Veiser v. Armstrong

Annotate this Case

Veiser v. Armstrong
1984 OK 61
688 P.2d 796
Case Number: 57878
Decided: 09/18/1984
Supreme Court of Oklahoma

MILFORD A. VEISER, CARTON S. STALLARD, ALSO KNOWN AS CARLTON S. STALLARD, LOUIS STEIN, EDWARD R. EBERLE, WILLIAM W. HAGERTY, ROSS D. HILL, JAMES C. KELLOGG III, WILLIAM L. PEREIRA AND W. PAUL STILLMAN, AS TRUSTEES, PURSUANT TO THE DECLARATION OF TRUST OF HAMILTON INVESTMENT TRUST, A VOLUNTARY BUSINESS ASSOCIATION,
and
FIRST NATIONAL BANK AND TRUST COMPANY OF TULSA, FIRSTUL MORTGAGE COMPANY, AND SACKMAN GILLILAND CORPORATION, APPELLEES,
v.
NELLIE ATKINS ARMSTRONG, APPELLANT,
and
YOUNG & LATCH INVESTMENTS, AN OKLAHOMA GENERAL PARTNERSHIP, ROBERT L. LATCH, M.R. WILMOT, INC., AND B.H. MAYFIELD, DOING BUSINESS AS MAYFIELD SUPPLY COMPANY, AND BAKER, BAKER & MARTIN, AN OKLAHOMA GENERAL PARTNERSHIP, OR IF SAID PARTNERSHIP NO LONGER EXISTS, THEN ITS UNKNOWN SUCCESSORS, APPELLEES, and BROKEN ARROW MALL, INC., ABERCROMBIE, PEDIGO & SMITH, INC., AND MAPLE LEAF APARTMENTS, LTD., DEFENDANTS.

Appeal from the District Court, Tulsa County; David E. Winslow, Judge.

¶0 In an action to foreclose mortgages, one of the defendants counterclaimed and cross-petitioned, alleging ownership of the property in suit and seeking ejectment of certain parties from the land. From summary judgment against her, the defendant brings this appeal. AFFIRMED.

C. Rabon Martin, Tulsa, for appellant.

Timothy E. McCormick, Edwin R. Reavis, Rogers, Honn, Hill, Secrest & McCormick, Tulsa, Monty L. Bratcher, Oklahoma City, for appellee, Hamilton Inv. Trust.

Conner, Winters, Ballaine, Barry and McGowen, Tulsa, for appellees, Young & Latch Investments, Robert L. Latch, The First Nat. Bank and Trust Co. of Tulsa and Firstul Mortg. Co.

Royce H. Savage, Tulsa, for appellee, Sackman Gilliland Corp.

OPALA, Justice.

[688 P.2d 798]

¶1 This appeal was brought for review of the trial court's (1) order granting a plea to the jurisdiction and motion to quash interposed by some parties and of (2) order granting summary judgment on motion by the remaining parties to the claim. By an earlier opinion this court dismissed the appeal insofar as it sought corrective relief from the order granting a plea to the jurisdiction and motion to quash.

FACTS

¶2 Billy Atkins [Atkins], an enrolled fullblood Creek Indian was the conveyee of a 1903 surplus allotment of 120 acres. Alienation of the land was then restricted by a congressional act. Upon his death in 1923 Atkins' three surviving children, Creeks of the half-blood, each inherited an undivided one-third interest in their father's allotment. These surviving children were Nellie Armstrong [Armstrong], appellant herein, and her two brothers. Upon the death of Atkins the restrictions on the land came to be terminated by operation of law. His children hence took free of any restrictions on the land and also of any personal restrictions.

¶3 Armstrong and her brothers exchanged deeds in 1940. As a result of this action each of them became the owner of a complete interest in an entire 40-acre tract. Although the land was still unrestricted when this occurred, Congress, in 1947, changed its policy by retroactively imposing restrictions on certain lands transferred by inheritance.

¶4 Armstrong and her husband conveyed in 1965 by warranty deed her 40-acre tract to Becko. The present parties in interest acquired the land through a series of subsequent conveyances. In 1974 Armstrong brought suit in a federal court for ejectment and to quiet title in herself. She alleged that the deed to Becko was void since it was not given in compliance with the 1947 congressional act. Both federal courts - district and circuit - held against her.

¶5 Hamilton Investment Trust, holder of several mortgages on the property in question, sought in this suit to foreclose its mortgages upon the land in dispute. Armstrong, as a defendant in the case, filed her counterclaim and cross-petition for ejectment. She alleged she was the owner of the property in suit and joined in the litigation all those persons who were parties in the prior federal suit.

¶6 The state court found that Armstrong's claims to the land were barred by the prior federal adjudication. Summary judgment was rendered against Armstrong and in favor of all the parties who had been successful in the prior federal-court suit.

