Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which suc...
Sources and Effect of this Provision
Private International Law
The historical background of this section is furnished by that branch of private law which is variously termed "private international law," "conflict of laws," and "comity." This comprises a body of rules, based largely on the writings of jurists and judicial decisions, in accordance with which the courts of one country, or "jurisdiction," will ordinarily, in the absence of a local policy to the contrary, extend recognition and enforcement to rights claimed by individuals by virtue of the laws or judicial decisions of another country or "jurisdiction." Most frequently applied examples of these rules include the following: the rule that a marriage which is good in the country where performed (lex loci) is good elsewhere; the rule that contracts are to be interpreted in accordance with the laws of the country where entered into (lex loci contractus) unless the parties clearly intended otherwise; the rule that immovables may be disposed of only in accordance with the law of the country where situated (lex rei sitae);
So even had the States of the Union remained in a mutual relationship of entire independence, private claims originating in one often would have been assured recognition and enforcement in the others. The Framers felt, however, that the rules of private international law should not be left among the States altogether on a basis of comity and hence subject always to the overruling local policy of the lex fori but ought to be in some measure at least placed on the higher plane of constitutional obligation. In fulfillment of this intent the section now under consideration was inserted, and Congress was empowered to enact supplementary and enforcing legislation.
Judgments: Effect to Be Given in Forum State
Article IV, § 1, has had its principal operation in relation to judgments. Embraced within the relevant discussions are two principal classes of judgments. First, those in which the judgment involved was offered as a basis of proceedings for its own enforcement outside the State where rendered, as for example, when an action for debt is brought in the courts of State B on a judgment for money damages rendered in State A; second, those in which the judgment involved was offered, in conformance with the principle of res judicata, in defense in a new or collateral proceeding growing out of the same facts as the original suit, as for example, when a decree of divorce granted in State A is offered as barring a suit for divorce by the other party to the marriage in the courts of State B.
The English courts and the different state courts in the United States, while recognizing "foreign judgments in personam" which were reducible to money terms as affording a basis for actions in debt, originally accorded them generally only the status of prima facie evidence in support thereof, so that the merits of the original controversy could always be opened. When offered in defense, on the other hand, "foreign judgments in personam" were regarded as conclusive upon everybody on the theory that, as stated by Chief Justice Marshall, "it is a proceeding in rem, to which all the world are parties."
When, however, the next important case arose, the Court had come under new influences. This was McElmoyle v. Cohen,
A judgment enforceable in the State where rendered must be given effect in another State, notwithstanding that the modes of procedure to enforce its collection may not be the same in both States.
On the other hand, the clause is not violated when a judgment is disregarded because it is not conclusive of the issues before a court of the forum. Conversely, no greater effect can be given than is given in the State where rendered. Thus, an interlocutory judgment may not be given the effect of a final judgment.
Subsequent to its departure from Hampton v. McConnell,
Jurisdiction: A Prerequisite to Enforcement of Judgments
The jurisdictional question arises both in connection with judgments in personam against nonresident defendants to whom it is alleged personal service was not obtained in the State originating the judgment and in relation to judgments in rem against property or a status alleged not to have been within the jurisdiction of the court which handed down the original decree.
Judgments in Personam.-When the subject matter of a suit is merely the defendant's liability, it is necessary that it should appear from the record that the defendant has been brought within the jurisdiction of the court by personal service of process, or by his voluntary appearance, or that he had in some manner authorized the proceeding.
The fact that a nonresident defendant was only temporarily in the State when he was served in the original action does not vitiate the judgment thus obtained and later relied upon as the basis of an action in his home State.
Inasmuch as the principle of res judicata applies only to proceedings between the same parties and privies, the plea by defendant in an action based on a judgment that he was not party or privy to the original action raises the question of jurisdiction; while a judgment against a corporation in one State may validly bind a stockholder in another State to the extent of the par value of his holdings,
Service on Foreign Corporations.-In 1856, the Court decided Lafayette Ins. Co. v. French,
Service on Nonresident Motor Vehicle Owners.-By analogy to the above cases, it has been held that a State may require nonresident owners of motor vehicles to designate an official within the State as an agent upon whom process may be served in any legal proceedings growing out of their operation of a motor vehicle within the State.
