In a suit in the circuit court where the defendant pleaded
neither a setoff nor a counterclaim, the plaintiff remitted so much
of a verdict in his favor as was in excess of $5,000 and took
judgment for the remainder "in coin." The defendant sued out a writ
of error. Held
that the amount in controversy, whether
payable in coin or any other kind of money, is not sufficient to
give this court jurisdiction.
The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.
Page 95 U. S. 695
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
This was an action by Butler against Thompson to recover damages
for not accepting a quantity of iron under an alleged contract of
purchase. Upon the trial, the jury rendered a verdict against
Thompson of $5,066.17 "in gold;" but, before judgment, Butler
remitted $66.17, and judgment was entered Nov. 13, 1876, for $5,000
"in coin." Thompson having brought the case here by writ of error,
Butler moves to dismiss because the "matter in dispute" does "not
exceed the sum or value of $5,000."
As the writ of error was sued out by the defendant below, the
amount in controversy was fixed by the judgment. Gordon v.
3 Pet. 33; Knapp v.
2 How. 73; Walker v.
4 Wall. 163; Merrill v.
16 Wall. 338. No question is presented
growing out of a setoff or counterclaim, as was the case in
1 Wall. 66.
Our jurisdiction cannot be invoked until the final judgment
below has been rendered, and we cannot open the record to look for
errors until jurisdiction has been established. The court below
retains full control of a cause until final judgment has been
entered, and it follows that if for any reason a judgment is given
against a defendant in a case involving the plaintiff's cause of
action alone, unaffected by counterclaim or setoff, for a sum less
than our jurisdictional amount, we have no power, at the instance
of the defendant, to correct errors that may have been committed in
settling the amount. We can only look at a verdict through the
record, and if the record is closed to us, so necessarily must be
the verdict. In this case, therefore, we are precluded from inquiry
into the propriety of allowing the verdict to be reduced before
judgment was entered upon it. Necessarily, verdicts are to some
extent subject to the control of the court. It is not unusual for a
court to announce that a new trial will be granted unless a part of
a verdict shall be remitted, and to enter judgment upon the reduced
amount if the suggestion is followed. All such matters may properly
be left to the sound judicial discretion of the court in which the
trial is had, and errors committed under this power can only be
corrected by an appellate court in the same manner that
Page 95 U. S. 696
other errors are. Undoubtedly the trial court may refuse to
permit a verdict to be reduced by a plaintiff upon his own motion,
and if the object of the reduction is to deprive an appellate court
of jurisdiction in a meritorious case, it is to be presumed the
trial court will not allow it to be done. If, however, the
reduction is permitted, the errors in the record will be shut out
from our reexamination in cases where our jurisdiction depends upon
the amount in controversy. In Sampson v.
24 How. 207, we refused to take jurisdiction
upon an appeal in admiralty where a decree had been rendered
against a respondent for more than $2,000, with leave to him, if he
chose, to set off an amount due him for freight, and he afterwards,
by the setoff, reduced the decree below our jurisdictional amount,
notwithstanding, in signifying his election to make the setoff, he
expressly stated in a writing, which appeared in the record, that
he did not thereby waive his right of appeal.
If the remittitur had not been entered until after the judgment,
the case would have been different, and if the reduction was made
without the assent of the defendant, more like Kanouse v.
15 Wall. 198, where a declaration was
amended in a state court so as to reduce the damages claimed below
the jurisdictional amount, after the necessary steps had been taken
for the transfer of the cause to the circuit court, and in which we
held that the jurisdiction of the circuit court could not be
defeated in that way.
We have no jurisdiction if the sum or value of the matter in
dispute does not exceed $5,000. One owing a debt may pay it in good
coin or legal tender notes of the United States, as he chooses,
unless there is something to the contrary in the obligation out of
which the debt arises. A coin dollar is worth no more for the
purposes of tender in payment of an ordinary debt than a note
dollar. The law has not made the note a standard of value any more
than coin. It is true that in the market, as an article of
merchandise, one is of greater value than the other, but as money
-- that is to say, as a medium of exchange -- the law knows no
difference between them. We are aware that in Bronson v.
7 Wall. 229, it was said that a contract to
pay in gold or silver coins "is, in legal import, nothing else than
an agreement to deliver a certain weight of standard
Page 95 U. S. 697
gold, to be ascertained by a count of coins," and that "it is
not distinguishable, . . . in principle, from a contract to deliver
an equal weight of bullion of equal fineness," but notwithstanding
this, it is a contract to pay money, and nonetheless so because it
designates for payment one of the two kinds of money which the law
has made a legal tender in discharge of money obligations.
This judgment is for coined money, which at the time it was
rendered and now is worth more in the market as merchandise than
paper money; but our jurisdiction is to be determined by the amount
of money to be paid and not the kind. If, instead of paper dollars
and gold dollars legalized as money, the law had provided for
silver dollars and gold dollars, and this judgment had been for
payment in gold, we think it would hardly be contended that this
Court could take jurisdiction because when the judgment was
rendered, gold happened to be worth more in the market as
merchandise than silver; but in principle that case would not be
different from this. Notwithstanding, therefore, the judgment is
for coined money, we are satisfied that we have no
Writ of error dismissed.