Lehnen v. Dickson

Decision Date06 March 1893
Docket NumberNo. 125,125
Citation13 S.Ct. 481,37 L.Ed. 373,148 U.S. 71
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Statement by Mr. Justice BREWER:

D. P. Dyer, for plaintiff in error.

James O. Broadhead, for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice BREWER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

On February 6, 1886, defendant in error commenced an action of unlawful detainer, before a justice of the peace in Montgomery county, Mo. The complaint charged an unlawful detention by the defendant, since January 2, 1886, of a tract of land of 800 acres, situated in that county. By certiorari, under the provisions of the state statute, the case was removed to the circuit court of Montgomery county, and thereafter, upon application of the defendant, on the ground of diverse citizenship, from that court to the circuit court of the United States for the eastern district of Missouri. There the case was tried, without the intervention of a jury, and on January 30, 1889, a judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff for the restitution of the premises, for double damages, amounting to $5,940, and for $220 per month, double rent, from and after the entry of judgment. The opinion of Judge Thayer is found in 37 Fed. Rep. 319. To reverse such judgment, the defendant sued out a writ of error from this court.

The first matter to be considered is whether the record is in such shape as to present any question for determination. The case was tried by the court without a jury, and the journal entry shows simply a general finding that the defendant is guilty in manner and form as charged in the complaint, the amount of damages sustained by the plaintiff, and the value of the monthly rents and profits, and thereon the judgment for restitution of the premises, double damages, and double rent. There is no special finding of facts, and no agreed statement of facts. Obviously, therefore, inquiry in this court must be limited to the sufficiency of the complaint and the rulings, if any be preserved, on questions of law arising during the trial. Sections 648 and 649 of the Revised Statutes, while committing generally the trial of issues of fact to a jury, authorize parties to waive a jury and submit such trial to the court, adding that 'the finding of the court upon the facts, which may be either general or special, shall have the same effect as the verdict of a jury.' But the verdict of a jury settles all questions of fact. As said by Mr. Justice Blatchford in Lancaster v. Collins, 115 U. S. 222, 225, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 33: 'This court cannot review the weight of the evidence, and can look into it only to see whether there was error in not directing a verdict for the plaintiff on the question of variance, or because there was no evidence to sustain the verdict rendered.' The finding of the court, to have the same effect, must be equally conclusive, and equally remove from examination in this court the testimony given on the trial. Insurance Co. v. Folsom, 18 Wall. 237; Cooper v. Omohundro, 19 Wall. 65. Further, section 700 provides that 'when an issue of fact in any civil cause in a circuit court is tried and determined by the court without the intervention of a jury, according to section six hundred and forty-nine, the rulings of the court in the progress of the trial of the cause, if excepted to at the time, and duly presented by a bill of exceptions, may be reviewed by the supreme court upon a writ of error or upon appeal; and, when the finding is special, the review may extend to the sufficiency of the facts found to support the judgment.' Under that, the rulings of the court in the trial, if properly preserved, can be reviewed here, and we may also determine whether the facts as specially found support the judgment; but if there be no special findings, there can be no inquiry as to whether the judgment is thus supported. We must accept the general finding as conclusive upon all matters of fact, precisely as the verdict of a jury. Martinton v. Fairbanks, 112 U. S. 670, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 321.

It is true if there be an agreed statement of facts submitted to the trial court and upon which its judgment is founded, such agreed statement will be taken as the equivalent of a special finding of facts. Supervisors v. Kennicott, 103 U. S. 554. Doubtless, also, cases may arise in which, without a formal special finding of facts, there is presented a ruling of the court, which is distinctly a ruling upon a matter of law, and in no manner a determination of facts, or of inferences from facts, in which this court ought to and will review the ruling. Thus, in Insurance Co. v. Tweed, 7 Wall. 44, where on the argument in this court counsel agreed that certain recitals of fact made by the trial court in its opinion, or 'reasons for judgment,' as it was called, were the facts in the case, and might be accepted as facts found by the court, it was held that, as they could have made such agreement in the court below, it would be accepted and acted upon here, and the facts thus assented to would be regarded as the facts found or agreed to upon which the judgment was based; and upon an examination it was further held that they did not support the judgment, and it was reversed. But still, as was ruled in Flanders v. Tweed, 9 Wall. 425, this court is disposed to hold parties to a reasonably strict conformity to the provisions of the statute prescribing the proceedings in the case of a trial by the court without a jury; and no mere recital of the testimony, whether in the opinion of the court or in a bill of exceptions, can be deemed a special finding of facts within its scope. Norris v. Jackson, 9 Wall. 125. See, also, the case of Alexandre v. Machan, 147 U. S. 72, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 211, in which the rule, as applicable to suits in admiralty, was reviewed, and similar conclusions were reached.

Beyond the ordinary matters of the record, which, for the reasons above stated, present no matter for consideration here, there was duly prepared and allowed a bill of exceptions, which recites all the testimony given at the trial, certain requests for declarations of law, and the action of the court thereon, the opinion filed in deciding the case, the motion for a new trial, and the opinion on the overruling of such motion. By this bill of exceptions, one ruling, in respect to the admission of testimony, is clearly preserved. In order to fully understand the question, a brief recital of the transactions as shown by the testimony is necessary.

On September 24, 1877, Edwin H. Farnsworth, the owner of the premises, made a written lease thereof to Thomas R. Summers, for a term of eight years, commencing January 1, 1878, and ending January 1, 1886. The lessee transferred this lease, with the approval of the lessor, to Godfrey Lehnen, the father of the defendant. The defendant took possession during the running of this lease, with the consent of his father. Farnsworth died on April 27, 1879, having devised this property to his only child, the wife of the plaintiff. The lease having expired the 1st of January, 1886, on the 23d of January, in that year, plaintiff served notice upon the defendant that he demanded the possession of the premises, and on the 6th of February the suit was brought. The defendant, to justify his holding over the 1st of January, 1886, introduced in evidence what purported to be a copy of a lease made by Farnsworth, April 7, 1879, 20 days before his death, to Sarah A. Kempinski, for a term of 10 years, commencing January 1, 1886, and a lease from Kempinski to the defendant Lehnen and his father, dated October 15, 1885, for a term of 14 months, also commencing January 1, 1886. In rebuttal, plaintiff offered a certified copy of the record of a suit commenced in the circuit court of Montgomery county, Mo., by Barbara Dickson and Newton Dickson, her husband, against Sarah A. Kempinski and A. Kempinski, her husband, in which suit there was a decree of the circuit court ordering and adjudging that the lease made by Farnsworth to Sara A. Kempinski be canceled, set aside, and held for naught, which decree, on review by the supreme court of the state, was affirmed. To the admission of this testimony the defendant objected on the ground that it was incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial, which...

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