4 Conn. 535 (Conn. 1823), Beers v. Beers

Citation4 Conn. 535
Opinion JudgeHOSMER, Ch. J.
Party NameBEERS v. BEERS: IN ERROR
AttorneyDaggett and Sherman, for the plaintiff in error, contended, Shelton, for the defendant in error, contended
Judge PanelSTEPHEN TITUS HOSMER, Ch. J., JOHN THOMPSON PETERS, ASA CHAPMAN, JEREMIAH GATES BRAINARD, WILLIAM BRISTOL, Js., concurred. CHAPMAN, BRAINARD and BRISTOL, Js. were of the same opinion. PETERS, J.
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut, Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut

Page 535

4 Conn. 535 (Conn. 1823)

BEERS

v.

BEERS: IN ERROR

Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut, Fairfield

June, 1823

Page 536

[Syllabus Material]

Page 537

This was an action of trespass quare clausum fregit, demanding thirty dollars damages, brought originally before Elijah Middlebrook, Esq. justice of the peace for the county of Fairfield. The defendant entered a general demurrer to the declaration, in which the plaintiff joined; and judgment was, thereupon, rendered for the plaintiff. The defendant then brought a writ of error in the superior court, assigning for error. That said justice Middlebrook could not, by the laws and constitution of this state, hold jurisdiction of said cause, or deprive the parties of the legal and constitutional right of trial by jury; and the case was reserved for the advice of all the Judges.

Judgment affirmed.

Daggett and Sherman, for the plaintiff in error, contended, That the act of the General Assembly, passed in May, 1821, a providing that " all causes wherein the title to land is not concerned, and wherein the debt, trespass, damage or other matter in demand, does not exceed thirty-five dollars, shall be heard and determined, by one justice of the peace," and allowing an appeal when the sum demanded exceeds seven dollars, is repugnant to the 21st section of the 1st article of the constitution of this state, and is therefore void. The words of the constitution are--" the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolable."

In the first place, by the right of trial by Jury, is meant the right which every citizen has to demand a trial in that mode; or, in other words, to be secured from having a judgment rendered against him, without the intervention of a jury.

Secondly, the extent of that right is to be ascertained, by the positive enactments of the legislature; it not being a natural right.

Thirdly, the time when the right became fixed, in the extent in which it then existed, was at the adoption of the constitution. The right was to remain inviolable. " Remain" is a relative term, referring to something at that time in existence.

Fourthly, this provision of the constitution was intended to limit the power of the legislature. Before the adoption of the constitution, it was competent for the legislature to confer on a single magistrate judicial authority to an unlimited amount. This was considered as a dangerous power; and the object of the framers of the constitution was, to restrain its exercise.

Fifthly, the law enlarging the jurisdiction of a justice of the peace from the extreme limit of fifteen dollars to thirtyfive dollars, thereby rendering every citizen liable to a judgment against him for that amount, without the intervention of a jury, was a violation of the right of trial by jury previously existing. To constitute a violation of a right, it is not necessary that such right should be destroyed: if it be curtailed or trammelled, so that it cannot be exercised as freely, and to the same extent, as before, it does not remain inviolate. If the judgment of the justice, in the exercise of his enlarged jurisdiction, were final, it is a conceded point, that the right in question would be violated. Then,

Sixthly, the provision made by the law for an appeal, does not save the right from violation. The right is violated before an appeal can be taken. The utmost extent of this provision, is, to afford relief to one whose constitutional right of trial by jury, has been already violated.

But it will be said, that if he ultimately gets a trial by jury, his right remains inviolate. Can the exercise of the right be indefinitely obstructed, and yet the right remain inviolate? Before the law was passed, the party was protected from any judgment against him, except upon the verdict of a jury: it is otherwise, now. This is not all. Before he can get a trial by jury, he must move for an appeal; he must pay a duty; he must pay for copies; he must give bond for the prosecution of his appeal; and he must, in fact, prosecute his appeal. If these are burdens greater than he is able or willing to bear, he must submit to ajudgment rendered against him without the intervention of a jury.

Finally, in proportion to the...

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