Dowell v. Applegate

In Dowell v. Applegate, 152 U.S. 327 (1894), the benefit of a judgment in the Circuit Court of the United States was claimed. That judgment was the basis of a conveyance to the plaintiff in error, and it was contended that the conveyance was void, inasmuch as the Federal court had no jurisdiction of the suit in which the sale was ordered. It was held in this court that even if the Federal court erred in assuming or retaining jurisdiction of the suit, its decree being unmodified and unreversed, could not be treated as a nullity. After citing previous decisions of this court, the court, speaking through Mr. Justice Harlan, said (152 U.S. 340): "These cases establish the doctrine that, although the presumption in every stage of a cause in a Circuit Court of the United States is that the court is without jurisdiction unless the contrary affirmatively appears from the record, Bors v. Preston, 111 U.S. 252, 255, and the authorities there cited, yet, if such jurisdiction does not so appear, the judgment or final decree cannot, for that reason, be collaterally attacked, or treated as a nullity. "These authorities, above cited, it is said, do not meet the present case, because the ground on which, it is claimed, the Federal court assumed jurisdiction was insufficient in law to make this case one arising under the laws of the United States. But that was a question which the Circuit Court of the United States was competent to determine in the first instance. Its determination of it was the exercise of jurisdiction. Even if that court erred in entertaining jurisdiction, its determination of that matter was conclusive upon the parties before it, and could not be questioned by them, or either of them, collaterally, or otherwise than on writ of error or appeal to this court."