¶7 The case presents a mixed federal-state question of law. Federal law governs both the preclusive and res judicata effect of the prior federal-court judgment

¶8 The posture of this case raises two related issues for our resolution: (1) whether "issue preclusion"

¶9 We hold that the procedural avenue of collateral attack, based on the theory of a facially void judgment, is foreclosed to Armstrong by operation of issue preclusion because that issue has been previously "fully and fairly" litigated in the federal courts albeit in the procedural context of a somewhat different cause of action. Since Armstrong's attack was the only device open to her in the state court in order to avoid the effect of the prior federal-court judgment - and that route is held here unavailable - claim preclusion will operate to bar relitigation of her asserted claims to the land in suit.

I

ISSUE PRECLUSION BARS ARMSTRONG'S CLAIM THAT THE PRIOR FEDERAL-COURT JUDGMENT IS FACIALLY VOID FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

¶10 Armstrong's challenge is rested on the federal court's facial want of subject matter jurisdiction and of the power to render the judgment. She does not question that court's jurisdiction over the parties.

¶11 Although a question may arise on the face of the judgment roll

[688 P.2d 801]

A. The federal-court judgment is not facially void for want of subject matter jurisdiction

¶12 It is clear that the federal court had subject matter jurisdiction in the original case brought by Armstrong. The terms of 28 U.S.C. § 1331 vest the federal district court with subject matter jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the constitution, laws or treaties of the United States. The 1947 Act is a law of the United States promulgated by the Congress. Armstrong's asserted right of possession is claimed under that federal law; thus subject matter jurisdiction was vested in the federal district court.

¶13 Armstrong's assertion that the prior judgment is void for want of jurisdiction is based on two Oklahoma cases: Neal v. Travelers Insurance Co.

¶14 Even if the issue of subject matter jurisdiction in the federal courts had not been fully and fairly litigated, Armstrong's collateral attack still could not be successful. The defect relied on does not appear on the face of the record proper

B. Armstrong Raised and Fully Litigated the Question of the Federal Court's Jurisdiction to Render the Judgment

¶15 Armstrong collaterally attacks the decision of the federal court on the basis [688 P.2d 802] that the prior litigation is facially void for want of jurisdictional power to render the particular judgment rendered.

¶16 Armstrong raises again the very same issue, and argues here, that the effect of the federal-court decision was to give approval to a conveyance of restricted Indian lands which the federal court was without power to do. Just as the issue of the federal court's jurisdiction to render the judgment has been raised, so also it has been fairly and fully litigated.

¶17 Even if the issue had not been raised and litigated in the federal suit, we do not believe that the judgment would be facially void. The federal court did not attempt to usurp the county court's jurisdiction by either approving or disapproving the conveyance in suit. Instead, it merely determined that two-thirds of Armstrong's interest in the land was not subject to the 1947 Act and that laches operated to bar her claim to the remaining one-third interest.

¶18 It is an elementary tenet of law that once the question of jurisdiction has been raised and decided, issue preclusion operates to disallow any future litigation of that issue.

¶19 In summary, since Armstrong's challenge to the judgment for a facially-apparent jurisdictional deficiency is closed to her, the attack launched in the present case must fail.

[688 P.2d 803]

II

CLAIM PRECLUSION IS APPLICABLE TO PREVENT RELITIGATION OF ARMSTRONG'S CLAIMS TO THE LAND IN SUIT AGAINST THE SAME PARTIES AS THOSE IN PRIOR LITIGATION

¶20 Because issue preclusion raises an insurmountable barrier to a collateral attack for the alleged jurisdictional deficiencies in the federal judgment, claim preclusion is available against Armstrong's attempt to relitigate her claim to the disputed land in the instant state-court action. Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, a final judgment on the merits bars a subsequent suit on the same cause of action.

¶21 Judgment affirmed.

¶22 All Justices concur.

Footnotes:

1 Armstrong v. Trustees of the Hamilton Investment Trust, Okl., 667 P.2d 985 [1983].

2 61 Stat. 731.

3 61 Stat. 731.

4 Armstrong v. Maple Leaf Apartments, Ltd., 436 F. Supp. 1125 [N.D.Okl. 1977], affd. 622 F.2d 466 [10th Cir. 1980], cert. den. 449 U.S. 901, 101 S. Ct. 271, 66 L. Ed. 2d 131 [1980].

The district court held that Armstrong was guilty of laches and barred her from any relief. The circuit court affirmed, holding that two-thirds of her interest in the property did not fall within the provisions of the 1947 Act because it had been acquired from her brothers and not by inheritance and was therefore unrestricted. As to her claim for the remaining one-third interest, the circuit court held that Armstrong was barred by laches. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.

