In re Sanford Fork & Tool Co. et al

Decision Date23 December 1895
Docket NumberNo. 8,8
Citation16 S.Ct. 291,160 U.S. 247,40 L.Ed. 414
PartiesIn re SANFORD FORK & TOOL CO. et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

This was a petition for a writ of mandamus to the Honorable William A. Woods, as judge of the circuit court of the United States for the district of Indiana, to command him to enter, in a suit in equity pending before him, a final decree in favor of the present petitioners, defendants in that suit, in accordance with a mandate of this court upon reversing a decree of that court on an appeal reported as Tool Co. v. Howe, 157 U. S. 312, 15 Sup. Ct. 621.

By the former opinion and mandate of this court, the petition for a mandamus, and the return to the rule to show cause, the case appeared to be as follows:

A bill in equity was filed in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Indiana, by creditors of the Sanford Fork & Tool Company, against that company and certain of its directors and stockholders, to set aside a mortgage made by the company to the other defendants to secure them for their indorsements of promissory notes of the company.

To that bill the defendants filed an answer under oath, insisting that the mortgage was valid; and the plaintiffs filed exceptions to the answer, upon the ground that the matters therein averred were insufficient to constitute a defense to the bill, or to any part threrof, as well as upon the ground that the defendants had not duly answered specific allegations of the bill. The circuit court, held by Judge Woods, after hearing arguments upon those exceptions, sustained them; and, the defendants declining to plead further, and electing to stand by their answer, the court, 'having considered the pleadings, and being fully advised in the premises,' entered a final decree, adjudging the mortgage to be void as against the plaintiffs, and granting them the relief prayed for.

The defendants appealed to this court, which, after hearing the appeal, delivered an opinion beginning thus: 'In the absence of any testimony, and in the manner in which this case was submitted for decision, it must be assumed that the matters alleged in the bill and not denied in the answer, and the new matters set forth in the answer, are true. And the question which arises is whether, upon these admitted facts, the decree in favor of the plaintiffs can be sustained.' 157 U. S. 316, 15 Sup. Ct. 622. This court, for reasons stated in that opinion, held that the mortgage was valid, and, therefore, that the circuit court erred; and in the opinion, as well as by its mandate sent down to the circuit court, ordered the decree of that court to be 'reversed, and the cause remanded to that court for further proceedings not inconsistent with the opinion of this court.' The mandate concluded, in usual form, as follows: 'You therefore are hereby commanded that such execution and further proceedings be had in said cause, in conformity with the opinion and decree of this court, as, according to right and justice, and the laws of the United States, ought to be had, the said appeal notwithstanding.'

The defendants presented the mandate and a certified copy of the opinion of this court to the circuit court, held by Judge Woods, and moved for a final decree that the former decree of the circuit court be reversed; that the cause be held to have been submitted by the plaintiffs upon bill and answer; and that, upon the facts alleged in the bill and answer, the law is with the defendants, and the plaintiffs take nothing by their bill, and the defendants have judgment for their costs.

The circuit court overruled the motion of the defendants, and on motion of the plaintiffs granted leave to amend the bill, but stayed proceedings, to enable the defendants to apply to this court for a writ of mandamus.

The petition to this court for a writ of mandamus alleged that the order of the circuit court overruling the motion of the defendants for a final decree in their favor, and granting the motion of the plaintiffs for leave to amend their bill was inconsistent with and in violation of the opinion, decree, and mandate of this court; and prayed for a writ of mandamus to Judge Woods to grant the motion of the defendants, and to overrule the motion of the plaintiffs.

This court granted a rule to show cause, in the return to which Judge Woods stated that his action, complained of by the petitioners, arose upon his construction of the opinion and mandate of this court on reversing his former decree; and set forth his view of the matter as follows:

'Exceptions had been improperly sustained to the answer of defendants (petitioners). For this error, as respondent construes the opinion and mandate, the decree was reversed, and the cause remanded to the circuit court, with the usual directions for further proceedings there. Upon the return of the cause there, and after the erroneous decree had been set aside, but before other step was taken, petitioners moved for decree in their favor, on the ground that this court had treated the cause as having been submitted below on bill and answer, and that, this court having held the answer sufficient, it followed they were entitled to such decree. Respondent could not adopt that view, since it plainly was not what had occurred. There was no such submission of the cause below on bill and answer. Nor in rendering the decree in favor of complainants had respondent 'considered' the answer; but had, since sweeping exceptions had been sustained to it, treated it as out of the record, for any purpose of the decree,—a fact plainly manifest in the record before this court on appeal. He could not, therefore, suppose that this court meant, in what is said upon this point, to hold more or other than that the answer was sufficient, and that he had erred in holding it insufficient.

'Respondent, therefore, having in view the rules of practice prescribed by this court for the government of the circuit court, held that since, if he had overruled the exceptions to the answer, complainants would have been entitled to file replication, as provided by rule 66 in equity, and, if they desired it, to have leave to amend their bill, under rule 45, he did not, nor does, believe this court, in reversing the decree, meant to deprive complainants of these rights; but inferred rather, as the more reasonable and logical deduction, that when the circuit court had retraced its steps to the point where the first error occurred, the parties would stand, in respect of the case and of each other, as if, in the progress of the cause, it had but then arrived at that juncture. To hold, instead stead of this view, that complainants had, by their mistake in filing exceptions, or by the court's mistake in sustaining them, or by both things together, forfeited their right to have the cause proceed, when the errors had been corrected, in the orderly manner indicated above, seemed and seems entirely illogical, and as, therefore, foreign to the purpose of this court. Respondent accordingly ruled that when he retraced the steps held erroneous by this court the cause should progress as if they had not been taken at all, and as if we were but now arrived at that point. To that end he granted, when it was craved, leave to complainants to amend their bill, and would have entered the usual order against them to file replication on or before the next rule day, had not petitioners thereupon interposed their motion for stay of proceedings until this application could be heard here.'

Judge Woods, in his return, declared himself ready, if his construction of the opinion and mandate should not accord with that of this court, to make and enter such order and decree, under its direction, as would carry out its opinion and mandate.

A. H. Snow and G. A. Knight, for petitioners.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 251-255 intentionally omitted] C. F. McNutt, for respondent.

Mr. Justice GRAY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

When a case has been once decided by this court on appeal, and remanded to the circuit court, whatever was before this court, and disposed of by its decree, is considered as finally settled. The circuit court is bound by the decree as the law of the case, and must carry it into execution according to the mandate. That court cannot vary it, or examine it for any other purpose than execution; or give any other or further relief; or review it, even for apparent error, upon any matter decided on appeal; or intermeddle with it, further than to settle so much as has been remanded. Sibald v. U. S., 12 Pet. 488, 492; Railway Co. v. Anderson, 149 U. S. 237, 13 Sup. Ct. 843. If the circuit court mistakes or misconstrues the decree of this court, and does not give full effect to the mandate, its action may be controlled, either upon a new appeal (if involving a sufficient amount) or by a writ of mandamus to execute the mandate of this court. Perkins v Fourniquet, 14 How. 313, 330; In re Washington & G. R. Co., 140 U. S. 91, 11 Sup. Ct. 673; Bank v. Hunter, 152 U. S. 512, 14 Sup. Ct....

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