McArthur v. Porter - 31 U.S. 205 (1832)
U.S. Supreme Court
McArthur v. Porter, 31 U.S. 6 Pet. 205 205 (1832)
McArthur v. Porter
31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 205
In an ejectment for a tract of land, the declaration described the same by specific metes and bounds. The jury found a verdict for the plaintiff, stating the defendant to be guilty of the trespass in the declaration mentioned, and "that the plaintiff do recover of the defendant the land described as follows," describing the same and referring to a diagram and report of a survey of the land in controversy, which was in evidence.
This verdict was for but a part of the land claimed in the plaintiff's declaration. The circuit court, on motion of the plaintiff's counsel, instructed the jury to find a general verdict, saying that the plaintiff could take possession at his peril, and the jury found according to the instructions of the court. Held that the jury was right in its original verdict, and the instruction of the court that it should find a general verdict, the plaintiff having established a title only to part of the land, was erroneous.
The real question before the Court is whether the defendant, upon proof of a title to part of the premises described in the declaration of ejectment, is by law entitled to a general verdict for the whole of the premises sued for. That the action of ejectment is a fictitious action and is moulded by courts to subserve the purposes of justice in a manner peculiar to itself is admitted, but the professed object is to try the titles of the parties, and the jury is bound to pass upon those titles as they are established by the evidence before it. It therefore des no more than its duty when it finds a verdict for the plaintiff according to the extent and limits of his title as it is proved by the evidence. It is equally its right so to do since it is comprehended in the issue submitted to its decision. If, therefore, it finds by the verdict according to the truth of the case that the plaintiff has title to part only of the premises in the declaration, and describes it by metes and bounds, and that so far the defendant is guilty, and as to the residue finds the issue for the defendants, such a verdict, in point of law, seems to be unexceptionable, and if so, the judgment following the verdict ought to conform to it, and if it should be a general judgment for the whole premises demanded in the declaration, it would be erroneous. Such, upon principle and the analogies of the common law, would be the result, and the authorities clearly establish the doctrine, and it is confirmed as a matter of practice by the best text writers on the subject.
The case agreed by the counsel for the plaintiffs in error and for the defendants in this Court was as follows:
"This was an action of ejectment which came up on a writ of error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Ohio. One of the questions in dispute on the trial of the cause below was the boundary line between the lands of the plaintiff and defendant. Surveys had been made of the premises
in dispute according to the pretensions of each party. These surveys, with the explanatory depositions taken on the ground, were placed on file and used in evidence on the trial. The jury, instead of a verdict according to the claim of either party, found an intermediate line. Their verdict was in these words, viz.,"
" We the jury do find the defendant guilty of the trespass in the plaintiff's declaration mentioned, and do assess the plaintiff's damages to one cent, and that the plaintiff do recover of the defendant the land described as follows, viz., beginning at the stone planted in Spencer's Orchard, designated on Looker's Map (referring to the survey given in evidence), by the letter B., thence running in a northwesterly direction to a point in Dock's line, one hundred and twenty-four poles eastwardly on Dock's line, from the point marked D. on Looker's Map, a hickory and dogwood; thence westwardly with Dock's line one hundred and twenty-four poles to the hickory and dogwood aforesaid; thence running in a southwestwardly direction with Taliaferro's line to the place of beginning."
"By reference to Looker's map or survey on file, the boundary here marked out by the jury was capable of being reduced to certainty. The counsel for the plaintiff below objected against the verdict's being recorded and moved the court to instruct the jury to find a general verdict of guilty for the plaintiff. The court so instructed the jury, saying 'the plaintiff would take possession at his peril.' The jury accordingly found a general verdict for plaintiff. To this instruction and opinion of the court the defendant excepted, and brought this writ of error to reverse the judgment. "