Degge v. Hitchcock
Annotate this Case
229 U.S. 162 (1913)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Degge v. Hitchcock, 229 U.S. 162 (1913)
Degge v. Hitchcock
Nos. 157, 158
Argued January 31, 1913
Decided May 26, 1913
229 U.S. 162
This is apparently the first case in which a federal court has been asked to issue a writ of certiorari to review a ruling by an executive officer of the United States government.
Constant failure to apply for a particular remedy suggests that it is due to conceded want of power in the courts to grant it.
The scope of the writ of certiorari as it exists at common law has not been enlarged by any statute in the federal jurisdiction, and cases
in which it has issued under statute from state courts to state officers are not controlling in the federal courts.
While the original scope of the writ of certiorari has been enlarged so as to serve the office of a writ of error, it has always run from court to court or to such boards, tribunals, and inferior jurisdictions whose findings and decisions had the quality of a final decision and from which there was no appeal or other method of review.
The decision of the Postmaster General that a fraud order shall issue is not the exercise of a judicial function, and if the decision is beyond his jurisdiction, the party injured may obtain relief in equity; the order cannot be reviewed by certiorari.
So long as proceedings before an executive officer are in fieri, the courts will not interfere with them. Plested v. Abbey, 228 U. S. 42.
The writ of certiorari is an extraordinary remedy, and in deciding that it will not issue in a particular case, this Court doe not anticipate in what cases exceptional facts may call for its use.
35 App.D.C. 218, 228, affirmed.
In 1909, complaint was made to the postal authorities that W. W. Degge and the Wellington corporations, of which he was president, were using the mails in furtherance of a fraudulent scheme. Notice was given to Degge and the corporations, and a hearing was had before the officer to whom, under the Postal Regulations, the disposition of this class of cases was committed. He found that the charges were true, and to his finding he attached a copy of all the evidence which had been taken. The report was confirmed by the Postmaster General, who issued an order directing the postmaster at Boulder, Colorado, not to deliver mail addressed to Degge or to these corporations, but to return all such letters to the sender with the word "Fraudulent" plainly stamped on the envelope. Rev.Stat. §§ 3929, 4041.
Degge, the corporations, and some of the stockholders thereafter filed petitions in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia alleging that the officer before whom the hearing had been had was without power to make report on which the Postmaster General had acted; that there was no testimony to show the existence of a fraudulent
scheme, and no evidence whatever to support the finding. It was alleged that the order was arbitrary, in excess of the power of the Postmaster General, and void. The petitioners prayed that the court would issue writs of certiorari directing the Postmaster General to certify the record to the court, and that, upon hearing and review thereof, the court would set aside the order. A rule to show cause was granted. The Postmaster General demurred on the ground that the court was without jurisdiction to issue the writ, and subject thereto answered, attaching the record and the evidence on the hearing before the officer of the Post Office Department having charge of the Fraud Orders investigations.
The case was heard by the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia on petition, demurrer, and answer. After a hearing, the court dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals of the District, without passing on the right to issue the writ, affirmed the judgment upon the ground that the evidence supported the order. The petitioners appealed, and on the argument in this Court, the government renews the contention that the district court was without jurisdiction to issue the writ of certiorari to the Postmaster General.