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Durfee v. Duke

    Brief Fact Summary
    Durfee (Defendant) won a Nebraska case determining that certain land was indeed in Nebraska and belonged to him, after which Duke (Plaintiff) began a new action in Missouri, where the U.S. Court of Appeals held the Nebraska action not to be res judicata on the issues.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    A judgment is entitled to full faith and credit, including questions of jurisdiction, when the questions have been fully and fairly litigated and decided in the court that rendered the original judgment.

    Facts
    Durfee (Defendant) brought an action in Nebraska to quiet title to particular bottom land along the Missouri River.  The river’s main channel is the boundary between Nebraska and Missouri.  Nebraska had jurisdiction over the subject matter only if the land was, indeed, in Nebraska.  In full litigation of the issues, the Nebraska court found that it had jurisdiction and then determined that Durfee (Defendant) owned the land.  The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed and Duke (Plaintiff) did not appeal further.  Two months later, Plaintiff sued in Missouri to quiet title to the same land.  By diversity of citizenship, the action was removed to federal district court that decided while the land appeared to be in Missouri, the Nebraska ruling was res judicata on the issues and binding.  The court of appeals reversed, and Defendant appealed.

    Issue
    Is a judgment entitled to full faith and credit, including questions of jurisdiction, when the second court’s inquiry discloses that those questions have been fully and fairly litigated and finally decided in the court that rendered the original judgment?

    Held
    (Stewart, J.)  Yes.  A judgment is entitled to full faith and credit, including questions of jurisdiction, when the questions have been fully and fairly litigated and finally decided in the court that rendered the original judgment.  Public policy requires that litigation come to an end at some time.  The litigants must reach a point where they will be bound by the ruling.  The general rule is no different pertaining to an issue of jurisdiction.  When a case is fully heard and there has been no fraud, the parties are bound by the court to which they submitted their dispute.  Certain exceptions exist, such as federal preemption or sovereign immunity, but none apply here.  All issues, including jurisdiction, were fully litigated in the Nebraska courts.  The Nebraska ruling must be given full faith and credit.  Reversed.

    Concurrence
    (Black, J.)  The court is not deciding the outcome if the states were to agree the land was in Missouri.

    Discussion
    The older view allowed a second court to examine the jurisdictional basis used in the first court ruling.  Jurisdiction is not a “magic word†any more, but is approached as another issue.  Restatement of Conflicts, Second, § 97, suggests a balancing test to determine if a subject matter jurisdiction should be allowed attack collaterally.  Such balancing depends on policy considerations including whether the determination is based on questions of fact or law, and whether the question was actually litigated.


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