Aldrich v. Aetna Company
75 U.S. 491

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U.S. Supreme Court

Aldrich v. Aetna Company, 75 U.S. 8 Wall. 491 491 (1869)

Aldrich v. Aetna Company

75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 491

Syllabus

1. A judgment in the highest court of law or equity of a state, if otherwise a proper subject for review here under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act, is not rendered incapable of being reviewed by the fact that judgment was rendered on a voluntary submission of a case agreed on for judgment under the provisions of the code of the state.

2. An allowance of a writ of error by the chief judge of the court in which the judgment was in fact rendered, is not ground for dismissing the writ of error, though the record, by order of such court, may have been sent to an inferior court, and an additional entry of what was adjudged in the appellate one there entered.

3. A defendant who has waived the irregularity by an appearance cannot object to jurisdiction because the citation is not signed by the judge who allowed the writ of error.

4. When the question in the highest court of law or equity of a state is whether the mortgage of a vessel, duly recorded under an act of Congress, gives a better lien than an attachment issued under a state statute and the decision is that it does not, a proper case exists for review in this Court under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act.

5. The mortgage of a vessel, duly recorded under an act of Congress, cannot be defeated by a subsequent attachment, under a state statute enacting, that no mortgage of such property shall be valid as against the interests of third persons unless possession be delivered to and remain with the mortgagee or the mortgage be recorded in a manner specified, in which a mortgage, whose lien in this case was the subject of controversy, was not. White's Bank v. Smith, 7 Wall. 646, affirmed.

The Code of Procedure of the State of New York [Footnote 1] thus enacts:

Page 75 U. S. 492

"Parties to a question of difference which might be the subject of a civil action may, without action, agree upon a case containing the facts upon which the controversy depends and present a submission of the same to any court which would have jurisdiction if an action had been brought. But it must appear by affidavit that the controversy is real and the proceeding in good faith to determine the rights of the parties. The court shall thereupon hear and determine the case at a general term and render judgment thereon as if an action were depending."

"The judgment may be enforced in the same manner as if it had been rendered in an action, and shall be subject to an appeal in like manner."

With these provisions of the code in force, the Aetna Insurance Company as plaintiff and one Aldrich and others as defendants agreed upon a case for the Superior Court of Buffalo as follows:

"Aldrich and the others sold and conveyed the schooner Stella, on the 4th of February, 1856, at Chicago, to one Jacobs, and on the same day took a mortgage of the vessel back to secure the payment of $6,000 of the purchase money. The mortgage was in due form and was recorded in the office of the collector at the port of Chicago, where the vessel was permanently enrolled and where one of her owners resided. The purchase money was payable in sums of five hundred and of ten hundred dollars extending through the years 1856, 1857, and to March, 1858. Jacobs, the purchaser, who resided in Chicago, immediately took possession of the vessel, which was in port, and employed her on the lakes till attached in Buffalo by the insurance company on the 11th December, 1856, for a debt against him."

"At the time of the execution of the mortgage, there was a statute of the State of Illinois which enacted that"

" No mortgage on personal property shall be valid as against the rights and interests of any third person or persons unless possession of such personal property shall be delivered to and remain with the mortgagees or the said mortgage be acknowledged and recorded, as hereinafter directed."

"This mortgage had been neither acknowledged nor recorded, according to the requirements of this statute. "

Page 75 U. S. 493

It was agreed by the parties in settling their case that if the decision should be in favor of the company (the plaintiffs), judgment should be given against the defendants for $475 and interest, but if in favor of the defendants, then judgment against the plaintiff for costs.

The court at a general term at Buffalo rendered a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The cause was removed to the Court of Appeals, the highest court of the State of New York, where the judgment was affirmed and the proceedings remitted to the Superior Court at Buffalo, in which the judgment of affirmance was entered of record. The case was then brought before this Court on writ of error, it being purported to be brought here under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act, which gives this Court jurisdiction to review upon a writ of error judgments in the highest court of a state where there has been drawn in question the validity of a statute of or an authority exercised under the United States and the decree is against their validity or where there is drawn in question the construction of any statute of the United States and the decree is against the title, right, or privilege, or exemption specially set up or where there is drawn in question the validity of a statute of or an authority exercised under any state on the ground of their being repugnant to the laws of the United States and the decision is in favor of such their validity -- "the citation," says this 25th section,

"being signed by the chief justice or judge or chancellor of the court rendering or passing the judgment or decree complained of or by a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States."

The writ in this case was allowed by Chief Justice Davies of the Court of Appeals of New York, and was addressed to the Superior Court of Buffalo. The citation was signed by MR. JUSTICE MILLER of this Court.

The case being here, the questions were,

I. As to jurisdiction.

II. As to merits.

I. On the point of jurisdiction, objection was taken to the jurisdiction,

Page 75 U. S. 494

1st. On the ground that the judgment which the writ of error purported to bring here had not been rendered in a suit within the words of the 25th section of the Judiciary Act, but was rendered on a voluntary submission without suit, containing a statement of facts agreed on by the parties, under the code of procedure in New York.

2d. That it did not appear on the face of the record that the validity of a statute or law of the United States, or of the statute of a state as repugnant to such law, or that the construction of any statute of the United States was drawn in question.

3d. That the writ of error was allowed by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of the state of New York, the writ being addressed to the Superior Court of Buffalo, where the record was; and that the said chief judge was not authorized to allow the writ of error.

4th. That the citation was not signed by the judge who allowed the writ of error.

Assuming jurisdiction to exist, there remained

II. The question of merits, the insurance company contending, upon this question, that the mortgage could not be set up as against the attachment, that it was void as against it, and that the company was entitled to a judgment declaring the lien of the attachment paramount to that of the mortgage. The mortgagees, represented here by Mr. Robert Rae, maintaining on the other hand the converse of these propositions, Mr. Rae referring to White's Bank v. Smith [Footnote 2] as conclusive of this part of the case.

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