Carroll v. Dorsey
61 U.S. 204

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Carroll v. Dorsey, 61 U.S. 20 How. 204 204 (1857)

Carroll v. Dorsey

61 U.S. (20 How.) 204

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

Although an irregularity in the citation may be cured by an appearance in court, yet a defect in the writ of error, such as not naming a return day for the writ, or an omission to file a transcript of the record at the term next succeeding the issuing of the writ or the taking of the appeal, are fatal errors, and the case must be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

Page 61 U. S. 206

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

A motion has been made to dismiss this case, for want of jurisdiction.

It appears that an action of ejectment was brought by the plaintiffs in error against the defendants, in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, and upon the trial the verdict and judgment was for the defendants.

The particular day on which the judgment was rendered is not given, but it is stated as a judgment on the third Monday in October, in the year 1851, which it appears was the first day of the term. But it also appears that two exceptions were taken at the trial by the plaintiffs, one dated the 20th and the other the 22d of November, so that the judgment would seem to have been rendered a few days before the December term, 1851, of this Court.

No steps were taken to bring it here for revision, until the 27th of May, 1853, when an appeal bond was approved by the presiding judge, which recites that the plaintiffs had obtained a writ of error, returnable to the next term of this Court, and filed it in the clerk's office. No such writ of error, however, appears to have been issued. A paper, purporting to be a writ of error, was issued after the commencement of December term, 1853 -- that is, on the 17th of that month. This paper is made returnable to the Supreme Court in general terms, without naming any day or even any term at which the defendants were required to appear. The transcript before us also contains a citation, signed by the presiding judge, and the service is acknowledged by the attorney for the defendants. But the citation, like the paper purporting to be a writ of error, specifies no day or term at which the defendants are required to appear, and, moreover, is not itself dated.

No further proceedings were had, to bring up the case, until December term, 1856, when the record was filed without any other writ of error, bond, or citation, and at the

Page 61 U. S. 207

same term the defendants, by their counsel, appeared in this Court.

It is evident from this statement that the case is not before the Court. The act of 1789, sec. 22, requires that the writ of error should be made returnable on a certain day, therein named, and indeed, upon common law principles, a certain return day in a writ of error is essential to its validity. There is therefore no process by which the case is legally brought before this Court, and consequently we have no jurisdiction over it. And if the process was free from exception, and if a writ of error, such as is known and recognized by law, had been issued and filed in the circuit court, yet no transcript of the record was filed here until nearly three years afterwards; and this Court have repeatedly said that the transcript of the record must be filed at the term next succeeding the issuing of the writ or the taking of the appeal, in order to bring the case within the jurisdiction of this Court.

But it is said on behalf of the plaintiffs in error that these are mere irregularities which were waived by the general appearance at the last term, and that the motion at the present term is too late.

Undoubtedly the appearance of the defendants at the last term, without making a motion to dismiss, cures the defect in the citation. The citation is nothing more than notice to the party to appear at the time specified for the return of the writ of error. And if he appears, it shows that he had notice; and if he makes no objection during the first term to the want of notice, or to any defect in the citation, he must be regarded as having waived it. The citation is required for his benefit, and he may therefore waive it if he thinks proper, and proceed to trial in the appellate court. This point was decided in the case of the United States v. Yulee, 6 How. 603, but the court at the same time said that the appearance did not preclude the party from afterwards moving to dismiss for the want of jurisdiction, or upon any other sufficient ground.

The same point was again decided in the case of Buckingham v. McLean, 13 How. 150, in which the court said that a motion to dismiss for want of a citation must be made at the first term at which the party appears, and is too late if made at a subsequent term. But the want of a writ of error, such as is prescribed by the act of Congress, stands on different ground. And in the case of the United States v. Curry, 6 How. 118, the Court held, that where the power of the court to hear and determine a case is conferred by acts of Congress, and the same authority which gives the jurisdiction points

Page 61 U. S. 208

out the manner in which it shall be brought before us, we have no power to dispense with the provisions of the law, nor to change or modify them.

Upon this ground, the case is not legally before us, and must be

Dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

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