Flanders v. Tweed - 76 U.S. 425 (1869)
U.S. Supreme Court
Flanders v. Tweed, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 425 425 (1869)
Flanders v. Tweed
76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 425
1. The Court expresses itself as disposed to hold parties who, under the act of March 3, 1865, waive a trial by jury and substitute the court for the jury, to a reasonably strict conformity to the regulations of the act if they desire to save to themselves all the rights and privileges which belong to them in trials by jury at the common law.
2. Accordingly, in a case where there was no stipulation filed for the waiver of a jury, and where the judge had filed his "statement of facts" three months after the date of the judgment rendered -- which statement, so irregularly filed, the court regarded as a nullity -- and no question of law was to be considered as properly raised on the pleading, the court stated that, according to the general course of proceeding in former like cases, the judgment below should be affirmed.
3. However, in this case -- one from Louisiana -- it being apparent that both parties supposed that it case had been made up according to the practice of that state, but one not having been made up by the court nor properly filed according to the requirements of the statute, so that from that cause the case, which it was meant by both court and parties to get here, could not be properly passed upon, the judgment, under the circumstances (the case being an important one) was not affirmed, but was reversed for mistrial and remanded for a new trial.
The 4th section of an Act of Congress of March 3, 1865, [Footnote 1] thus enacts:
"Issues of fact in civil cases in any circuit court of the United States may be tried and determined by the court without the intervention of a jury whenever the parties or attorneys of record file a stipulation in writing with the clerk of the court waiving a jury. The finding of the court upon the facts, which finding may be either general or special, shall have the same effect as the verdict of the jury. The rulings of the court in the cause, in the progress of the trial, when excepted to, at the time, may be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States upon a writ of error or upon appeal, provided the rulings be duly presented by a bill of exceptions. When the finding is special, the review may also extend to the determination of the sufficiency of the facts found to support the judgment."
This statute being in force, Tweed brought suit in the court below against Flanders to recover damages, some $40,000, for the seizure and detention of a quantity of cotton in New Orleans. He had previously procured the possession of it by a writ of sequestration, according to the practice of the courts in that state. The petition charged that the defendant
was a deputy general agent of the Treasury Department of the United States. The defendant pleaded admitting that he was a deputy general agent as described in the petition, and denied all the other allegations of it. A large amount of evidence was taken in the case on both sides, the plaintiff insisting that he bought the cotton at private sale from the individual owners and the defendant that it was at the time under seizure and in his possession as special agent of the Treasury Department, holding it for the use of the government. This evidence and the proceedings of the court occupied about a hundred pages of the record. The court gave judgment against the defendant for $36,976.33. The judgment was rendered 26th February, 1868. A statement of facts by the judge was found in the record, filed May 29, 1868, nearly three months after the date when the judgment was rendered. This finding of the facts began by stating that
"the cause came on to be tried on the pleadings, by consent of the parties, by the judge presiding; and after hearing the evidence therein, and the argument of counsel, the court finds the following facts."
This statement of the facts by the judge was the only evidence relied on of the consent of the parties to waive a jury, except what might be presumed from the circumstance that both parties proceeded with the trial before the judge without objection in the court below.
The case being brought by Flanders, the defendant below, on error to this Court.