DOCKET NO.: 302
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
CITATION: 354 US 416 (1957)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1957 / Apr 23, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1957
Facts of the case
Media for Vanderbilt v. VanderbiltAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1957 in Vanderbilt v. Vanderbilt
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 23, 1957 in Vanderbilt v. Vanderbilt
-- Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., Petitioner versus Patricia W. Vanderbilt and Thomas F. McCoy.
Sol A. Rosenblatt:
May it please the Court.
I noted yesterday that the report of the Law Revision Commission which had not then been -- been supplied to Your Honors was to be forthcoming thereafter, I believe it is.
And I want to call to your attention the fact that in this report of the Law Revision Commission recommending the legislation which I say is unconstitutionally applied against my client in the facts of this case, you won't find one word as to the effect of a New York ex parte decree being affected by this proposed legislation.
The Court of Appeals held for what?
Sol A. Rosenblatt:
The Court of Appeals, sir, if I may interrupt my recital of facts but Your Honor was entitled to the answer at page 547 of this record said as follows, "We can go further however and declare that even if Section 1170-b was unavailable as against the New York divorce, that circumstance would not mean that the New York judgment was getting more than the Nevada judgment less faith and credit in New York."
And I would rest my entire case on full faith and credit, sir, in this Court on the following statement of the New York Court of Appeals which is inaptly -- and inaptly applied here, says the Court, "Nevada's judgments put in evidence in New York are entitled to the same effect as they are given in Nevada."
And to avoid unconstitutional discrimination, United States Constitution Article IV Section 2, the same effect New York's own similar judgments are given in New York.
The Court then goes on and says, "But under the divisible divorce doctrine, defendants Nevada divorce had no effect anymore than it said anything in terms as the plaintiff's property rights.
Its sole effect was to end the marriage and it is been given that effect in New York."
May it please this Court, that is not so.
A Nevada decree ex parte entered in Nevada forecloses a further duty of support to the wife guilty of misconduct under the laws of Nevada and in New York, may it please the Court, the same law and the same rule applies as it does also in the State of California which was the law of the matrimonial domicile of these parties at the time of their separation.
What the New York court has done is to give partial effect to the Nevada decree as applied in New York as against its own decree.
Now, if I may interject because I want to pursue this a little later if I may with Your Honors permission, I would like to give you the facts of this case so that you may judge for yourselves whether or not in spite of the New York Court of Appeals' determination as under its own state law whether or not full faith and credit and the privileges and immunity of this man, who happen to have been a 20-year permanent domiciliary of the State of Nevada, were impinged by the action of the New York court.
You see, may it please the Court, at the very outset a New York judgment, once it's rendered is conclusive until it's set aside.
It may not then be modified thereafter for some future equity apparently arising.
That's the Herpe case in 225 New York.
A New York judgment ex parte or with appearances cuts off and forecloses all rights to a wife guilty of misconduct under the law of New York.
And there isn't a New York lawyer, including myself, who would dare after an ex parte decree had been rendered against the woman in New York, who would dare I say to file in a New York Supreme Court an action for separation, divorce, or annulment with that ex parte decree outstanding.
Because first of all, the woman would be guilty of perjury when she swore that she was married and she has to swear that when she bring such an action.
And second, the statutory provisions requiring that that judgment is conclusive as to everything which it determines until it sets aside would prevent the filing of that kind of an action under 1170-b.
You just couldn't file this kind of a case if New York had made an ex parte decree theretofore.
And a lawyer practicing before the Bar in New York would have to advice his client that the first thing to do is to go in and set aside that decree if it's possible to set it aside.
That couldn't be done if it was already been outstanding for two years on any ground.
Now, what happened here?
And in a sense, this is an ex parte action, too, in New York.
This very case which you're called upon to determine because after the first case was instituted by Mrs. Vanderbilt, and nobody yet has ever discovered the reason why with a matrimonial domicile in California, with assets and property in California, why she tried to commence an action in New York and falsely swear that both of them were residents, nobody yet has been able to discover that.
She had plenty of recourse right in the State of California where she was located, but she started an action in New York and it took us months and hundreds of pages of testimony and hundreds of exhibits to get that action dismissed on the ground that neither of these parties had ever been a resident of the State of New York.