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decided: May 17, 1915.



Author: Hughes

[ 237 U.S. Page 492]

 MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the court.

Mary Elizabeth Whitley, the defendant in error, recovered judgment in the District Court for the County of Kootenai, Idaho, for the sum of $5,500 as damages for the death of her son, A. P. Whitley, alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the Railroad Company, the plaintiff in error. The Supreme Court of the State affirmed the judgment (23 Idaho, 642), and this writ of error is prosecuted. It is assigned as error that the court failed to give due faith and credit, as required by the Federal Constitution, to a judgment recovered in the State of Washington by Josephine Whitley, as administratrix of the estate of the deceased A. P. Whitley, for the same cause of action.

The facts, upon which the question arises, are these: The Railroad Company operates an electric railway between the City of Spokane, in the State of Washington, and Coeur d'Alene, in the State of Idaho. On July 31, 1909, A. P. Whitley, a passenger, was killed in a collision at or near La Cross or Gibbs station, Idaho; and the court found that his death was caused by the defendant's negligence. The law of the State of Idaho provided: "When the death of a person, not being a minor, is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another, his heirs or personal representatives may maintain an action for damages against the person causing the death." (Rev. Codes, ยง 4100.) The deceased at the time of his death was a resident of Shelby County, Tennessee. He was survived by his wife, Josephine Whitley, and his mother, Mary Elizabeth Whitley, the defendant in error. Under the Idaho law, they were his sole heirs. In September, 1909, the Railroad Company entered into an agreement with Josephine Whitley, promising to pay to her the sum of $11,000 on account of the death of her husband, of which $1,500 was paid at once and the remainder was to be paid

[ 237 U.S. Page 493]

     upon her appointment as administratrix in Tennessee. Thereupon, in October, 1909, Josephine Whitley obtained from the Probate Court of Shelby County, Tennessee, letters of administration upon her husband's estate and by that court was authorized to settle with the Railroad Company for the sum above stated. Shortly after -- on October 25, 1909 -- the mother of the deceased brought the present action against the Railroad Company in the State of Idaho. Josephine Whitley, having refused to join as a party plaintiff, was made a defendant. She was not within the jurisdiction of the Idaho court and did not appear; under order of that court, a copy of the summons and complaint was served upon her without the State.

In view of the commencement of this suit, the Railroad Company refused to carry out the agreement with Josephine Whitley and she as administratrix (in November, 1909) brought an action against the company in the Superior Court of the State of Washington to recover the sum of $9,500 alleged still to be due. In her complaint she set forth her appointment as administratrix, the negligence of the defendant causing the death of the intestate, the statute of Idaho, the settlement for $11,000 authorized by the Probate Court of Tennessee, and the partial payment. It was not alleged that the mother, Mary Elizabeth Whitley, was an heir under the laws of Idaho, where the cause of action arose, or that any recovery was sought on her behalf. The Railroad Company in its answer denied the wrongful act and set forth as an affirmative defense that the mother had sued in Idaho, was one of the heirs, and was entitled to maintain her action; and that, if the plaintiff succeeded, the defendant would be exposed to a double recovery. The administratrix replied, alleging that she had full authority under the laws of Idaho to agree to a settlement of the claim and that the settlement would be a bar to a recovery in the Idaho action. Mary Elizabeth Whitley

[ 237 U.S. Page 494]

     was not a party to the Washington suit and no attempt was made to bring her in. It was swiftly determined, without contest. Service of the answer was acknowledged on November 16, 1909, and the reply was served on November 17, 1909. The cause was brought to trial on November 18, 1909; the pleadings were filed shortly after 9 o'clock on the morning of that day; at 9:45 o'clock findings were filed (with a conclusion of law overruling the defense of the Railroad Company), and at 10 o'clock on the same morning judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff for the sum of $9,500.

The Railroad Company at once paid to Josephine Whitley the amount of the judgment and she removed this amount to the State of Tennessee. In the early part of the year 1910, the mother presented her petition to the Probate Court of Shelby County, Tennessee, alleging that the administratrix had recovered by compromise the sum of $11,000, and that the petitioner, as an heir under the Idaho law, was entitled to one-half. The demand was contested and the petition was dismissed. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, the judgment was affirmed; it was held that the fund recovered by the administratrix was 'to be distributed in accordance with the laws of the State of Tennessee, and not the laws of the State of Idaho,' and that the mother had no interest in the proceeds of the recovery.

After these proceedings, the Railroad Company amended its answer in the present suit in Idaho, and pleaded in bar the Washington and Tennessee judgments. These defenses the Idaho court overruled and, as we have said, the mother recovered judgment for $5,500.

In determining the question now presented, it is apparent that the fundamental consideration is that the right to recover damages for the killing of the decedent was created by the Idaho statute. That right could be ...

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