Judgments in Rem.-In sustaining the challenge to jurisdiction in cases involving judgments in personam, the Court in the main was making only a somewhat more extended application of recognized principles. In order to sustain the same kind of challenge in cases involving judgments in rem it has had to make law outright. The leading case is Thompson v. Whitman.
As previously explained, the plea of lack of privity cannot be set up in defense in a sister State against a judgment in rem. In a proceeding in rem, however, the presence of the res within the court's jurisdiction is a prerequisite, and this, it was urged, had not been the case in Thompson v. Whitman. Could, then, the Court consider this challenge with respect to a judgment which was offered, not as the basis for an action for enforcement through the courts of a sister State but merely as a defense in a collateral action? As the law stood in 1873, it apparently could not.
Divorce Decrees: Domicile as the Jurisdictional Prerequisite
This, however, was only the beginning of the Court's law-making in cases in rem. The most important class of such cases is that in which the respondent to a suit for divorce offers in defense an earlier decree from the courts of a sister State. By the almost universally accepted view prior to 1906, a proceeding in divorce was one against the marriage status, i. e., in rem, and hence might be validly brought by either party in any State where he or she was bona fide domiciled;
Divorce Suit: In Rem or in Personam; Judicial Indecision.-In 1906, however, by a vote of five to four, the Court departed from its earlier ruling, rendered five years previously in Atherton v. Atherton,
The practical difficulties and distresses likely to result from such anomalies were pointed out by critics of the decision at the time. In point of fact, they have been largely avoided, because most of the state courts have continued to give judicial recognition and full faith and credit to one another's divorce proceedings on the basis of the older idea that a divorce proceeding is one in rem, and that if the applicant is bona fide domiciled in the State the court has jurisdiction in this respect. Moreover, until the second of the Williams v. North Carolina cases
Williams I and Williams II.-In the Williams I and Williams II cases, the husband of one marriage and the wife of another left North Carolina, obtained six-week divorce decrees in Nevada, married there, and resumed their residence in North Carolina where both previously had been married and domiciled. Prosecuted for bigamy, the defendants relied upon their Nevada decrees and won the preliminary round of this litigation, that is, in Williams I,
Presaging what ruling the Court would make when it did get around to passing upon the latter question, Justice Jackson, dissenting in Williams I, protested that "this decision repeals the divorce laws of all the States and substitutes the law of Nevada as to all marriages one of the parties to which can afford a short trip there.... While a State can no doubt set up its own standards of domicile as to its internal concerns, I do not think it can require us to accept and in the name of the Constitution impose them on other States.... The effect of the Court's decision today-that we must give extra-territorial effect to any judgment that a state honors for its own purposes-is to deprive this Court of control over the operation of the full faith and credit and the due process clauses of the Federal Constitution in cases of contested jurisdiction and to vest it in the first State to pass on the facts necessary to jurisdiction."
Notwithstanding that one of the deserted spouses had died since the initial trial and that another had remarried, North Carolina, without calling into question the status of the latter marriage, began a new prosecution for bigamy; when the defendants appealed the conviction resulting therefrom, the Supreme Court, in Williams II,
Cases Following Williams II.-Fears registered by the dissenters in the second Williams case that the stability of all divorces might be undermined thereby and that thereafter the court of each forum State, by its own independent determination of domicile, might refuse recognition of foreign decrees were temporarily set at rest by the holding in Sherrer v. Sherrer,
In Coe v. Coe,
Appearing to review Williams II, and significant for the social consequences produced by the result decreed therein, is the case of Rice v. Rice.
Claims for Alimony or Property in Forum State.-In Esenwein v. Commonwealth,
Three years later, but on this occasion as spokesman for a majority of the Court, Justice Douglas reiterated these views in the case of Estin v. Estin.