5 When a federal-court judgment is attacked collaterally in a state court, it is entitled to the same faith and credit as that given to it under the applicable federal law. The facial validity of a federal judgment - a question that hinges on the presence of the three essential elements of jurisdiction - also is measured by federal law. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 96, 101 S. Ct. 411, 415-416, 66 L. Ed. 2d 308 [1980]; Migra v. Warren City School District Bd. of Educ., §§§ U.S. §§§, 104 S. Ct. 892, 896, 79 L. Ed. 2d 56 [1984]; Stoll v. Gottlieb, 305 U.S. 165, 170, 59 S. Ct. 134, 137, 83 L. Ed. 104 [1938]; City of Tacoma v. Taxpayers of Tacoma, 357 U.S. 320, 334, 78 S. Ct. 1209, 1217, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1345 [1958]; see also Roundtree v. Bates, Okl., 630 P.2d 1299, 1301 [1981]; Pettit v. American Natl. Bank of Austin, Okl., 649 P.2d 525, 527 [1982]. A foreign court's jurisdiction of a cause of action may ordinarily be the subject of a collateral attack. The full faith and credit clause does not require that courts recognize foreign judgments rendered without jurisdiction. Pettit v. American Natl. Bank of Austin, supra; Allen v. Allen, Okl., 256 P.2d 449, 454 [1953]; Williams v. State of North Carolina, 325 U.S. 226, 228, 65 S. Ct. 1092, 1094, 89 L. Ed. 1577 [1945]; Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 462, 61 S. Ct. 339, 342, 85 L. Ed. 278 [1940].

6 In a conflict-of-law analysis matters of procedure are governed by the law of the forum. Northern Pacific Railway Co. v. Babcock, 154 U.S. 190, 194, 14 S. Ct. 978, 981, 38 L. Ed. 958 [1894]; Shimonek v. Tillman, 150 Okl. 177, 1 P.2d 154 [1931] (syllabus 4).

7 The Restatement of Judgments now speaks of collateral estoppel as "issue preclusion". Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 74 [1982]. Allen v. McCurry, supra note 5, 449 U.S. at 94, 101 S. Ct. at 415, 66 L. Ed. 2d 308 [1980]; Migra v. Warren City School Dist. Bd. of Educ., supra note 5, 104 S. Ct. at 894 [1984]; United States v. Mendoza, §§§ U.S. §§§, 104 S. Ct. 568, 571, 78 L. Ed. 2d 379 [1984]; Oklahomans for Life, Inc. v. State Fair of Oklahoma, Okl., 634 P.2d 704, 706-707 [1981].

8 The Restatement of Judgments now speaks of res judicata as "claim preclusion". Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 74 [1982]. Allen v. McCurry, supra note 5; Migra v. Warren City School Dist. Bd. of Educ., supra note 5; United States v. Mendoza, supra note 7; Oklahomans for Life, Inc. v. State Fair of Oklahoma, supra note 7.

9 Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. Allen v. McCurry, supra note 5, 449 U.S. at 94, 101 S. Ct. at 414; Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 352, 24 L. Ed. 195 [1876]. Under collateral estoppel, once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case. Allen v. McCurry, supra note 5; Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153, 99 S. Ct. 970, 973, 59 L. Ed. 2d 210 [1979].

10 The judgment roll, which is synonymous with "record proper", consists of ". . . the petition, the process, return, the pleadings subsequent thereto, reports, verdicts, orders, judgments, and all material acts and proceedings of the court; . . ." 12 O.S. 1981 § 32.1 , renumbered in 1972 from 12 O.S. 1971 § 704 , Okla.Sess.L. 1972, c. 119 § 5; Mid-Continent Pipe Line Co. v. Seminole County Excise Bd., 194 Okl. 40, 146 P.2d 996, 1000 [1944].

11 The instant state-court case was brought to foreclose mortgage liens. Armstrong's crossclaim and counterclaim, as authorized by 12 O.S. 1981 § 1651 and construed in Carpenter v. Carpenter, Okl., 645 P.2d 476, 481 [1982], sought in effect to declare the prior federal judgment invalid and, if victorious, to eject the parties in possession. Because prior federal litigation stood in a procedurally different posture and a different cause of action was litigated, issue preclusion, rather than claim preclusion, is applicable here as a barrier to relitigation of the jurisdictional issue. Issue preclusion is invoked here as a bar against Armstrong's collateral attack upon the judgment based on an alleged facial jurisdictional defect or infirmity which has been previously "fairly and fully" litigated. Bruce v. Miller, Okl., 360 P.2d 508, 512 [1961]; Brett v. Fielder et al., 136 Okl. 222, 277 P. 216, 217 [1929]; syllabus 4 in Tippins v. Turben, 162 Okl. 136, 19 P.2d 605, 608 [1933]; McDuffie v. Geiser Mfg. Co., 41 Okl. 488, 138 P. 1029, 10311032 [1913]; White v. White, Okl., 607 P.2d 700, 702 [1980] (Opala, J., concurring in result); see also Dryden v. United States, 237 F.2d 517 [5th Cir. 1956]; Lewis v. Carver, 237 F.2d 516 [10th Cir. 1956].

