Bennett v. Butterworth
Annotate this Case
52 U.S. 669 (1850)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Bennett v. Butterworth, 52 U.S. 11 How. 669 669 (1850)
Bennett v. Butterworth
52 U.S. (11 How.) 669
In Texas, the common law has been adopted, but the forms and rules of pleading in common law cases have not, and although the forms of proceedings and practice in the state courts have been adopted in the district court of the United States, yet such adoption must not be understood as confounding the principles of law and equity, nor as authorizing legal and equitable claims to be blended together in one suit.
The Constitution of the United States has recognized the distinction between law and equity, and it must be observed in the federal courts, although there is no distinction between them by the laws of Texas.
Where a petition was filed claiming certain negroes, to whom the defendant set up a title as being his own property, and the jury brought in a verdict awarding a sum of money to the plaintiff, which was released, and then the court gave judgment that the plaintiff should recover the negroes, these proceedings were irregular, and the judgment must be reversed.
They cannot be assimilated to proceedings in chancery or treated as such by this Court. There is nothing like a bill or answer, as prescribed by the rules of this Court, nor any statement of the evidence upon which the judgment could be revised. The case must therefore be considered as a case at law, the rules of which require that the verdict must find the matter in issue between the parties, and the judgment must follow the verdict.
Here neither was the case, and the errors being patent upon the records, the judgment is open to revision in this Court without any motion in arrest of judgment being made or exception taken in the court below.
In 1848, Butterworth filed the following petition against Bennett:
"To the Honorable J. C. Watrous, Judge of the District Court of the United States for the District of the State of Texas, and which court has also circuit court powers."
"The petition of Samuel F. Butterworth, who is a citizen of the State of New York, against John H. Bennett, who is a citizen of the State of Texas, would respectfully represent unto
your honor that heretofore, viz., on the ___ day of March, 1846, at _____ to-wit, in the district aforesaid, he, your petitioner, was lawfully seized and possessed of four negroes, slaves for life, whose names and descriptions are as follows, viz., Billy, a negro man, of a dark complexion, aged about twelve years, of the value of five hundred dollars; Lindsey, a negro man, of a dark complexion, aged twenty-two years, and of the value of one thousand dollars; Betsy, a mulatto woman, of a light complexion, aged about thirty years, and of the value of eight hundred dollars; and Alexander, a boy of a very light complexion, aged about four years, and of four hundred dollars value, of his own property. And being so possessed, your petitioner, afterwards, to-wit, on the day and year aforesaid, in the district aforesaid, casually lost the same out of his possession, and the same, afterwards, to-wit, on the day and year aforesaid in the district aforesaid, came to the possession of the defendant by finding. And your petitioner charges that the said defendant, well knowing the said negro slaves to be the property of your petitioner, and of right to belong and appertain to him, hath not as yet delivered the above-described negroes, or any or either of them, although often requested so to do, to your petitioner, but hath hitherto wholly refused so to do, and hath detained, and still doth detain, the same from your petitioner, who says he has received damages, by reason of the detention of the slaves aforesaid, of five thousand dollars."
"In consideration of the premises, your petitioner prays your honor to grant him a summons directed to the marshal of this district and commanding him to summon the said defendant to be and appear at the next term of this court, to be held for this district, at the City of Galveston on the first Monday in February next, then and there to answer the allegations contained in this petition, and that, upon the trial of the cause, your petitioner may have a judgment in specie for the said negroes, together with damages for the detention of the same, and also the costs of suit and such other and further relief grant in the premises as shall be in accordance with right and justice, and, as in duty bound, he will ever pray &c."
"SAMUEL YERGER, Attorney for Petitioner"
To this petition the defendant demurred, pleaded not guilty, and filed two special pleas. The demurrer was afterwards overruled and the two special pleas stricken out.
In June, 1849, the defendant filed an amended answer, consisting of two special pleas. The second was demurred to by the plaintiff, and the demurrer sustained, so that there remained only the first plea, to which the plaintiff also demurred, but
his demurrer was overruled, and he then replied. The case then went to trial upon this plea and general replication. These pleadings have been stated thus particularly in order to ascertain what was the issue upon which the parties went to trial.
The plea of the defendant set up a title to the slaves in himself, averring that a dispute had existed between Butterworth and one John D. Amis and one Junius Amis, which had been left to arbitration; that the referees had decided, amongst other things, that Butterworth should transfer certain negroes to Amis; that Butterworth delivered the negroes, which were those in question; that Amis sold the negroes to him, Bennett; and the plea concluded in this way:
"Wherefore the said John H. Bennett says the said four negroes are his property, and not the property of the said Butterworth, and of this he puts himself upon the country."
