Drehman v. Stifle
75 U.S. 595 (1869)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Drehman v. Stifle, 75 U.S. 8 Wall. 595 595 (1869)

Drehman v. Stifle

75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 595

Syllabus

1. Section 4 of the Constitution of Missouri, which ordains that

"No person shall be prosecuted in any civil action for or on account of any act by him done, performed, or executed after the first of January, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, by virtue of military authority vested in him by the Government of the United States, or that of this state, to do such act, or in pursuance to orders received by him from any person vested with such authority, and if any action or proceeding shall have heretofore been, or shall hereafter be, instituted against any person for the doing of any such act, the defendant may plead this section in bar thereof,"

is not a bill of attainder within the meaning of that clause of the Constitution of the United States which ordains that no state shall pass any such bill.

2. Nor does it impair the obligation of a contract within the meaning of the same constitution because, in the case of a contract relating to real property -- as, ex. gr., a landlord's covenant that he will keep his tenant in possession -- its effect is to prevent a determination under particular state statutes of a party's mere right of possession, irrespectively of the merits of title, and where the same result might have confessedly been lawfully brought about by the state legislature by a repeal of the particular statute, and without impairing the obligation of any contract.

3. Semble that the case might be different if by giving effect to the provision, the party was precluded from asserting a title and enforcing a right.

In 1854, Mrs. Tyler leased to one Drehman, a house and lot in St. Louis for twenty years, that is to say, till 1874, and by the terms of the lease covenanted to keep the said Drehman in lawful possession of the premises during the term for which they were leased to him. In 1860, Mrs. Tyler sold the fee of the premises to one Stifle, who thus became landlord to Drehman, her lessee.

In 1861, during the late rebellion, Stifle, as "colonel of

Page 75 U. S. 596

the home guards," pursuant to an order from his military superior, took possession of the lot, removed all the buildings, and held and used the property for his own private purposes. Stifle being thus in possession and use of the property, Drehman, proceeding under the statutes of Missouri concerning landlords and tenants, in force when the lease was made and still in force, brought in 1863 an action of forcible entry and detainer against him, before a justice of the peace, to recover possession of the premises and the value of the rents. The section of the statute of Missouri under which the suit was brought enacts that "the merits of the title shall in no wise be inquired into on any complaint which shall be exhibited by virtue of the provisions of the act." The justice, on the 31st of December, 1863, rendered a judgment in his favor for restitution, for $5,000 damages, and for rent at the rate of $60 per month, to be paid from the time of the recovery until restitution should be made, and for costs. Stifle removed the case by appeal to the St. Louis Land Court, where a verdict and judgment were rendered in his favor. Drehman appealed to the Circuit Court of St. Louis County. Before, however, the case came on to be heard there, a Constitution of Missouri, adopted in 1865, ordained as follows:

"No person shall be prosecuted in any civil action for or on account of any act by him done, performed or executed, after the first of January, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, by virtue of military authority vested in him by the government of the United States, or that of this state, to do such acts or in pursuance to orders received by him from any person vested with such authority, and if any action or proceeding shall have heretofore been or shall hereafter be instituted against any person for the doing of any such act, the defendant may plead this section in bar thereof."

The case coming on to be heard in the circuit court in May, 1866 -- that is to say after the constitution containing the above-quoted clause passed into force -- Stifle relied for his defense upon it. Drehman, on the other hand, set up

Page 75 U. S. 597

that it was in the face of that clause of the Constitution of the United States, which declares that "no state shall pass any bill of attainder, . . . or law impairing the obligation of contracts."

The court instructed the jury that if the facts established by the evidence to their satisfaction brought the case within this provision of the Constitution of Missouri, the defense was valid, and that the defendant was entitled to the verdict. Drehman excepted. The jury found for Stifle, and the court gave judgment accordingly. Drehman therefore appealed to the supreme court of the state, which affirmed the judgment, and he accordingly brought the case to this Court under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act for review.

Page 75 U. S. 599

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