April Term, 1852
G.W. Clinton, for appellant.
Eli Cook, for respondent.
The court of common pleas of Erie county erred in giving judgment in favor of Coatsworth on his demurrer to White's second plea.
Coatsworth, although defendant in the replevin suit, was an actor, and claimed to recover of White $120 of rent which he alleged had fallen due on the lease, on the 1st of August, 1844. This was what he distrained White's goods for in April, 1845, and the point in controversy between the parties was whether this rent was due.
The defense set up in the second plea is, that the very point thus in controversy, had been decided and determined by a former adjudication between the same parties before a competent tribunal.
If this be true the defense is perfect. It is an established maxim, that no one ought to be twice vexed for the same cause. The judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction upon a point litigated between the parties is conclusive in all subsequent controversies where the same matter comes again directly in question. ( Embury v. Conner, 3 Comst. 522, 3, and cases there cited; Doty v. Brown, 4 Comst. 71.)
The substance of White's plea is this, that Coatsworth, the landlord, on the 10th of March, 1845, and before he distrained White's property, instituted summary proceedings before the first judge of Erie county, to turn White out of the possession of the demised premises, on the ground that he was holding over after default in the payment of the same identical item of rent due 1st August, 1844, for which he afterwards distrained, and which he claimed in the replevin suit. That upon being summoned before the first judge to show cause why his landlord, Coatsworth, should not be put into the possession of the demised premises, White appeared and filed an affidavit in pursuance of the statute, denying that any rent was due. That the question thus at issue between the parties was submitted, according to the statute, to a jury, who by their verdict found that no rent was due.
Against the validity of this plea it is objected, first, that the former proceedings were instituted, not for the purpose of recovering the rent alleged to be due, but to procure the forfeiture of the lease; and that the object of the latter proceedings was to collect the rent; and because the object of the former was different from that of the latter proceeding, the former decision is no bar to the latter. But this is not strictly true in point of fact. In summary proceedings under the statute by the landlord to turn his tenant out of possession, the tenant may pay the rent and save the forfeiture of his lease; and the proceeding is perhaps as often resorted to for the purpose of compelling the payment of the rent, as for annulling the relation of landlord and tenant. But however that may be, the objects of the two proceedings are sufficiently identical to make the former conclusive upon the latter.
The summary proceedings were had before a tribunal competent to hear and determine the question whether any and what amount of rent was due. The verdict is by the statute the final adjudication upon the question of fact. If the jury, instead of finding against Coatsworth, had found a verdict in his favor, it would have been conclusive for the purpose of turning White out of possession, and of annulling his lease, (2 R.S. 515, §§ 39, 43,) unless, before the warrant for his removal had been actually issued, he had paid or given security for the rent found to be due. (§ 44.) A verdict against White, however erroneous or unjust it might have been, would thus have compelled him to pay the rent or to lose the benefit of his lease. After having been turned out of possession upon such a verdict, he could not have been permitted to retry the same question in an action of ejectment, for the purpose of being restored to his occupancy as tenant; nor after having paid the money, to save the forfeiture of his lease, could he try the same question a second time in a common law action to recover back the money so paid. The object of the statute was to prevent the expensive litigation and great delay in settling these questions between the landlord and tenant by the course of the common law. But if the summary proceedings are not conclusive upon the parties, litigation, delay and expense are increased instead of being diminished. I perceive no reason on general principles why a verdict in favor of the landlord finding a certain amount of rent to be due, would not be conclusive evidence in a subsequent action for the rent, if indeed such an action could be brought after the lease had been annulled and the relation of landlord and tenant dissolved by operation of the statute. ( See § 43.)
The verdict being thus conclusive against the tenant, it should be equally so against the landlord, at whose instance and for whose benefit the summary proceeding was had.
The question whether rent was due was not, in the summary proceedings, a collateral or incidental inquiry. It was the main and only point in the case; and Coatsworth sought by his avowry to try a second time the same question.
There is no ground for saying that the plea is bad because it is equivalent to the general issue.