Such a result was justified as accommodating the interests of both New York and Nevada in the broken marriage by restricting each State to matters of her dominant concern, the concern of New York being that of protecting the abandoned wife against impoverishment. In Simons v. Miami National Bank,
Decrees Awarding Alimony, Custody of Children.-Resulting as a by-product of divorce litigation are decrees for the payment of alimony, judgments for accrued and unpaid installments of alimony, and judicial awards of the custody of children, all of which necessitate application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause when extrastate enforcement is sought for them. Thus, a judgment in State A for alimony in arrears and payable under a prior judgment of separation which is not by its terms conditional nor subject by the law of State A to modification or recall, and on which execution was directed to issue, is entitled to recognition in the forum State. Although an obligation for accrued alimony could have been modified or set aside in State A prior to its merger in the judgment, such a judgment, by the law of State A, is not lacking in finality.
An example of a custody case was one involving a Florida divorce decree which was granted ex parte to a wife who had left her husband in New York, where he was served by publication. The decree carried with it an award of the exclusive custody of the child, whom the day before the husband had secretly seized and brought back to New York. The Court ruled that the decree was adequately honored by a New York court when, in habeas corpus proceedings, it gave the father rights of visitation and custody of the child during stated periods and exacted a surety bond of the wife conditioned on her delivery of the child to the father at the proper times,
Answering a question left open in the preceding holding as to the binding effect of the ex parte award, the Court more recently acknowledged that in a proceeding challenging a mother's right to retain custody of her children, a State is not required to give effect to the decree of another State's court, which never acquired personal jurisdiction over the mother of her children, and which awarded custody to the father as the result of an ex parte divorce action instituted by him.
Status of the Law.-The doctrine of divisible divorce, as developed by Justice Douglas in Estin v. Estin,
In any event the accuracy of these conclusions has not been impaired by any decision rendered by the Court since 1948. Thus, in Armstrong v. Armstrong,
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.
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.
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.
Garnishment Decrees.-Garnishment proceedings combine some of the elements of both an in rem and an in personam action. 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 defense. 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.
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."
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, § 1 and 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,
Recognition of Rights Based Upon Constitutions, Statutes, Common law
Development of the Modern Rule
Although the language of section one suggests that the same respect should be accorded to "public acts" that is accorded to "judicial proceedings" ("full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other State"), and the Court has occasionally relied on this parity of treatment,
The Court has explained that where statute or policy of the forum State is set up as a defense to a suit brought under the statute of another State or territory, or where a foreign statute is set up as a defense to a suit or proceedings under a local statute, the conflict is to be resolved, not by giving automatic effect to the Full Faith and Credit Clause and thus compelling courts of each State to subordinate their own statutes to those of others, but by weighing the governmental interests of each jurisdiction.
In a case decided in 1887, however, the Court remarked: "Without doubt the constitutional requirement, Art. IV, § 1, that 'full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other State,' implies that the public acts of every State shall be given the same effect by the courts of another State that they have by law and usage at home."
Transitory Actions: Death Statutes.-The initial effort in this direction was made in connection with transitory actions based on statute. Earlier, such actions had rested upon the common law, which was fairly uniform throughout the States, so that there was usually little discrepancy between the law under which the plaintiff from another jurisdiction brought his action (lex loci) and the law under which the defendant responded (lex fori). In the late seventies, however, the States, abandoning the common law rule on the subject, began passing laws which authorized the representatives of a decedent whose death had resulted from injury to bring an action for damages.
Actions Upon Contract.-In Chicago & Alton R.R. v. Wiggins Ferry Co.,
However, the modern doctrine permits a forum State with sufficient contacts with the parties or the matter in dispute to follow its own law. In Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hague,
Stockholder Corporation Relationship.-The protections of the Full Faith and Credit Clause extend beyond transitory actions. Some legal relationships are so complex, the Court holds, that the law under which they were formed ought always to govern them as long as they persist.
Fraternal Benefit Society: Member Relationship.-The same principle applies to the relationship which is formed when one takes out a policy in a "fraternal benefit society." Thus in Royal Arcanum v. Green,
Nor has the Court manifested any disposition to depart from this rule. In Sovereign Camp v. Bolin,
Insurance Company, Building and Loan Association: Contractual Relationships.- Whether or not distinguishable by nature of their enterprise, stock and mutual insurance companies and mutual building and loan associations, unlike fraternal benefit societies, have not been accorded the same unique constitutional protection; with few exceptions,
Thus, when a Mississippi borrower, having repaid a mortgage loan to a New York building and loan association, sued in a Mississippi court to recover, as usurious, certain charges collected by the association, the usury law of Mississippi rather than that of New York was held to control. In this case, the loan contract, which was negotiated in Mississippi subject to approval by the New York office, did not expressly state that it was governed by New York law.
