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U.S. Supreme Court

Crescent City Livestock Co. v. Butchers' Union Co., 120 U.S. 141 (1887)

Crescent City Livestock Company v. Butchers' Union Slaughterhouse Company

Submitted January 6, 1887

Decided January 24, 1887

120 U.S. 141


According to the law and practice of Louisiana, the supreme court of that state, in cases brought before it by appeal from inferior courts, determines the matter in controversy as presented by the record both as to fact and law, without regard to the particular rulings of the courts below, and its opinion showing the grounds of its judgment constitutes part of the record to be reviewed in this Court upon writ of error when the question for determination is whether the supreme court of the state decided a federal question necessary to the decision of the case without respect to the rulings of the inferior state court.

In Louisiana, an action for malicious prosecution is founded on the principles and is subject to the defenses established by the common law, and in order to sustain it, it is necessary to show (1) that the suit Lad terminated unfavorably to the prosecutor; (2) that in bringing it, the prosecutor had acted without probable cause; (3) that he was actuated by legal malice -- that is, by improper or sinister motives -- and that these three elements concur.

The question of probable cause is a question of law where the facts are undisputed and the judgment of the court in favor of the plaintiff is conclusive proof of probable cause for the prosecution of the suit alleged to be malicious, notwithstanding its subsequent reversal by an appellate court, unless it is shown to have been obtained by means of fraud. This rule seems to reconcile the apparent contradiction in the authorities, is well grounded in reason, fair and just to the parties, and consistent with the principle on which the action for malicious prosecution is founded.

The judgments and decrees of the circuit courts of the United States sitting in a particular state are to be accorded in the courts of that state, whether as the foundation of an action or of a defense, either by plea or in proof, such effect and such effect only as would be accorded in similar circumstances to the judgments and decrees of a state tribunal of equal authority, and whether such due effect has been given by a state court to a judgment or decree of a court of the United States is a federal question within the jurisdiction of this Court on a writ of error to the supreme court of the state.

The decree of the circuit court of the United States relied on by the plaintiff in error in this case as a defense was sufficient evidence of probable cause for the prosecution of the suit, notwithstanding its reversal chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 120 U. S. 142

on appeal by this Court. It does not detract from its effect that in another previous suit between the plaintiff in error and another defendant, the Supreme Court of Louisiana had decided the questions of law on which alone his right depended adversely to him.

This was an action to recover on a bond. The case which makes the federal question is stated in the opinion of the Court.

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