Life & Fire Insurance Company of New York v. Adams
Annotate this Case
34 U.S. 573 (1835)
U.S. Supreme Court
Life & Fire Insurance Company of New York v. Adams, 34 U.S. 9 Pet. 573 573 (1835)
Life & Fire Insurance Company of New York v. Adams
34 U.S. (9 Pet.) 573
Louisiana. Mandamus. In the district court of the United States, for the District of Louisiana, the district judge refused to extend a judgment previously entered in the district court so as to cover other installments due to the plaintiffs, which became due after it was entered, and to enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, mortgagees, upon a proceeding which had been entered into, with the mortgagor, in relation to the debt due to the mortgagees, in which it was stipulated that judgment should be entered for certain installments to be paid to the plaintiffs, on the nonpayment of the same, the district judge not considering the plaintiffs entitled to have the judgment entered according to the terms of the proceeding without notice to the debtor and his syndics into whose hands his property had passed under the insolvent law of Louisiana, after the execution of the transaction, and after a judgment for part of the debt had been entered, which was the judgment asked to be extended. The district judge was also required to receive a confession of judgment against the mortgagor and the insolvent by an agent of the plaintiffs, and whose powers to confess the judgment the district judge did not consider
adequate and legal for the purpose. An execution had been issued for a part of the debt, upon the previous judgment in the district court, and the execution was put into the hands of the marshal of the United States, who, finding the property of the insolvent defendant, the property mortgaged to the plaintiffs, in the hands of the syndics of the creditors of the mortgagor, according to the insolvent laws of Louisiana; refused to proceed and sell the same, and returned the execution unexecuted. An application was made to the Supreme Court for a mandamus to command the district judge to enter the judgment required of him, and to receive the confession of the judgment by the agent of the plaintiffs, and award execution thereon, and also to compel him to oblige the marshal to execute the execution in his hands, on the property, of the defendant
wherever found. The Court refused to award a mandamus on any of the grounds, or, for any of the purposes stated in the application.
To extend a judgment to subjects not comprehended in it is to make a new judgment. This Court is requested to issue a mandamus to the Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, to enter a judgment in a cause supposed to be depending in that court not according to the opinion which it may have formed on the matter in controversy, but according to the opinions which may be formed in this Court on the suggestions of one of the parties. This Court is asked to decide that the merits of the cause are with the plaintiff and to command the district judge to render judgment in his favor. It is an attempt to introduce the supervisory power of this Court into a cause while depending in an inferior court, and prematurely to decide it. In addition to the obvious unfitness of such a procedure, Its direct repugnance to the spirit and letter of our whole judicial system cannot escape notice.
The Supreme Court, in the exercise of its ordinary appellate jurisdiction, can take cognizance of no case until a final judgment or decree shall have been made in the inferior court. Though the merits of the cause may have been substantially decided, while anything, though merely formal, remains to be done, this Court cannot pass upon the subject. If, from any intermediate stage in the proceedings, an appeal might be taken to the Supreme Court, the appeal might be repeated to the great oppression of parties. So if this Court might interpose by way of mandamus in the progress of a cause and order a judgment or decree, a writ of error might be brought to the judgment, or an appeal prayed from the decree, and a judgment or decree, entered in pursuance of the mandamus, might be afterwards reversed. Such a proceeding would subvert our whole system of jurisprudence.
The mandamus ordered by this Court, 33 U. S. 8 Pet. 306, directed the performance of a mere ministerial act.
It is the duty of a marshal of a court of the United States to execute all process which may be placed in his hands, but he performs this duty at his peril and under the guidance of law. He must, of course, exercise some judgment in the performance. Should he fail to obey the exigit of the writ without a legal excuse, or should he in its letter violate the rights of others, he is liable to the action of the injured party.
In the particular case in which the creditor asks for a mandamus to the district judge to compel the marshal to seize and sell the property mentioned in the writ, that property is no longer in the possession of the debtor against whom the process is directed, but has been transferred by law to other persons, who are directed by the same law in what manner they are to dispose of it. To construe the law or to declare the extent of its obligation, the questions must be brought before this Court in proper form and in a case in which it can take jurisdiction. This case, so far as it is before any judicial tribunal, is depending in the district court of the United States, and perhaps in a state court in Louisiana. The Supreme Court of the United States has no original jurisdiction over it, and cannot exercise appellate jurisdiction previous to a final judgment or decree further than to order acts, purely ministerial, which the duty of the district court requires it to perform. This Court cannot, in such a condition of a case, construe judicially the laws which govern it, or decide in whom the property is vested. In so doing, it would intrude itself into the management of a case requiring all the discretion of the district judge, and usurp his powers.
Though the Supreme Court will not order an inferior tribunal to render judgment for or against either party, it will, in a proper case, order such court to proceed to judgment. Should it be possible that in a case ripe for judgment the court before whom it was depending could perseveringly refuse to terminate the cause, this Court, without indicating the character of the judgment, would be required by its duty to order the rendition of some judgment; but to justify this mandate, a plain case, of refusing to proceed in the inferior court ought to be made out.
The case is fully stated in the opinion of the Court.