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decided: March 5, 1894.



Author: Harlan

[ 152 U.S. Page 256]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

The question, upon the merits, which the defendant's affidavit of defence presented, was whether the girder guard rails manufactured and sold by it were covered by the Wharton patent and by the license granted by the agreement of Novenber 24, 1885. But that precise question, it is admitted, was presented and determined in the former suit between the same parties. And we are to inquire, on this writ of error, whether the court below erred in holding that the judgment in the former suit concluded that question between the parties. The learned counsel for the defendant insists that it did not, and bases his contention solely upon the ground that the former judgment was not, by reason of the limited amount involved, subject to review by this court.

Is it true that a defeated suitor in a court of general jurisdiction is at liberty, in a subsequent suit between himself and his adversary, in the same, or in any other court, to relitigate a matter directly put in issue and actually determined in the first suit, upon its appearing that the judgment in the first suit, by reason of the small amount in dispute, could not be reviewed by a court of appellate jurisdiction? Does the principle of res judicata, in its application to the judgments of courts of general jurisdiction, depend, in any degree, upon the inquiry whether the law subjects such judgments to reexamination by some other court? Upon principle and authority

[ 152 U.S. Page 257]

     these questions must be answered in the negative. We have not been referred to, nor are we aware of, any adjudged case that would justify a different conclusion.

The object in establishing judicial tribunals is that controversies between parties, which may be the subject of litigation, shall be finally determined. The peace and order of society demand that matters distinctly put in issue and determined by a court of competent jurisdiction as to parties and subject-matter, shall not be retried between the same parties in any subsequent suit in any court. The exceptions to this rule that are recognized in cases of judgments obtained by fraud or collusion have no application to the present suit.

In Hopkins v. Lee, 6 Wheat. 109, 113, it was held that a fact directly presented and determined by a court of competent jurisdiction cannot be contested again between the same parties in the same or any other court. "In this," the court said, "there is and ought to be no difference between a verdict and judgment in a court of common law and a decree of a court of equity. They both stand on the same footing and may be offered in evidence under the same limitations, and it would be difficult to assign a reason why it should be otherwise. The rule has found its way into every system of jurisprudence, not only from its obvious fitness and propriety, but because without it an end could never be put to litigation. It is, therefore, not confined in England or in this country to judgments of the same court or to the decisions of courts of concurrent jurisdiction, but extends to matters litigated before competent tribunals in foreign countries. . . . On a reference to the proceedings at law, and in chancery, in the case now before us, the court is satisfied that the question which arose on the trial of the action of covenant was precisely the same, if not exclusively so, (although that was no necessary,) as the one which had already been directly decided by the court of chancery." And in Smith v. Kernochen, 7 How. 198, 217: "The case, therefore, falls within the general rule, that a judgment of a court of concurrent jurisdiction directly upon the point is as a plea, a bar, or as evidence conclusive between the same parties or privies upon the same matters when

[ 152 U.S. Page 258]

     directly in question in another court." To the same effect are Pennington v. Gibson, 16 How. 65, 77; Stockton v. Ford, 18 How. 418; and Lessee of Parrish v. Ferris, 2 Black, 606, 609.

The whole subject was carefully considered in Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 352, where it is said: "There is a difference between the effect of a judgment as a bar or estoppel against the prosecution of a second action upon the same claim or demand, and its effect as an estoppel in another action between the same parties upon a different claim or cause of action. In the former case, the judgment, if rendered upon the merits, constitutes an absolute bar to a subsequent action. It is a finality as to the claim or demand in controversy, concluding parties and those in privity with them, not only as to every matter which was 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. Thus, for example, a judgment rendered upon a promissory note is conclusive as to the validity of the instrument and the amount due upon it, although it be subsequently alleged that perfect defences actually existed, of which no proof was offered, such as forgery, want of consideration, or payment. If such defences were not presented in the action, and established by competent evidence, the subsequent allegation of their existence is of no legal consequence. The judgment is as conclusive, so far as future proceedings at law are concerned, as though the defences never existed."

The doctrines of the latter case were applied in Lumber Co. v. Buchtel, 101 U.S. 638, 639, which case is like this in some respects. That was an action for the recovery of the last instalments of money due on a contract for the purchase of timber lands, the plaintiff having in a previous action against the same defendant obtained a judgment for the first instalment. In the first action the sole defence was that the defendant had been induced to make the contract of guaranty by false and fraudulent representations. The same defence was made in the second action, ...

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