parties from that judgment to the Court of Appeal of Paris, Third Section, an appellate court of record organized and existing under the laws of the Republic of France and having jurisdiction of appeals from the final judgments of the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine, where the amount in dispute exceeded the sum of 1,500 francs, and that the said Court of Appeal, by a final judgment rendered March 19, 1884, and remaining of record in the office of its clerk at Paris, after hearing the several parties by their counsel, and upon full consideration of the merits, dismissed the appeal of the defendants, confirmed the judgment of the lower court in favor of the plaintiffs, and ordered, upon the plaintiffs' appeal, that they recover the additional sum of 152,528 francs, with 182,849 francs for interest on all the claims allowed, and 12,559 francs for costs and expenses.

The complaint further alleged that Guyot had been duly appointed by the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine official liquidator of the firm of Forth & Co., with full powers, according to law and commercial usage, for the verification and realization of its property, both real and personal, and to collect and cause to be executed the judgments aforesaid.

The complaint further alleged that the judgment of the Court of Appeals of Paris, and the judgment of the Tribunal of Commerce, as modified by the judgment of the appellate court, still remain in full force and effect;

"that the said courts respectively had jurisdiction of the subject matter of the controversies so submitted to them, and of the parties, the

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said defendants having intervened, by their attorneys and counsel, and applied for affirmative relief in both courts; that the plaintiffs have hitherto been unable to collect the said judgments or any part thereof, by reason of the absence of the said defendants, they having given up their business in Paris prior to the recovery of the said judgment on appeal, and having left no property within the jurisdiction of the Republic of France out of which the said judgments might be made;"

and that there are still justly due and owing from the defendants to the plaintiffs upon those said judgments certain sums, specified in the complaint, and amounting in all to 1,008,783 francs in the currency of the Republic of France, equivalent to $195,122.47.

The defendants, in their answer, set forth in detail the original contracts and transactions in France between the parties and the subsequent dealings between them modifying those contracts, and alleged that the plaintiffs had no just claim against the defendants, but that, on the contrary, the defendants, upon a just settlement of the accounts, were entitled to recover large sums from the plaintiffs.

The answer admitted the proceedings and judgments in the French courts and that the defendants gave up their business in France before the judgment on appeal, and had no property within the jurisdiction of France out of which that judgment could be collected.

The answer further alleged that the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine was a tribunal whose judges were merchants, ship captains, stockbrokers, and persons engaged in commercial pursuits, and of which Charles Fortin had been a member until shortly before the commencement of the litigation.

The answer further alleged that in the original suits brought against the defendants by Fortin & Co., the citations were left at their storehouse in Paris; that they were then residents and citizens of the State of New York, and neither of them at that time, or within four years before, had been within, or resident or domiciled within, the jurisdiction of that tribunal or owed any allegiance to France, but that

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they were the owners of property situated in that country which would by the law of France have been liable to seizure if they did not appear in that tribunal, and that they unwillingly, and solely for the purpose of protecting that property, authorized and caused an agent to appear for them in those proceedings, and that the suits brought by them against Fortin & Co. were brought for the same purpose, and in order to make a proper defense, and to establish counterclaims arising out of the transactions between the parties, and to compel the production and inspection of Fortin & Co.'s books, and that they sought no other affirmative relief in that tribunal.

The answer further alleged that, pending that litigation, the defendants discovered gross frauds in the accounts of Fourtin & Co., that the arbitrator and the tribunal declined to compel Fortin & Co. to produce their books and papers for inspection, and that, if they had been produced, the judgment would not have been obtained against the defendants.

The answer further alleged that without any fault or negligence on the part of the defendants, there was not a full and fair trial of the controversies before the arbitrator, in that no witness was sworn or affirmed; in that Charles Fortin was permitted to make, and did make, statements not under oath containing many falsehoods; in that the privilege of cross-examination of Fortin and other persons who made statements before the arbitrator was denied to the defendants, and in that extracts from printed newspapers, the knowledge of which was not brought home to the defendants, and letters and other communications in writing between Fortin & Co. and third persons, to which the defendants were neither privy nor party, were received by the arbitrator; that without such improper evidence, the judgment would not have been obtained, and that the arbitrator was deceived and misled by the false and fraudulent accounts introduced by Fortin & Co. and by the hearsay testimony given, without the solemnity of an oath and without cross-examination, and by the fraudulent suppression of the books and papers.