Riens en arrere is not the general issue in replevin. It is said to be a quasi general issue when pleaded to an avowry like that in the present case. But admitting that the former determination might be given in evidence under the plea of no rent in arrear, it by no means follows that it may not be specially pleaded. A plea which is equivalent to the general issue and therefore bad, is a plea which gives no color to the plaintiff's claim. This is not such a plea. It admits the lease by which rent is apparently due, and the tenant's occupancy under it, but avoids his liability on the ground that the question whether rent is due or not has been already tried and decided in the tenant's favor.
I am inclined to the opinion that the court erred also in rejecting the offer of White to prove under the first plea the facts stated in the second, on the ground that the former determination was conclusive evidence between these parties that no rent was due. But it is unnecessary to decide upon the exception which brings up this point, because the decision upon the second plea covers the whole case.
It is true, that the mere production of the record, or written evidence of the summary proceedings, may not have been conclusive when given in evidence under the plea of no rent in arrear, because it may not have appeared from the face of the record that the same question had been previously decided between the same parties. And this I apprehend is the only foundation for the dicta to be found in many cases, that a former recovery when so given in evidence is not conclusive. But when the facts necessary to be averred in a special plea of a former recovery in bar, are established by proof aliunde the record, the former recovery is as conclusive when proved under the general issue, as when specially pleaded. The true rule on this subject is laid down in Young v. Rummell, (2 Hill, 480, 481.)
The judgment of the Erie common pleas was rightly reversed in the supreme court, and the judgment of the supreme court ought to be affirmed.
The precise question involved in this suit, namely, whether the rent due on the 1st of August, 1844, was paid, was involved in the summary proceedings before the first judge of Erie county, and was then adjudicated upon.
And the question presented here is, whether that adjudication is an estoppel as between the parties to that proceeding. The question is not, as was urged on the argument, whether that adjudication was evidence that no rent was due, but it is simply whether that fact, having been passed upon between the same parties in a tribunal having power to pass upon it, those parties are not now estopped from mooting the same question in another action.
The defense was set up in this case, first, by the second plea to the defendant's avowry, and second, by the offer to prove the fact on the trial. In both forms the court below overruled the defense, first by overruling the plea on demurrer, and next by excluding the evidence offered.
If the court erred in overruling the plea, it will be unnecessary to inquire whether the evidence was properly excluded, and of course unnecessary to inquire whether, even if the facts were valid as an estoppel, they could be availed of unless pleaded.
Upon the demurrer, the decision of the county court clearly was that the adjudication in the summary proceedings before the first judge was not an estoppel.
In this was the error. I suppose it to be well settled that the judgment of a court of concurrent jurisdiction directly on the point is, as a plea, a bar, or as evidence, conclusive between the same parties upon the same matter directly in question in another cause; or in other words, that the decision of a court of competent jurisdiction directly upon the same point, is conclusive when the same point comes again in controversy between the same parties, directly, or collaterally. ( Duchess of Kingston's case, 11 St. Tr. 261; 1 Phil. Ev. 321; Wright v. Deklyne, 1 Peters' C.C. Rep. 202; Outram v. Morewood, 3 East, 346; Gardner v. Buckbee, 3 Cowen, 120; Burt v. Sternburgh, 4 Id. 559; Wood v. Jackson, 8 Wend. 9; Miller v. Manice, 6 Hill, 121; Supervisors of Onondaga v. Briggs, 2 Denio, 33.)
And it makes no difference, that I can discover, whether the first adjudication is in a proceeding according to the common law or summary in its character. It is enough that the question has been submitted to judicial officers to be determined in a judicial way, that the parties and their proofs have been heard and their rights settled by a judicial determination. When this has been done, the determination is conclusive upon the parties until reversed, vacated or set aside in the forms prescribed by law. The rule has been applied to the taxation of costs, (2 Denio, 33,) and in that case, the learned judge who delivered the opinion, remarked very correctly, though obiter, that of the same general nature are the decisions made by a judge or commissioner in proceedings under the insolvent laws; the act to punish fraudulent debtors; between landlord and tenant, c.
The fact that the statute authorizes the proceeding to be summary, cannot change or affect the operation of a general rule as necessary as it is salutary.
I am therefore of opinion that the judgment of the supreme court ought to be affirmed.