Roach v. Hulings - 41 U.S. 319 (1842)
U.S. Supreme Court
Roach v. Hulings, 41 U.S. 16 Pet. 319 319 (1842)
Roach v. Hulings
41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 319
The jury, in rendering its verdict, failed to respond separately to the distinct issues it was sworn to try. The defendant had pleaded three pleas: 1. covenants performed; 2. payment; 3. setoff greater in amount than the claim of the plaintiff. On these three pleas, the jury gave a general verdict of damages in favor of the plaintiff, on which judgment was entered. In the circuit court, no exception was taken to the verdict. The counsel for the plaintiff contended that this was error in the circuit court which was properly to be corrected in the supreme court. By the court. Objections of this character that are neither taken at the usual stage of the proceedings nor prominently presented on the face of the record, but which may be sprung upon a party after an apparent waiver of them by his adversary, and still more after a trial on the merits, can have no claim to the favor of the Court, but should be entertained in obedience only to the strict requirements of the law. The three issues were joined on affirmative allegations by the defendant, and the verdict was for the plaintiff on these issues. Admitting that this verdict is not affirmatively responsive to these issues, it virtually answers and negatives them all, for if all or either of them had been untrue, the verdict was untrue. Should the judgment, then, be arrested, this would be done neither from a necessity to guard the merits of the controversy nor from the principles of sound inductive reasoning, but solely in obedience to an artificial and technical rule, which, however it may be founded in wisdom and promotive of good in general, yet, like all other rules, is capable of producing evil when made to operate beyond the objects of its creation.
The third section of the Act of Congress of 1789 to establish the judicial courts of the United States, which provides that no summary writ, return of process, judgment, or other proceedings in civil cases in the courts of the United States shall be abated, arrested, or quashed for any defect or want of form &c., although it does not include verdicts eo nomine, but judgments are, and the language of the provision "writ, declaration, judgment, or other proceedings in civil causes," and further, "such writ, declaration, pleading, process, judgment, or other proceeding whatsoever," is sufficiently comprehensive to embrace every conceivable step to be taken in a cause, from the emanation of the writ down to the judgment. Both the verdict and the judgment in this case are within the terms and intent of the statute, and ought to be protected thereby.
In trials at law, while it is invariably true that decisions on the weight of the evidence belongs exclusively to the jury, it is equally true that whenever instructions upon evidence are asked from the court to the jury, it is the right and duty of the former to judge of the relevancy, and, by necessary implication to some extent, upon the certainty and definiteness of the evidence proposed. Irrelevant, impertinent, or immaterial statements a court cannot be called upon to admit as the groundwork of instructions; it is bound to take care that the evidence on which it shall be called upon to act is legal, and that it conduces to the issue on behalf of either the plaintiff or the defendant.
The defendant in error instituted an action of covenant, in the Circuit Court of the County of Washington, against Philip Roach, upon certain articles of covenant. Before the trial of the cause, the defendant died, and his administrator became the defendant in the suit, a verdict and judgment were rendered for the plaintiff, and the defendant prosecuted this writ of error.
The case is fully stated in the opinion of the court.