Hatfield v. King - 184 U.S. 162 (1902)
U.S. Supreme Court
Hatfield v. King, 184 U.S. 162 (1902)
Hatfield v. King
Submitted November 11, 1901
Decided February 24, 1902
184 U.S. 162
It is contended by appellants that the decree in the circuit court against them ought to be set aside because they have not had the hearing in that court to which they were entitled by law; that they were not served with process; that counsel unauthorized by them entered their appearance, and after having wrongfully entered their appearance failed to take the proper steps for the protection of their rights. It is also contended by other parties than the appellants that there was no real controversy between the parties nominally opposed to each other, and that the litigation was in fact carried on under the direction and control of the plaintiff. Held that questions of this kind may be examined upon motion supported by affidavits, and that it is the duty of a court to make such inquiry.
Before any proceedings could rightfully be taken against the defendants, it was essential that they be brought into court by service of process or that a lawful appearance be made in their behalf, and, in this case, it is quite clear that the counsel was not authorized to appear for Mrs. Browning.
It is fitting that this investigation should be had, in the first place, in the court where the wrong is charged to have been done, and before the judge who, if the charges are correct, has been imposed upon by counsel, and it may be wise that both examination and cross-examination be had in his presence.
On October 8, 1898, the appellee commenced this suit in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of West
Virginia to quiet his title to certain lands. In the bill, he alleged that he was the owner in fee and in the actual possession of a large tract, known as the "Robert Morris 500,000-Acre Grant," which was granted by Virginia in 1795 to Robert Morris, of Philadelphia, and is situated partly in West Virginia, and partly in Kentucky and Virginia. He followed this general allegation with a detailed statement of his chain of title and of certain tax proceedings. After these averments tending to show his own rights and title, he charged that Aly and Joseph Hatfield, father and son, had at different times obtained pretended titles to certain small tracts within the limits of his grant, stating how these titles were obtained and wherein he claimed they were invalid. He further averred that both the Hatfields were dead; that their only heirs were the two defendants, now appellants, the widow and daughter of Joseph Hatfield, who wrongfully claimed the tracts last mentioned and thereby cast a cloud upon the plaintiff's title. No process was issued, but on June 8, 1899, a demurrer was filed on behalf of the defendants, signed by one appearing as their attorney. This demurrer was overruled on May 16, 1900, and leave given to file answer. Thereupon, as the record states, the defendants declined to answer but elected to stand upon their demurrer, and on June 2, 1900, a decree was entered in favor of plaintiff, quieting his title to the lands claimed by the defendants. From this decree an appeal was prayed and allowed to this Court, and the appeal papers were filed here on January 3, 1901.
The bill was so framed as to invite a consideration, in some aspects, of the question of forfeiture for nonpayment of taxes, presented to this Court in King v. Mullins, 171 U. S. 404.
At the beginning of this term, one of the appellants, Nancy C. Browing (erroneously, as she states, called Nancy C. Rutherford in the record) moved for a rule against the attorney who had appeared for her, to show by what authority he had assumed to so appear and why he should not be attached and his name stricken from the roll of attorneys for falsely assuming to act as her attorney and imposing upon the circuit and this Court a false, fictitious, and manufactured case for the purpose of obtaining an opinion and judgment on a false statement
of facts, to her injury and the injury of others similarly situated but not parties to the suit or appeal. She also asked that the alleged final decree of the circuit court be declared null and void, and that this appeal and the cause be dismissed. At the same time, other parties claiming to be interested in the Robert Morris tract appeared and represented that the entire proceedings had in this case were feigned and fictitious, that the litigation on both sides was controlled by the counsel for the plaintiff King, and asked an examination as to the truth of the charge so made. A substantially similar motion was made on behalf of the State of West Virginia. The counsel named in the record have answered, denying these charges and asserting the fullest integrity in the matter. Quite a number of affidavits have been filed, and also some documentary evidence presented.