Consistent with the latter holding are the following two involving mutual insurance companies. In Pink v. A.A.A. Highway Express,
Workers' Compensation Statutes.-Finally, the relationship of employer and employee, insofar as the obligations of the one and the rights of the other under workmen's compensation acts are concerned, has been the subject of differing and confusing treatment. In an early case, the injury occurred in New Hampshire, resulting in death to a worker who had entered the defendant company's employ in Vermont, the home State of both parties. The Court required the New Hampshire courts to respect a Vermont statute which precluded a worker from bringing a common-law action against his employer for job related injuries where the employment relation was formed in Vermont, prescribing a constitutional rule giving priority to the place of the establishment of the employment relationship over the place of injury.
Less settled is the question whether a second State, with interests in the matter, may supplement a workers' compensation award provided in the first State. At first, the Court ruled that a Louisiana employee of a Louisiana employer, who was injured on the job in Texas and who received an award under the Texas act, which did not grant further recovery to an employee who received compensation under the laws of another State, could not obtain additional compensation under the Louisiana statute.
Full Faith and Credit and Statutes of Limitation.-The Full Faith and Credit Clause is not violated by a state statute providing that all suits upon foreign judgments shall be brought within five years after such judgment shall have been obtained, where the statute has been construed by the state courts as barring suits on foreign judgments, only if the plaintiff could not revive his judgment in the state where it was originally obtained.
Full Faith and Credit: Miscellany
Full Faith and Credit in Federal Courts
The rule of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1738-1739 pertains not merely to recognition by state courts of the records and judicial proceedings of courts of sister States but to recognition by "every court within the United States," including recognition of the records and proceedings of the courts of any territory or any country subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The federal courts are bound to give to the judgments of the state courts the same faith and credit that the courts of one State are bound to give to the judgments of the courts of her sister States.
The power to prescribe what effect shall be given to the judicial proceedings of the courts of the United States is conferred by other provisions of the Constitution, such as those which declare the extent of the judicial power of the United States, which authorize all legislation necessary and proper for executing the powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, and which declare the supremacy of the authority of the National Government within the limits of the Constitution. As part of its general authority, the power to give effect to the judgment of its courts is coextensive with its territorial jurisdiction.
Evaluation Of Results Under Provision
The Court, after according an extrastate operation to statutes and judicial decisions in favor of defendants in transitory actions, proceeded next to confer the same protection upon certain classes of defendants in local actions in which the plaintiff's claim was the outgrowth of a relationship formed extraterritorially. But can the Court stop at this point? If it is true, as Chief Justice Marshall once remarked, that "the Constitution was not made for the benefit of plaintiffs alone," so also it is true that it was not made for the benefit of defendants alone. The day may come when the Court will approach the question of the relation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause to the extrastate operation of laws from the same angle as it today views the broader question of the scope of state legislative power. When and if this day arrives, state statutes and judicial decisions will be given such extraterritorial operation as seems reasonable to the Court to give them. In short, the rule of the dominance of legal policy of the forum State will be superseded by that of judicial review.
The question arises whether the application to date, not by the Court alone but by Congress and the Court, of article IV, § 1, can be said to have met the expectations of its Framers. In the light of some things said at the time of the framing of the clause this may be doubted. The protest was raised against the clause that, in vesting Congress with power to declare the effect state laws should have outside the enacting State, it enabled the new government to usurp the powers of the States, but the objection went unheeded. The main concern of the Convention, undoubtedly, was to render the judgments of the state courts in civil cases effective throughout the Union. Yet even this object has been by no means completely realized, owing to the doctrine of the Court, that before a judgment of a state court can be enforced in a sister State, a new suit must be brought on it in the courts of the latter, and the further doctrine that with respect to such a suit, the judgment sued on is only evidence; the logical deduction from this proposition is that the sister State is under no constitutional compulsion to give it a forum. These doctrines were first clearly stated in the McElmoyle case and flowed directly from the new states' rights premises of the Court, but they are no longer in harmony with the prevailing spirit of constitutional construction nor with the needs of the times. Also, the clause seems always to have been interpreted on the basis of the assumption that the term "judicial proceedings" refers only to final judgments and does not include intermediate processes and writs, but the assumption would seem to be groundless, and if it is, then Congress has the power under the clause to provide for the service and execution throughout the United States of the judicial processes of the several States.