12 Oneida Indian Nation of New York v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 94 S. Ct. 772, 39 L. Ed. 2d 73 [1974]. Begay v. Albers, 721 F.2d 1274, 1277 [10th Cir. 1983], held that United States district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over Indian allottees' suits to cancel forged deeds issued in violation of congressional restrictions. In Vinson v. Graham, 44 F.2d 772, 775 [10th Cir. 1930], cert. den. 283 U.S. 819, 51 S. Ct. 344, 75 L. Ed. 1435 [1930], the court held that 28 U.S.C. § 1331 confers federal jurisdiction to determine if deed by Indian allottee was valid in light of congressional restrictions. The construction and application of a federal statute is a matter of federal law which creates subject matter jurisdiction in federal courts. Johnson v. United States, 64 F.2d 674, 677 [10th Cir. 1933]; Jefferson v. Gypsy Oil Co., 27 F.2d 304, 305 [8th Cir. 1928]. As there was clearly subject matter jurisdiction, the judgment of the federal district court was not facially void.

13 Armstrong v. Maple Leaf Apartments, supra note 4, 620 F.2d at 473.

14 188 Okl. 131, 106 P.2d 811 [1940].

15 87 Okl. 231, 209 P. 729 [1922].

16 Armstrong v. Maple Leaf Apartments, Ltd., supra note 4, 436 F. Supp. at 1141.

17 When a collateral attack on a judgment is based on its facial invalidity, the fatal defect must appear from an inspection of the judgment roll. Dana P. v. State, Okl., 656 P.2d 253, 256 [1983]; Barton v. Alpine Investments, Inc., Okl., 596 P.2d 532, 534 [1979]; Farmers Union Co-Operative Royalty Co. v. Woodward, Okl., 515 P.2d 1381, 1384 [1973]; Cassina v. Jones, Okl., 340 P.2d 482, 484-485 [1959]; Fitzsimmons v. City of Oklahoma City, 192 Okl. 248, 135 P.2d 340, 342 [1942]; see also Coleman v. Court of Appeals, Div. No. Two, etc., 550 F. Supp. 681, 684 [W.D.Okl. 1980] and Jefferson v. Gypsy Oil Co., supra note 12 at 307.

18 A judgment beyond the issues before the court is jurisdictionally defective. Anglea v. McMaster, 17 Okl. 501, 87 P. 660 [1906]; Standard Savings & Loan Ass'n. v. Anthony Wholesale Grocery Co., 62 Okl. 242, 162 P. 451, 453 [1917]; Hoffman v. Webb, 113 Okl. 150, 240 P. 104, 106 [1925]; Winters v. Birch, 169 Okl. 237, 36 P.2d 907, 914 [1934]; Electrical Research Products v. Haniotis Bros., 170 Okl. 144, 39 P.2d 42, 44 [1935]; Union Oil Co. of California v. Brown, Okl., 641 P.2d 1106, 1108 [1982].

19 See Brief of Appellant [Armstrong,] page 39, filed in Tenth Circuit Court case (Armstrong v. Maple Leaf Apartments, supra note 4).

20 See Reply Brief of Appellant [Armstrong,] pages 4-6, filed in Tenth Circuit Court case (Armstrong v. Maple Leaf Apartments, supra note 4).

21 Generally, the concept of issue preclusion or collateral estoppel cannot apply when the party against whom the former decision is interposed did not have a "full and fair opportunity" to litigate the critical issue in the earlier case. Allen v. McCurry, supra note 5; Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 99 S. Ct. 970, 59 L. Ed. 2d 210 [1979]; and Blonder-Tongue Lab., Inc. v. University of Illinois Found., 402 U.S. 313, 91 S. Ct. 1434, 28 L. Ed. 2d 788 [1971]; see also Underside v. Lathrop, Okl., 645 P.2d 514, 516 [1982] and annotation in 58 L. Ed. 2d 938 [1980].

22 Bruce v. Miller, supra note 11; Brett v. Fielder et al, supra note 11; Tippins v. Turben, supra note 11; McDuffie v. Geiser Mfg. Co., supra note 11; White v. White, supra note 11; see also Dryden v. United States, supra note 11; Lewis v. Carver, supra note 11.

23 Woodrow v. Ewing, Okl., 263 P.2d 167, 171 [1953]; Burgess v. Nail, 103 F.2d 37, 43 [10th Cir. 1939]; Vinson v. Graham, supra note 12; Mid-Continent Pipe Line Co. v. Seminole County Excise Board, supra note 10.

24 Bruce v. Miller, supra note 11 at 511-512.