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SOVEREIGN CAMP WOODMEN WORLD v. BOLIN ET AL.

decided: November 7, 1938.

SOVEREIGN CAMP OF THE WOODMEN OF THE WORLD
v.
BOLIN ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE KANSAS CITY COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI.

Hughes, McReynolds, Brandeis, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed

Author: Roberts

[ 305 U.S. Page 72]

 MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari because of the claim that the judgment of the court below failed to accord full faith and credit to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of the State of Nebraska as required by Article IV, § 1 of the Constitution.

The petitioner is a fraternal beneficiary association organized under the laws of Nebraska, having a lodge system, a ritualistic form of work, and a representative form of government. It has no capital stock, and transacts its affairs without profit and solely for the mutual benefit of its members and their beneficiaries. It makes provision for the payment of death benefits by assessments upon its members and issues to members certificates assuring payment of such benefits.

In 1895 the petitioner adopted a by-law authorizing the issue of life membership certificates. Under this by-law a member entering the order at an age greater than 43 years was entitled to life membership without the payment of further dues and assessments when the certificate had been outstanding 20 years. In June 1896, while the by-law remained unrepealed, Pleasant Bolin, who was over 43 years of age, joined a Missouri lodge of the petitioner and received a certificate of membership which recited that while in good standing he would be entitled to participate in the beneficial fund to the amount of $1,000 payable to his beneficiaries and to the sum of $100 for placing a monument at his grave. The certificate recited that it was issued subject to all the conditions named in the constitution and laws of the fraternity

[ 305 U.S. Page 73]

     and was endorsed with the words "Payments to cease after 20 years."

After Bolin's death, the respondents, as beneficiaries, brought action to recover upon the certificate. The petitioner's answer set up that Bolin had ceased to pay the required dues and assessments in July 1916, and his certificate had therefore become void; that the by-law making the certificate fully paid after twenty years was ultra vires of the association and had been so declared by the Supreme Court of Nebraska in a class suit brought by one Trapp, the holder of a certificate similar to that of Bolin; that, under Article IV, § 1, of the Constitution, full faith and credit must be given by the courts of Missouri to this decision of the Supreme Court of Nebraska. The respondents replied that the contract was made and delivered in Missouri and was to be construed and enforced according to Missouri law; that, at the date of its consummation, the petitioner had no license or authority to transact business in Missouri as a corporation or otherwise, and the certificate was therefore to be considered as issued pursuant to, and governed by, the general insurance laws of Missouri; that Bolin having fully performed in accordance with the terms of the certificate, the petitioner was estopped to plead ultra vires ; and that in truth the contract was not ultra vires of the petitioner.

A jury was waived and the case was tried to the court. The respondents proved the issue of the certificate and Bolin's payments for twenty years thereafter. The petitioner proved the adoption of the by-law purporting to authorize the issue of "payments to cease" certificates; and put in evidence an exemplified copy of the record in Trapp v. Sovereign Camp of the Woodmen of the World, 102 Neb. 562; 168 N. W. 191, wherein it was decided that petitioner never had power under the law of Nebraska to issue such a certificate. Judgment went for the respondents.

[ 305 U.S. Page 74]

     The petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri, which remanded the cause to the Kansas City Court of Appeals*fn1 on the ground that it involved no constitutional question. The latter affirmed the ...


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