The Law School Authority

Harris v. Balk Case Brief

Summary of Harris v. Balk

Procedural Basis: Writ of certiorari reviewing affirmance of judgment for collection of debt.

Facts: Case involves two debts.  First, Harris ? owed Balk (P) $180.  Both Harris and Balk were citizens of North Carolina. Second, Balk owed $344 to Epstein, a citizen of Maryland.  While Harris ? was visiting Maryland, Epstein instituted a garnishment proceeding against Balk (P), attaching the debt owed by Harris ? to Balk (P).  Harris was personally served and notice was posted on the courthouse door.  Harris ? consented to the entry to judgment against him and paid $180 to Epstein.  Balk instituted the current suit against Harris in North Carolina in order to recover the $180.  Although Harris argued that he no longer owed Balk anything, the trial court ruled in favor of Balk, refusing to grant full faith and credit to the Maryland judgment.  The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed on grounds that the Maryland court had no jurisdiction over Harris since the location of the debt was North Carolina and since Harris was only temporarily in Maryland.  The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue:  Does the situs (location) of a debt travel with debtor for jurisdiction purposes?

Rule: Courts may assert jurisdiction over debts provided personal jurisdiction over the debtor can be attained.

Analysis: The original situs of a debt is irrelevant.  Therefore, while temporarily in Maryland, Harris was liable for garnishment even if the debt was incurred in North Carolina.  The obligation of a debtor to pay his debt accompanies him wherever he goes.  Therefore, courts of a foreign state can enforce payment.

Conclusion:  Judgment reversed.

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