41 N.Y.2d 71; 359 N.E.2d 384; 390 N.Y.S.2d 875; 1976 N.Y. LEXIS 3208
SYNOPSIS: Appellant wife sought by postjudgment motion to vacate the final judgment of divorce from respondent husband. The lower court had set aside the judgment, but the Supreme Court, Appellate Division (New York County) reinstated the final judgment of divorce. Appellant challenged that holding.
-Appellant wife challenged the final decree of divorce from respondent husband claiming that errors of law or fact which might have been committed in the divorce action deprived the court of jurisdiction to adjudicate the case under N.Y. C.P.L.R. 5015 subd. [a], par. 4.
-Special Term vacated the final judgment, but the appellate division reversed. On appeal, the court affirmed, holding that N.Y. C.P.L.R. 5015 subd. [a], par. 4 did not apply because the contentions of appellant were not addressed to bases for subject matter jurisdiction.
The court held that the overly stated principle that lack of subject matter jurisdiction made a final judgment absolutely void was not applicable to cases which, upon analysis, did not involve jurisdiction, but merely substantive elements of a cause for relief.
There was considerable evidence of residence by the husband, and the court obviously determined that the husband had some residence even if not of the duration to satisfy the matrimonial statutes. The court concluded that the point was that the litigation having gone to final judgment, the right to review by appeal having been exhausted, that was and should have been the end of the matter.
Absence of competence to entertain an action deprives the court of "subject matter jurisdiction"; absence of power to reach the merits does not.
OUTCOME: The judgment reinstating the final decree of divorce was affirmed because the issues raised by appellant wife did not address the authority on which she based her claim. There was sufficient evidence to support the initial decree.
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