The answer further alleged that Fortin & Co. made up their statements and accounts falsely and fraudulently, and with

Page 159 U. S. 118

intent to deceive the defendants and the arbitrator and the said courts of France, and those courts were deceived and misled thereby; that owing to the fraudulent suppression of the books and papers of Fortin & Co. upon the trial and the false statements of Fortin regarding matters involved in the controversy, the arbitrator and the courts of France

"were deceived and misled in regard to the merits of the controversies pending before them, and wrongfully decided against said Stewart & Co., as hereinbefore stated; that said judgment, hereinbefore mentioned, is fraudulent, and based upon false and fraudulent accounts and statements, and is erroneous in fact and in law, and is void; that the trial hereinbefore mentioned was not conducted according to the usages and practice of the common law, and the allegations and proofs given by said Fortin & Co., upon which said judgment is founded, would not be competent or admissible in any court or tribunal of the United States, in any suit between the same parties involving the same subject matter, and it is contrary to natural justice and public policy that the said judgment should be enforced against a citizen of the United States, and that, if there had been a full and fair trial upon the merits of the controversies so pending before said tribunals, no judgment would have been obtained against said Stewart & Co."

"Defendants, further answering, allege that it is contrary to natural justice that the judgment hereinbefore mentioned should be enforced without an examination of the merits thereof; that by the laws of the Republic of France, to-wit, article 181 [121] of the Royal Ordinance of June 15, 1629, it is provided namely:"

"Judgments rendered, contracts or obligations recognized, in foreign kingdoms and sovereignties, for any cause whatever shall give rise to no lien or execution in our Kingdom. Thus, the contracts shall stand for simple promises, and, notwithstanding such judgments, our subjects against whom they have been rendered may contest their rights anew before our own judges."

"And it is further provided by the laws of France, by article 546 of the Code de Procedure Civile, as follows:"

" Judgments rendered by foreign tribunals shall be capable of execution

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in France only in the manner and in the cases set forth by articles 2123 and 2128 of the Civil Code."

"And it is further provided by the laws of France, by article 2128 [2123] of the Code de Procedure Civile [Civil Code]:"

" A lien cannot, in like manner, arise from judgments rendered in any foreign country, save only as they have been declared in force by a French tribunal, without prejudice, however, to provisions to the contrary, contained in public laws and treaties."

"[And by article 2128 of that Code: 'Contracts entered into in a foreign country cannot give a lien upon property in France if there are no provisions contrary to this principle in public laws or in treaties.']"

"That the construction given to said statutes by the judicial tribunals of France is such that no comity is displayed towards the judgments of tribunals of foreign countries against the citizens of France, when sued upon in said courts of France, and the merits of the controversies upon which the said judgments are based are examined anew, unless a treaty to the contrary effect exists between the said Republic of France and the country in which such judgment is obtained. That no treaty exists between the said Republic of France and the United States, by the terms or effect of which the judgments of either country are prevented from being examined anew upon the merits, when sued upon in the courts of the country other than that in which it is obtained. That the tribunals of the Republic of France give no force and effect, within the jurisdiction of the said country, to the duly rendered judgments of courts of competent jurisdiction of the United States against citizens of France, after proper personal service of the process of said courts is made thereon in this country."

The answer further set up, by way of counterclaim and in detail, various matters arising out of the dealings between the parties, and alleged that none of the plaintiffs had since 1881 been residents of the State of New York, or within the jurisdiction of that state, but the defendants were, and always had been, residents of that state.

The answer concluded by demanding that the plaintiffs'

Page 159 U. S. 120

complaint be dismissed, and that the defendants have judgment against them upon the counterclaims, amounting to $102,942.91.

The plaintiffs filed a replication to so much of the answer as made counterclaims, denying its allegations and setting up in bar thereof the judgment sued on.

The defendants, on June 22, 1888, filed a bill in equity against the plaintiffs setting forth the same matters as in their answer to the action at law and praying for a discovery and for an injunction against the prosecution of the action. To that bill a plea was filed setting up the French judgments, and upon a hearing, the bill was dismissed. 42 F.2d 9. From the decree dismissing the bill an appeal was taken, which is the second case now before this Court.

