Simon v. Craft
182 U.S. 427 (1901)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Simon v. Craft, 182 U.S. 427 (1901)

Simon v. Craft

No. 191

Argued March 12, 1901

Decided May 27, 1901

182 U.S. 427

Syllabus

The essential elements of due process of law are notice and opportunity to defend, and in determining whether such rights are denied, the Court is governed by the substance of things, and not by mere form.

A person charged with being of unsound mind is not denied due process of law by being refused an opportunity to defend when in fact actual notice was served upon him of the proceedings, and when, if he had chosen to do so, he was at liberty to make such defenses as he deemed advisable.

The due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution does not necessitate that the proceedings in a state court should be by a particular mode, but only that there shall be a regular course of proceedings, in which notice is given of the claim asserted and an opportunity afforded to defend against it.

This Court accepts as conclusive the ruling of the Supreme Court of Alabama that the jury which passed upon the lunacy proceeding considered in this case was a lawful jury, that the petition was in compliance with the statute, and that the asserted omissions in the recitals in the verdict and order thereon were, at best, but mere irregularities which did not render void the order of the state court, appointing a guardian.

This is a writ of error to review a judgment of the Supreme

Page 182 U. S. 428

Court of Alabama affirming a judgment in favor of John N. Craft, the defendant in error herein. The judgment thus affirmed was entered by a lower state tribunal upon a verdict rendered on the second trial of an action in ejectment, wherein Jetta Simon, plaintiff in error herein, was plaintiff.

In brief the facts are as follows: in 1889, Jetta Simon, a widow, resided in Mobile, Alabama, with several minor children. She lived at that time in a house of which she was the owner, being the real estate affected by the action of ejectment heretofore referred to. On January 30, 1889, Ralph G. Richard filed in the Probate Court of Mobile County, Alabama, a petition for an inquisition of lunacy as to Mrs. Simon. In this petition it was represented that Richard was a friend of Mrs. Simon and of her family; that she was of the age of forty-nine years, a resident of Mobile, of unsound mind and incapable of governing herself or of conducting and managing her affairs. Upon this petition an order was entered for a hearing on February 6, 1889, and that a jury "be drawn, as the law directs, for the trial of this issue." The order also provided that a writ issue to the sheriff

"requiring him to take the said Jetta Simon, so that he have her in this court to be presented at said trial, if consistent with the health and safety of said Simon."

The writ issued. Therein was stated the substance of the allegations of the petition, and that the order had been entered appointing February 6, 1889, "for hearing said petition and for the due trial thereof." The command of the writ was that--

"If it be consistent with the health and safety of said Jetta Simon, you are hereby required to take her body, so that you may have her in said court, to be present at said trial, and before the jury then to be impaneled to make said inquisition."

"And have you then and there this writ with your return thereon as to how you have executed the same."

The writ was duly returned with the following indorsement:

"Received January 31st, 1889, and on the same day I executed the within writ of arrest by taking into my custody the within-named Jetta Simon and handing her a copy of said writ, and as it is inconsistent with the health or safety of the within-named Jetta Simon to have her present at the place

Page 182 U. S. 429

of trial, and on the advice of Dr. H. P. Hirshfield, a physician, whose certificate is hereto attached, she is not brought before the honorable court."

"W. H. Holcombe, Sheriff"

"Mobile, February 5th, 1889. By Wm. H. Sheffield, D.S."

The certificate referred to reads as follows:

"Mobile, Ala. Jan. 30th, 1889"

"To the Sheriff of Mobile County, Ala.:"

"I, H. P. Hirshfield, a regular physician, practicing in Mobile County, Ala. hereby certify that I am acquainted with Mrs. Jetta Simon, and have examined her condition on yesterday, and find that she is a person of unsound mind, and it would not be consistent with her health or safety to have her present in court in any matter now pending."

"H. P. Hirshfield, M.D."

One Vaughan was appointed by the probate court the guardian ad litem of Mrs. Simon "in the matter of the petition to inquire into her lunacy." The appointment was accepted, and the guardian filed in said proceeding an answer averring "that he wholly denies all the matters and things stated and contained in said petition, and requires strict proof to be made thereof according to law." Thereupon a hearing was had before a jury, who returned a verdict that Mrs. Simon was "of unsound mind." The probate court then entered the following order or decree:

"Jetta Simon, Lunatic"

"State of Alabama"

"Probate Court of said County"

"Mobile County"

"February 6th, 1889"

"This being the day appointed, by reference to an entry thereof made upon the minutes of the court on the 30th of January, 1889, for the hearing of the petition of Ralph G. Richard, filed, alleging the lunacy of the said Jetta Simon and praying an inquisition thereof, and it being shown that it would not be consistent with the health and safety of said lunatic to bring her into court at this time, and it appearing that due process

Page 182 U. S. 430

had been served upon said lunatic notifying her of this proceeding, now comes the said Richard and a jury of good and lawful men, who reside in the County of Mobile, and who, having been summoned, to-wit, John Pollock, Jr., and eleven others, who, having heard the evidence, the arguments of counsel, and the charge of the court in the premises, and being first duly tried, impaneled, and sworn well and truly to make inquisition of the facts alleged in said petition and a true verdict to render according to the evidence, upon their oath say, 'We, the jury, find Mrs. Jetta Simon to be of unsound mind.'"

"It is ordered, adjudged, and decreed by the court that said petition and all other proceedings thereon, together with the aforesaid verdict of said jury declaring the said Jetta Simon a lunatic, be recorded."

Subsequently, on February 11, 1889, Richard was duly appointed guardian of the estate of Mrs. Simon, and regular proceedings were had by which, under authority of the court, a sale of the real estate in question was ordered to be made for the payment of the debts of Mrs. Simon and for the support and maintenance of her family. Such sale was had in May, 1889, when Henry J. Simon became the purchaser, who sold the property to John N. Craft, defendant in error herein. In September, 1895, more than six years after the sale to Simon, the action in ejectment heretofore referred to was instituted against one Brown, a tenant of Craft. Craft, as landlord, was subsequently substituted in the stead of Brown. Upon a second trial of the issues joined, the defendant Craft, among other evidence, introduced the record of the proceedings in the probate court upon the inquisition of lunacy, to which reference has already been made, and the record of the subsequent proceedings resulting in the sale to Henry J. Simon. Objection to the introduction of such records was made upon specified grounds, all which are stated in the margin. [Footnote 1] The objections

Page 182 U. S. 431

were overruled and the record allowed to be read in evidence, to which action of the court exception was duly taken. The approval by the Supreme Court of Alabama of this ruling is what is here complained of.

The opinion of the Supreme Court of Alabama reversing the judgment entered on a verdict in favor of Mrs. Simon rendered at the first trial of the action of ejectment is contained in 118 Ala. 625. The judgment entered in favor of Craft upon the second trial was affirmed upon the authority of the previous opinion.

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