Perez v. Fernandez - 202 U.S. 80 (1906)
U.S. Supreme Court
Perez v. Fernandez, 202 U.S. 80 (1906)
Perez v. Fernandez
Argued April 29, 1904
Decided April 23, 1906
202 U.S. 80
The policy of the United States, evidenced in its legislation concerning the islands ceded by Spain, has been to secure to the people thereof a continuation of the laws and methods of practice and administration familiar to them, which are to be controlling until changed by law, and it was the intention of Congress in sec. 34 of the Foraker Act of April 12, 1900, to require the United States District Court for Porto Rico, in exercising the jurisdiction of a Circuit Court in analogy to the powers of those courts in the United States, to adapt itself, in cases other than of equity and admiralty, to the local procedure and practice of Porto Rico. And so held in regard to administering the remedy of attachment.
The Porto Rican system in force when the Foraker Act was passed, and binding until changed or amended, provided a statutory method for recovery of damages by reason of an attachment wrongfully issued and vacated, by the assessment thereof and judgment therefor in the attachment suit itself, which method was exclusive and precluded the recovery of such damages by separate suit at common law, and the District Court of Porto Rico has no jurisdiction of such an action. In such a case, it could proceed in accordance with the local law, as nothing in the general law of the United States or provisions as to jury trials in civil causes in Circuit Courts of the United States is inconsistent with the enforcement by the District Court of the United States of Porto Rico of special statutory proceedings in assessing damages in attachment proceedings
Where the jurisdiction of the court from which the record comes fails, the objection can be raised in this Court, if not by the parties, then by the court itself.
An action at law was begun November 18, 1901, in the United States District Court for the District of Porto Rico by the defendant in error, Jose Perez y Fernandez, against Jose Antonio Fernandez y Perez to recover in an action for "trespass upon the case for wrongful attachment." The declaration contained the usual averments of a declaration in a common law action and averred that the attachment had been issued maliciously
and without probable cause, and levied upon a certain two-story house then belonging to the defendant in error, in Mayaguez, Porto Rico. One Rafael Diaz Aguerria was made codefendant, and it was averred that the attachment was issued in a suit brought by Fernandez as attorney in fact and agent of Aguerria, who authorized and ratified the acts complained of. It appeared that the defendant in error, Perez, had owed about 6,000 pesos to one Claudio Barro, who died, leaving a will in which Rafael Diaz Aguerria was named as executor. The will was probated in Spain, and Aguerria qualified there as executor of the estate. Perez, on November 10, 1899, recorded a mortgage in favor of one Don Victor Ochoa y Perez for 20,000 pesos. The suit in which the attachment was issued was begun January 2, 1900, by the filing of a declaration to recover on certain notes, and was brought in the name of Aguerria as executor of the last will and testament of Claudio Barro. The action was begun in the military court established by the authority of the United States after the cession of Porto Rico, called the United States Provisional Court for the Department of Porto Rico, which court was succeeded by the United States District Court. On the date of the beginning of the suit, an affidavit for attachment was filed, which was sworn to by Fernandez, plaintiff in error, purporting to have the power of attorney of Rafael Diaz Aguerria, executor of the last will and testament of Claudio Barro, the ground alleged being that the affiant had reason to believe that the defendant intended to and would fraudulently part with or conceal his property before judgment could be recovered against him, so that the judgment could not be satisfied out of the property. The summons was issued, and a writ of attachment was levied upon the premises of the defendant in error, and notice posted thereon. Further proceedings were arrested by an injunction proceeding in the United States court, brought by Jacinto Perez Barro, heir of Claudio Barro, deceased, upon the ground that Aguerria, plaintiff in the attachment proceeding, suing as executor of the will probated in Spain, had not taken out ancillary letters in
Porto Rico. The action for malicious attachment was joint in form, and the summons was returned as to Aguerria that the marshal was unable to find him within his district. The declaration averred that he was a resident of Porto Rico, but he was never served with summons in this case. Fernandez demurred to the declaration, averring that it appeared on its face that he was acting as the duly authorized agent of Aguerria, and was neither principal nor party plaintiff to the action against Perez, the defendant in error. This demurrer was overruled, and no exception taken to such action by Fernandez. Afterwards, the general issue was filed, the case was tried to a jury without objection and upon charge of the court substantially leaving to the jury the question whether Fernandez had caused the attachment to issue and be levied maliciously and without probable cause, to the injury of the standing and credit of the defendant in error as a merchant. A verdict was returned in favor of the defendant in error for the sum of $7,000, upon which a motion for a new trial was overruled and judgment entered.