To this plea Butterworth replied, that all the parties to the submission and decision in the plea set out did not assent and agree to the same, and that Butterworth did not sell, convey, and deliver the negroes in the petition mentioned in compliance with the terms, or any of the terms, of the said decision.
Upon these allegations, a jury was sworn, who found the following verdict:
"We, the jury, find for the plaintiff twelve hundred dollars, the value of the four negro slaves in suit, with six and a quarter cents damages."
"C. C. HERBERT, Foreman"
"And thereupon the plaintiff, by his attorney, in open court, released the said judgment for twelve hundred dollars as aforesaid. It is therefore considered by the court that the plaintiff recover of the defendant the negro man Lindsey, the negro woman Betsy and her child, and the negro boy Billy, the negro slaves in the petition of plaintiff mentioned, and also six and a fourth cents, the damages by the jurors aforesaid assessed, and also his costs about his suit in this behalf expended."
"And thereafter, to-wit, on 25 August, 1849, the following order was made in said suit, to-wit:"
"SAMUEL F. BUTTERWORTH v. J. H. BENNETT"
"On this day came on for hearing, by consent of parties, the motion filed by defendant's counsel to set aside the verdict for reasons therein set forth; after argument heard, the court being sufficiently advised, it is ordered that the motion be overruled."
"And afterwards, to-wit, on the 25th day of August, 1849, the following order was made, to-wit: "
"SAMUEL F. BUTTERWORTH v. J. H. BENNETT"
"The counsel of defendant in this cause tendered his bill of exception to the opinion of the Court herein, which was signed by the judge and ordered to be filed of record, which bill of exceptions is in the words following, to-wit:"
"United States district court, district of Texas, Spring Term 1849"
"SAMUEL F. BUTTERWORTH v. JOHN H. BENNETT"
"Be it remembered, that on this day, 25 August, 1849, the following judgment was rendered in the above-named cause, to-wit:"
"On this day came the parties, by their attorneys, and thereupon the demurrer of defendant to plaintiff's petition came on, and was argued, and because it seems to the court that the law is for the plaintiff, it is considered by the court that the demurrer be overruled. And the plaintiff's demurrer to defendant's first and second plea in this amended answer at the present term also came on, and was argued; and because it seems to the court that on the said first plea the law is for the defendant, it is considered by the court that the demurrer to the said first plea be overruled, and the plaintiff thereupon replied to said first plea. And because the law on said second plea is for the plaintiff, it is considered that said demurrer to said plea be sustained."
"And upon motion of plaintiff, by his attorney, it is ordered that the second and third pleas filed in defendant's answer at a former term be stricken out."
"And thereupon came a jury of good and lawful men, to-wit, William Alexander, Daniel Marston, Alexander Moore John Church, William B. Gayle, Elisha B. Cogswell, C. C. Herbert, James G. Sheppard, Ephraim McLean A. C. Crawford, William G. Davis, and William M. Sergeant, who, being elected, tried, and sworn well and truly to try the issue joined, after some time returned into court the following verdict, to-wit:"
" We, the jury, find for the plaintiff twelve hundred dollars, the value of the four negro slaves in suit, with six and a quarter cents damages. C.C. Herbert, foreman."
"And thereupon the plaintiff, by his attorney, in open court, released the said judgment for twelve hundred dollars, as aforesaid. It is therefore considered by the court that the plaintiff recover of the defendant the negro man Lindsey, the negro woman Betsy and her child, and the negro boy Billy, the negro slaves in the petition of plaintiff mentioned, and also six and a fourth cents, the damages by the jurors aforesaid assessed, and also his costs about his suit in this behalf expended. "
"To the entry of said judgment the defendant objects on the ground that the same is not in accordance with the verdict of the jury, but the objection was by the court overruled. The said verdict is in words and figures as follows: 'We, the jury, find for the plaintiff twelve hundred dollars, the value of the four negro slaves in the suit, with six and a quarter cents damages.' And the motion of the defendant to set aside said verdict, and for a new trial, having been heard, was by the court overruled. To which opinion of the court, as well in causing said judgment to be sustained as in refusing to set aside said verdict, the defendant excepts and tenders this his bill of exceptions, which is signed, sealed, and made a part of the record."
"JOHN C. WATROUS"
Upon this exception, the case came up to this Court.