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Fall v. Eastin

    Brief Fact Summary
    Mrs. Fall (Plaintiff), according to a divorce settlement decree rendered in Washington, received title to certain Nebraska real estate by way of a commissioner’s deed.  She then sought to quiet title in Nebraska against a subsequent grantee—Eastin (Defendant)—of the property.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    The courts of one state cannot directly affect title to real property in another state by a decree and commissioner’s deed in equity, and such decree and deed are not entitled to full faith and credit outside of the state where rendered.

    Facts
    Mrs. Fall (Plaintiff) was awarded certain real property owned by her husband in Washington in connection with a divorce property settlement in the state of Washington.  He then failed to obey a valid in personam order to convey title to her, and the Washington court, through an equity commissioner, executed a deed in her favor.  The husband then conveyed the land to Eastin (Defendant) and Mrs. Fall (Plaintiff) brought an action to quiet title in Nebraska based on the Washington decree and deed.  The husband was not a party to the Nebraska suit.  The Nebraska court refused full faith and credit recognition of the commissioner’s deed or the decree supporting it.

    Issue
    May the courts of one state directly affect title to real estate located in another state by way of an in rem decree or commissioner’s deed?

    Held
    (McKenna, J.)  No.  A court of equity, having valid jurisdiction over the person, may order the owner of real property located elsewhere to convey that property by proper deed.  This order can be enforced through contempt citation.  By this method, the court can indirectly affect title to real property located outside of the state.  However the court cannot affect such property directly by an in rem order or commissioner’s deed.  The Washington commissioner’s deed was not entitled to full faith and credit recognition in Nebraska, since Washington did not have valid jurisdiction over the property.  The husband was not a party to the Nebraska action, and therefore, the decree was not enforceable against him there.  Affirmed.

    Concurrence
    (Holmes, J.)  The Nebraska decision was based on that court’s view that the decree was an in rem order issued by a court without valid jurisdiction over the property.  If the Washington decree were pursued as an in personam order against the husband, it would be entitled to full faith and credit in Nebraska if valid jurisdiction over the husband could be had.  However, when seen in the light of an in rem order, the Nebraska court’s decision is not reviewable by this court.

    Discussion
    The decision in this case has been the subject for much debate since its rendition.  However, the principle laid down stands as valid law to the present time.  Also remaining is the apparent inconsistency of prohibiting direct action as against out-of-state real property while sanctioning coerced deeds.


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