Scope of Powers of Congress Under Provision
Under the present system, suit ordinarily has to be brought where the defendant, the alleged wrongdoer, resides, which means generally where no part of the transaction giving rise to the action took place. What could be more irrational? "Granted that no state can of its own volition make its process run beyond its borders . . . is it unreasonable that the United States should by federal action be made a unit in the manner suggested?''
Indeed, there are few clauses of the Constitution, the merely literal possibilities of which have been so little developed as the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Congress has the power under the clause to decree the effect that the statutes of one State shall have in other States. This being so, it does not seem extravagant to argue that Congress may under the clause describe a certain type of divorce and say that it shall be granted recognition throughout the Union and that no other kind shall. Or to speak in more general terms, Congress has under the clause power to enact standards whereby uniformity of state legislation may be secured as to almost any matter in connection with which interstate recognition of private rights would be useful and valuable.
Judgments of Foreign States
Doubtless Congress, by virtue of its powers in the field of foreign relations, might also lay down a mandatory rule regarding recognition of foreign judgments in every court of the United States. At present the duty to recognize judgments even in national courts rests only on comity and is qualified in the judgment of the Supreme Court, by a strict rule of parity.
"Unless 'matrimonial domicil,' banished in Williams I [by the overruling of Haddock v. Haddock], has returned renamed ['domicil of origin'] in Williams II, every decree becomes vulnerable in every State. Every divorce, wherever granted . . . may now be reexamined by every other State, upon the same or different evidence, to redetermine the 'jurisdiction fact,' always the ultimate conclusion of 'domicil.' . . ."
"The Constitution does not mention domicil. Nowhere does it posit the powers of the states or the nation upon that amorphous, highly variable common law conception.... No legal conception, save possibly 'jurisdiction' . . . afford such possibilities for uncertain application.... Apart from the necessity for travel, [to effect a change of domicile, the latter], criterion comes down to a purely subjective mental state, related to remaining for a length of time never yet defined with clarity. ... When what must be proved is a variable, the proof and the conclusion which follows upon it inevitably take on that character.... [The majority have not held] that denial of credit will be allowed, only if the evidence [as to the place of domicile] is different or depending in any way upon the character or the weight of the difference. The test is not different evidence. It is evidence, whether the same or different and, if different, without regard to the quality of the difference, from which an opposing set of inferences can be drawn by the trier of fact 'not unreasonably.' ... But . . . [the Court] does not define 'not unreasonably.' It vaguely suggests a supervisory function, to be exercised when the denial [of credit] strikes its sensibilities as wrong, by some not stated standard.... There will be no 'weighing' [of evidence], ... only examination for sufficiency." 325 U.S. at 248, 251, 255, 258- 259.
No less disposed to prophesy undesirable results from this decision was Justice Black in whose dissenting opinion Justice Douglas concurred.
"The Full Faith and Credit Clause, as now interpreted, has become a disrupting influence. The Court in effect states that the clause does not apply to divorce actions, and that States alone have the right to determine what effect shall be given to the decrees of other States. If the Court is abandoning the principle that a marriage [valid where made is valid everywhere], a consequence is to subject people to bigamy or adultery prosecutions because they exercise their constitutional right to pass from a State in which they were validly married on to another which refuses to recognize their marriage. Such a consequence violates basic guarantees." Id. at 262.
A Florida divorce decree was also at the bottom of another case in which the daughter of a divorced man by his first wife and his legatee under his will sought to attack his divorce in the New York courts and thereby indirectly his third marriage. The Court held that inasmuch as the attack would not have been permitted in Florida under the doctrine of res judicata, it was not permissible under the Full Faith and Credit Clause in New York. On the whole, it appears that the principle of res judicata is slowly winning out against the principle of domicile. Johnson v. Muelberger, 340 U.S. 581 (1951).