Phil H. Pierce Co. v. Watkins

Decision Date28 June 1924
Docket Number(No. 4022.)
Citation263 S.W. 905
PartiesPHIL H. PIERCE CO. v. WATKINS, District Judge, et al.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

J. L. Zumwalt, of Dallas, for relator.

Gresham & Willis and Alvin H. Lane, all of Dallas, for Popular Amusement Co.

H. M. Garwood, J. W. Lockett, J. F. Wolters, Sam Streetman, and Lewis R. Bryan, all of Houston, amici curiæ.

PIERSON, J.

On June 28, 1923, in the district court of the Ninty-Fifth judicial district of Texas, of which court the Honorable Royal R. Watkins is the judge, judgment was entered in cause No. 47006 in favor of relator Phil H. Pierce Company against respondent Popular Amusement Company. Thereafter, on the 16th day of August, 1923, respondent Popular Amusement Company filed in said court a motion for a new trial, praying that the judgment rendered on June 28th be set aside and held for naught. In its said motion it alleged that the judgment purports to be one by default, that before judgment was taken it had filed its answer, that it had no notice of the setting of the case, and "that it has a meritorious defense to said suit."

The answer of respondent Popular Amusement Company, referred to by it, consisted of a general demurrer and a general denial. Its motion for a new trial alleged that it had a meritorious defense, but did not set out the character or nature of its defense.

Relator Phil H. Pierce Company resisted the motion for a new trial, primarily upon the ground that under chapter 105, General Laws of the Thirty-Eighth Legislature, which act by its terms went into effect July 1, 1923, the judgment had become final, and that respondent Watkins was without authority to grant a new trial or to set said judgment aside.

The Ninety-Fifth district court comes within the terms and provisions of chapter 105, General Laws of the Thirty-Eighth Legislature which regulate the practice and procedure "in civil district courts in counties having two or more district courts with civil jurisdiction only, and whose terms continue for three months or longer."

On August 27th, and before the term of court had ended under limitation of law, respondent Watkins entered his order granting a new trial and setting aside the judgment.

Relator Phil H. Pierce Company brought this action praying that a writ of mandamus issue commanding respondent Watkins to vacate his said order granting a new trial and directing him to give effect to said judgment.

The part of chapter 105 which affects the rules of procedure applicable to this case is found in subdivisions 15 and 16 thereof. They read as follows:

"Subd. 15. A motion for new trial, where required, shall be filed within ten days after the judgment is rendered or other order complained of is entered, and may be amended by leave of court at any time within twenty days after it is filed before it is acted on.

"Subd. 16. Judgments of such civil district courts shall become as final after the expiration of thirty days after the date of judgment or after a motion for new trial is overruled as if the term of court had expired. After the expiration of thirty days from the date the judgment is rendered or motion for new trial is overruled the judgment cannot be set aside except by bill of review for sufficient cause, filed within the time allowed by law for the filing of bills of review in other district courts."

Subdivision 19 provides:

"All inconsistent laws and rules of practice and procedure shall be inoperative in the civil district courts of the class included within this act."

Section 2 of the act reads:

"This act shall take effect and be in force on and after the first day of July, 1923."

As no motion for a new trial was filed within the time prescribed by chapter 105, and thirty days having expired before the court vacated and set aside the judgment, the judgment was final under the provisions of chapter 105.

If said statute is a valid and constitutional enactment, and if its terms apply to this judgment, relator is entitled to the writ. Under the provisons of chapter 105 a motion for new trial filed more than 30 days after the entry of a judgment would be as one filed after the term of court had expired. The only remedy would be, as in similar cases and as provided by said chapter, by a bill of review.

We will first give consideration to the defense of respondent Popular Amusement Company that chapter 105 is unconstitutional and void, because violative of article 3, § 56, of the Constitution of the state of Texas, wherein it provides:

"The Legislature shall not, except as otherwise provided in this Constitution, pass any local or special law * * * regulating the practice or jurisdiction of * * * any judicial proceeding or inquiry before courts * * * or other tribunals. * * * And in all other cases where a general law can be made applicable, no local or special law shall be enacted."

The Constitution does not prohibit the regulation of the practice or jurisdiction of judicial proceedings or inquiries before courts by a general law; neither does it require that the practice and procedure shall be the same and uniform in all judicial tribunals. It declares only that the Legislature shall not regulate them by local or special law.

Chapter 105, General Laws of the Thirty-Eighth Legislature, under its terms and under the well-recognized rules of law is not a special or local law. Its introductory paragraph provides:

"Article 1969a. The following rules of practice and procedure shall govern and be followed in the civil district courts in counties having two or more district courts with civil jurisdiction only, and whose terms continue for three months or longer."

That the Legislature has the power and authority to classify subjects, and that an enactment that applies to such subjects as a class is a general law, is well recognized.

It has been held by this court in a number of cases that a law is general if it apply uniformly to all of a class. Clark, Sheriff, v. Finley, Comptroller, 93 Tex. 171, 54 S. W. 343; Reed v. Rogan, 94 Tex. 177, 59 S. W. 255; Ex parte Dupree, 101 Tex. 150, 105 S. W. 493; Beyman v. Black, 47 Tex. 558.

For a law to be general it is not necessary that it apply to all persons or things alike. Indeed, as said by Chief Justice Gaines in Clark, Sheriff, v. Finley, Comptroller, supra, "most of our laws apply to some one or more classes of persons or of things and exclude all others." He quoted with approval the following definition by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in the case of Wheeler v. Philadelphia, 77 Pa. 338:

"Without entering at large upon the discussion of what is here meant by a `local or special law,' it is sufficient to say that a statute which relates to persons or things as a class is a general law, while a statute which relates to particular persons or things of a class is special, and comes within the constitutional prohibition."

Bouvier's Law Dictionary, vol. 2, p. 1347, defines general laws as follows:

"Laws which apply to and operate uniformly upon all members of any class of persons, places, or things, requiring legislation peculiar to themselves in matters covered by the laws. Binney, Restrictions upon Local and Special Legislation, quoted in Com. v. State Treasurer, 29 Pa. Co. Ct. R. 578.

"Statutes which relate to persons and things as a class. Wheeler v. Philadelphia, 77 Pa. 348. Laws that are framed in general...

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