Millar v. Hall

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In Millar v. Hall, 1 U.S. 229, 1 L. Ed. 113, 1 Dall. 229 (Pa. 1788), decided the year after the Constitutional Convention, the court ruled that "the discharge of the Defendant in one state ought to be sufficient to discharge [a debtor] in every state." 1 Dall., at 231, 1 U.S. 229, 1 L. Ed. 113. Absent such a rule, according to the prevailing attorney, "perpetual imprisonment must be the lot of every man who fails; and all hope of retrieving his losses by honest and industrious pursuits, will be cut off from the unfortunate bankrupt." Id.

The debtor, named Hall, had been "discharged under an insolvent law of the state of Maryland, which is in the nature of a general bankruptcy law." 1 Dall., at 231, 1 U.S. 229, 1 L. Ed. 113. Prior to his discharge, Hall had incurred a debt to a Pennsylvanian named Millar. Hall neglected to mention that debt in his schedule of creditors presented to the Maryland court, or to personally notify Millar of the looming discharge. Following the Maryland court's order, Hall traveled to Pennsylvania and was promptly arrested for the unpaid debt to Millar.

Allowing a creditor to execute "upon [a debtor's] person out of the state in which he has been discharged," the court explained, "would be giving a superiority to some creditors, and affording them a double satisfaction -- to wit, a proportionable dividend of his property there, and the imprisonment of his person here." Id. at 232, 1 U.S. 229, 1 L. Ed. 113. Indeed, the debtor having already been obliged to surrender all of his effects, "to permit the taking [of] his person here, would be to attempt to compel him to perform an impossibility, that is, to pay a debt after he has been deprived of every means of payment, -- an attempt which would, at least, amount to perpetual imprisonment, unless the benevolence of his friends should interfere to discharge [his] account." Id.