The action at law afterwards came on for trial by a jury, and the plaintiffs put in the records of the proceedings and judgments in the French courts, and evidence that the jurisdiction of those courts was as alleged in the complaint and that the practice followed and the method of examining the witnesses were according to the French law, and also proved the title of Guyot as liquidator.

It was admitted by both parties that for several years prior to 1876, the firm of Alexander T. Stewart & Co., composed of Stewart and Libbey, conducted their business as merchants in the City of New York, with branches in other cities of America and Europe; that both partners were citizens and residents of the City and State of New York during the entire period mentioned in the complaint, and that in April, 1876, Stewart died, and Hilton and Libbey formed a partnership to continue the business under the same firm name, and became the owners of all the property and rights of the old firm.

The defendants made numerous offers of evidence in support of all the specific allegations of fact in their answer, including the allegations as to the law and comity of France. The plaintiffs, in their brief filed in this Court, admitted that most of these offers

"were offers to prove matters in support of the defenses and counterclaims set up by the defendants in the cases tried before the French courts, and which, or most

Page 159 U. S. 121

of which, would have been relevant and competent if the plaintiffs in error are not concluded by the result of those litigations, and have now the right to try those issues, either on the ground that the French judgments are only prima facie evidence of the correctness of those judgments, or on the ground that the case is within the exception of a judgment obtained by fraud."

The defendants, in order to show that they should not be concluded by having appeared and litigated in the suits brought against them by the plaintiffs in the French courts, offered to prove that they were residents and citizens of the State of New York, and neither of them had been, within four years prior to the commencement of those suits, domiciled or resident within the jurisdiction of those courts; that they had a purchasing agent and a storehouse in Paris, but only as a means or facility to aid in the transaction of their principal business, which was in New York, and they were never otherwise engaged in business in France; that neither of them owed allegiance to France, but they were the owners of property there which would, according to the laws of France, have been liable to seizure if they had not appeared to answer in those suits; that they unwillingly, and solely for the purpose of protecting their property within the jurisdiction of the French tribunal, authorized an agent to appear, and he did appear in the proceedings before it, and that their motion to compel an inspection of the plaintiffs' books, as well as the suits brought by the defendants in France, were necessary by way of defense or counterclaim to the suits there brought by the plaintiffs against them.

Among the matters which the defendants alleged and offered to prove in order to show that the French judgments were procured by fraud were that Fortin & Co., with intent to deceive and defraud the defendants, and the arbitrator and the courts of France, entered in their books, and presented to the defendants, and to the French courts, accounts bearing upon the transactions in controversy which were false and fraudulent, and contained excessive and fraudulent charges against the defendants in various particulars, specified; that the

Page 159 U. S. 122

defendants made due application to the Tribunal of Commerce to compel Fortin & Co. to allow their account books and letter books to be inspected by the defendants, and the application was opposed by Fortin & Co., and denied by the tribunal; that the discovery and inspection of those books were necessary to determine the truth of the controversies between the parties; that before the Tribunal of Commerce, Charles Fortin was permitted to and did give in evidence statements not under oath relating to the merits of the controversies there pending, and falsely represented that a certain written contract made in 1873 between Stewart & Co. and Fortin & Co. concerning their dealings was not intended by the parties to be operative according to its terms, and in support of that false representation made statements as to admissions by Stewart in a private conversation with him, and that the defendants could not deny those statements, because Stewart was dead, and they were not protected from the effect of Fortin's statements by the privilege of cross-examining him under oath, and that the French judgments were based upon false and fraudulent accounts presented and statements made by Fortin & Co. before the Tribunal of Commerce during the trial before it.

The records of the judgments of the French courts, put in evidence by the plaintiffs, showed that all the matters now relied on to show fraud were contested in and considered by those courts.

The plaintiffs objected to all the evidence offered by the defendants on the grounds that the matters offered to be proved were irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent; that in respect to them the defendants were concluded by the judgment sued on and given in evidence, and that none of those matters, if proved, would be a defense to this action upon that judgment.

The court declined to admit any of the evidence so offered by the defendants, and directed a verdict for the plaintiffs in the sum of $277,775.44, being the amount of the French judgment and interest. The defendants, having duly excepted to the rulings and direction of the court, sued out a writ of error.

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The writ of error in the action at law and the appeal in the suit in equity were argued together in this Court in January, 1894, and, by direction of the Court, were reargued in April, 1894, before a full Bench.

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