The defendant in error, having secured judgment for the
possession of his real estate, sold the premises to a stranger,
after the case had been removed to this Court by writ of error,
leaving the defendant in possession. Held
that, as no
controversy remained between the parties, except as to costs, this
Court would not decide the merits,
Page 256 U. S. 360
but would lay the costs of this writ of error upon the defendant
in error and revere the judgment with instruction to dismiss the
complaint. P. 256 U. S.
49 App.D.C. 391, 266 F. 1011, reversed.
The case is stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.
Sylvanus Stokes brought suit in the municipal court of the
District of Columbia to recover from Anna Heitmuller possession of
premises No. 1505 Twenty-Second street, Northwest, in the City of
Washington, D.C. Stokes claimed to be the purchaser of the
premises, and the action was brought against Anna Heitmuller as
tenant thereof. Trial was had in the municipal court, and judgment
rendered in favor of the defendant. Stokes appealed to the Supreme
Court of the District of Columbia, and filed an affidavit after the
docketing of the appeal as required by Rule 19 of that court.
Defendant filed an affidavit setting forth grounds of defense. The
Supreme Court entered judgment for the plaintiff, Stokes, upon the
ground that the defense as set forth by the defendant was
insufficient to defeat the plaintiff's recovery. The case was taken
to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, where the
judgment of the Supreme Court was affirmed. 49 App.D.C. 391. A writ
of error brings the case to this Court.
The errors assigned raise constitutional questions as to the
validity of the so-called Saulsbury Resolution (40 Stat. 593), and
of Rule 19 of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Other
errors, not necessary to notice, are also assigned.
Page 256 U. S. 361
The judgment of the Court of Appeals of the District, affirming
that of the Supreme Court, was rendered on January 5, 1920, and on
January 15, 1920, a writ of error was allowed bringing the case to
this Court. On February 5, 1920, Stokes, appellee in the Court of
Appeals, and defendant in error here filed a motion to dismiss the
writ of error upon the ground that he had sold and conveyed the
real estate the possession of which was the subject matter in
dispute, and had no further interest in the cause except to recover
costs and rental due because of the wrongful detention of the
property, and upon the further ground that no appeal bond had been
filed by the appellant. The Court of Appeals denied the motion.
After the allowance of the writ of error, the cause had passed
beyond the jurisdiction of that court.
In this Court, the defendant in error, Stokes, moves to dismiss
the writ of error, setting forth as grounds for the motion:
1. The cause of action between the parties hereto has ceased to
exist, for that, after the judgment of the Court of Appeals of the
District of Columbia, appellee sold and conveyed the real estate,
the subject matter of this suit, and therefore is not now entitled
to the relief herein sought, namely, the possession of said
2. There is now no actual controversy involving real and
substantial rights between the parties to the record, and no
subject matter upon which the judgment of this Court can
3. The only question now involved in this appeal is that of
As the action was brought to recover the possession of real
estate, and as the defendant in error has, pending review in this
Court, sold it, we agree with the contention that the case has
become moot. The plaintiff in error, so far as the record
discloses, is in possession, and, the defendant
Page 256 U. S. 362
in error having sold and conveyed the property, a judgment, if
in his favor, will not give him possession of the premises. It has
been often held that this Court will not decide moot cases. The
rule was stated in Mills v. Green, 159 U.
, 159 U. S.
"The duty of this Court, as of every other judicial tribunal, is
to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried
into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or
abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law
which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it. It
necessarily follows that when, pending an appeal from the judgment
of a lower court and without any fault of the defendant, an event
occurs which renders it impossible for this Court, if it should
decide the case in favor of the plaintiff, to grant him any
effectual relief whatever, the Court will not proceed to a formal
judgment, but will dismiss the appeal. And such a fact, when not
appearing on the record, may be proved by extrinsic evidence.
8 How. 251; California v. San Pablo
& T. R. Co., 149 U. S. 308
. See also
United States v. Hamburg-American Co., 239 U. S.
, and cases cited."
Where no controversy remains except as to costs, this Court will
not pass upon the merits. Paper-Bag Cases, 105 U.
, 105 U. S.
It remains to be considered what order should be made. Although,
owing to the moot character of the issue involved, we may not
consider the merits, we are at liberty to make such order as is
"most consonant to justice' in view of the conditions and
circumstances of the particular case." United States v.
Hamburg-American Co., supra, 239 U. S.
In the case now before us, without fault of the plaintiff in
error, the defendant in error, after the proceedings below,
practically ended the controversy by parting with title to the
premises, thus causing the case to become moot.
Page 256 U. S. 363
In such case, the costs incurred upon the writ of error should
be paid by the defendant in error.
Reversed, and remanded to the Court of Appeals of the
District of Columbia, with direction to remand to the Supreme Court
of the District of Columbia, with instructions to dismiss the