United States v. Goodwin
11 U.S. 108 (1812)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Goodwin, 11 U.S. 7 Cranch 108 108 (1812)

United States v. Goodwin

11 U.S. (7 Cranch) 108

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF

THE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Syllabus

No writ of error lies to the Supreme Court of the United States to reverse the judgment of a circuit court in a civil action which has been carried up to the circuit court from the district court by writ of error.

This was an action of debt brought originally in the District Court for the District of Pennsylvania by the United States against John Goodwin for $15,000, as a penalty for not entering goods agreeably to the prime cost, at the place of exportation, with intent to defraud the revenue. The judgment of the district court, which was in favor of the United States, was, upon a writ of error, reversed in the circuit court, and thereupon the United States sued out the present writ of error to this Court.

A doubt having been suggested whether this Court could take jurisdiction by writ of error, in a civil action, which had been carried up by writ of error from the district court to the circuit court, that question was submitted to this Court without argument.

Page 11 U. S. 109

WASHINGTON, J. delivered the opinion of the Court as follows:

This case stands upon a writ of error to the Circuit Court for the District of Pennsylvania. By the record it appears that an action of debt was brought in the name of the United States against the defendant in error in the District Court of Pennsylvania, in which judgment was rendered for the United States. On a writ of error to the circuit court for that district, that judgment was reversed, and upon like process the cause has been brought into this Court for reexamination. A rule has been obtained by the defendant in error upon the United States to show cause why the writ of error should not be dismissed, and the ground of the rule is that as the cause was not removed from the district into the circuit court by appeal, but by writ of error, there is no provision in any of the laws of the United States giving jurisdiction to this Court to reexamine the judgment of the circuit court upon a writ of error or otherwise. This question can only be decided by an attentive consideration of the different acts of Congress on this subject.

The 21st section of the Judicial Law of 1789 declares that from final decrees in a district court in cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, where the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, exceeds $300, an appeal shall be allowed to the circuit court. The 22d section provides that final decrees and judgments in civil actions, in a district court where the matter in dispute exceeds the value of $50, exclusive of costs, may be reexamined and reversed of affirmed in a circuit court upon a writ of error. This section then proceeds to declare that upon a like process -- that is to say, upon a writ of error -- may final judgments and decrees in civil actions and suits in equity, in a circuit court, brought there by original process or removed there from the state courts or by appeal from a district court, where the value exceeds $2,000, exclusive of costs, be reexamined and reversed or affirmed in the Supreme Court.

Page 11 U. S. 110

The 2d section of the Act of 3 March, 1803, so far changes the above sections of the act of 1799, that whereas the latter allows an appeal from the district to the circuit court, only in admiralty and maritime cases, where the value in dispute, exclusive of costs, exceeds $300, the former provides an appeal from all final judgments or decrees in a district court, where the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, exceeds $50, and also an appeal to the Supreme Court from all final decrees and judgments in a circuit court in cases of equity, of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction and of prize or no prize where the value, exclusive of costs, exceeds $2,000. But this law makes no provision for the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in any other cases than those above mentioned. Consequently we must refer to the sections of the act of 1789, before noticed (which are still in force except so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of the act of 1803) to see in what cases, other than those provided for by the act of 1803, the Supreme Court can review the decisions of the circuit courts. It has been shown that all final judgments or decrees in civil actions and suits in equity in a circuit court brought there by original process or removed from the state courts or by appeal from a district court may be reexamined in the Supreme Court upon a writ of error. But no case can, under this act, be removed from a district court by appeal except it be of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and consequently, under the literal construction of this law, no other cases could be carried from the circuit court to the Supreme Court.

The question, then, is whether the word "appeal" in the 22d section is to be understood technically, or merely as descriptive of the appellate jurisdiction of the superior court, without regard to the particular mode by which a cause is transmitted to that jurisdiction? This question appears to have been considered by the Supreme Court so early as the year 1796, in the case of Wiscart v. Dauchy,3 U. S. 321 (1796). Chief Justice Ellsworth, in delivering the opinion of the Court in that case, expresses himself as follows:

"The act of 1789 speaks of appeal and writ of error, but does not confound them. They are to be understood according to their ordinary acceptation. An appeal is a civil law process, and removes a cause entirely, subjecting the law and fact to a review and retrial.

Page 11 U. S. 111

A writ of error is a common law process, and removes for reexamination nothing but the law. This statute observes this distinction. In admiralty and maritime causes, an appeal is allowed from the district to the circuit court if the matter in dispute exceeds $300, and yet decrees and judgments in civil actions may be removed by writ of error from the district to the circuit court though the value barely exceeds $50."

In another part of this opinion, the judge adds

"That as to the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the 22d section says, and upon a like process -- that is, upon a writ of error -- shall final judgments and decrees in civil actions, viz., cases not criminal, and suits in equity, &c. Among the causes which may be brought to the Supreme Court by writ of error are cases which had been removed to the circuit court by appeal from a district court, which can only be cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction."

The objection made to this interpretation of the word "appeal" that judgments in civil actions at common law commenced in a district court could be reexamined only in a circuit court, if well founded in itself, could not with any propriety be addressed to courts after the legislative meaning of the term is ascertained. The technical distinction between a writ of error and an appeal, and between the different cases to which they were applicable, was clearly marked in the Act of 13 February, 1801, which was afterwards repealed by the act of 8 March, 1802. The former act, after providing for the removal of all final judgments or decrees above the value of $50 from a district to a circuit court by appeal, and by a like proceeding for a removal to the Supreme Court of those cases only which were of equity, of admiralty, and maritime jurisdiction and of prize or no prize, proceeded to provide for civil actions at common law, originating in a district court, by declaring that final judgments, in such cases, if of a certain value, might be removed at once from the district to the Supreme Court by writ of error. So that as the law stood at that time, a party in cases at common law had an election to carry his case, where it exceeded $2,000, by writ of error from the district to the circuit court under the 22d section of the act of 1789, but without the privilege of proceeding

Page 11 U. S. 112

further, or to proceed with his cause at once to the Supreme Court, passing by the circuit court. But it appears not to have been the policy of the legislature at that time to subject the decisions of the district court in civil cases at common law to more than one reexamination in an appellate court.

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