Higgins v. Farmers Ins. Co.

Decision Date06 December 1882
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Appeal from Linn Circuit Court.

THIS action was brought before a justice of the peace to recover $ 11.76. Judgment was rendered for the plaintiffs for the amount claimed. The defendants appealed to the Circuit Court. The plaintiffs filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the amount did not exceed $ 25. The court sustained the motion and dismissed the appeal. From the order sustaining the motion and dismissing the appeal the defendants appeal to this court.


Stoneman Rickel & Eastman, for appellants.

Smith McPherson, Attorney-general, for appellees.



Two questions are certified to us and are as follows:

"First. Is the act of the legislature of Iowa of 1880, limiting the appeal to the Circuit Court from justices' courts to cases where the amount in controversy is more than $ 25, constitutional? Second. Is said act in conflict with the ordinance of 1787 and void by reason thereof?"

The plaintiffs insist that the act in question is in conflict both with the constitution of the State and the ordinance of 1787.

The constitution provides that "the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate, but the general assembly may authorize trial by a jury of a less number than twelve men in inferior courts." Art. 1, Bill of Rights, § 9. The General Assembly has provided that a jury in a justice's court shall consist of six jurors. The constitutionality of this provision, it is conceded, may be upheld, but only upon the ground that the unsuccessful party shall have an unrestricted right of appeal and access to a common law jury which it is said consists of twelve men. The act, the constitutionality of which is drawn in question in this case, was designed to restrict the right of appeal, confining it to cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $ 25. Now it is said that so long as a jury in a justice's court consists of six men the right of appeal cannot be restricted, because the effect would be to deprive the unsuccessful party, in all cases to which the restriction applies, of a right of trial by jury within the meaning of that part of the constitution which provides that the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.

It may be conceded that a common law jury consists of twelve men. But we do not think that the constitution designs to provide that in no case shall a party be deprived of a right of trial by such jury.

It may be that in the first clause of the constitutional provision above quoted the word "jury" was used in the sense of a common law jury. Now while it is provided that the right to a trial by jury (which we concede may be understood to mean a common law jury) shall remain inviolate, yet this provision is qualified by what immediately follows, wherein the word "jury" is used in a sense different from at common law.

Having reached the conclusion that the constitution designs that the legislature may provide for a jury of less number than twelve in inferior courts, and that too without regard to the right of appeal, we proceed to inquire whether the constitutional provision itself is void by reason of the ordinance of 1787.

By that ordinance it is provided...

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