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Opinion of the Court.
stated in the bill, which would have been open to him if he had demurred generally for want of equity.
But the proper office of a plea is not, like an answer, to meet all the allegations of the bill; nor like a demurrer, admitting those allegations, to deny the equity of the bill; but it is to present some distinct fact, which of itself creates a bar to the suit, or to the part to which the plea applies, and thus to avoid the necessity of making the discovery asked for, and the expense of going into the evidence at large. Mitford Pl. (4th ed.) 14, 219, 295; Story Eq. Pl. §§ 649, 652.
The plaintiff may either set down the plea for argument, or file a replication to it. If he sets down the plea for argument, he thereby admits the truth of all the facts stated in the plea, and merely denies their sufficiency in point of law to prevent his recovery. If, on the other hand, he replies to the plea, joining issue upon the facts averred in it, and so puts the defendant to the trouble and expense of proving his plea, he thereby, according to the English chancery practice, admits that if the particular facts stated in the plea are true, they are sufficient in law to bar his recovery; and if they are proved to be true, the bill must be dismissed, without reference to the equity arising from any other facts stated in the bill. Mitford Pl. 302, 303; Story Eq. Pl. § 697. That practice in this particular has been twice recognized by this court. Hughes v. Blake, 6 Wheat. 453, 472; Rhode Island v. Massachusetts, 14 Pet. 210, 257. But the case of Rhode Island v. Massachusetts arose within its original jurisdiction in equity, for outlines of the practice in which the court has always looked to the practice of the Court of Chancery in England. Rule 7 of 1791, 1 Cranch, xvii, and 1 How. xxiv; Rule 3 of 1858 and 1884, 21 How. v, and 108 U. S. 574. And the case of Iughes v. Blake, which began in the Circuit Court, was decided here in 1821, before this court, under the authority conferred upon it by Congress, had established the Rules of Practice in Equity in the Courts of the United States, one of which provides that "if upon an issue the facts stated in the plea be determined for the defendant, they shall avail him as far as in law and equity they ought to avail him." Rule 19 in Equity of 1822,
Opinion of the Court.
7 Wheat. xix; Rule 32 in Equity of 1842, 1 How. li. The effect of this rule of court when the issue of fact joined on a plea is determined in the defendant's favor need not, however, be considered in this case, because it is quite clear that at a hearing upon plea, replication and proofs, no fact is in issue between the parties but the truth of the matter pleaded.
In a case so heard, decided by this court in 1808, Chief Justice Marshall said: "In this case the merits of the claim cannot be examined. The only questions before this court are upon the sufficiency of the plea to bar the action, and the sufficiency of the testimony to support the plea as pleaded." Stead v. Course, 4 Cranch, 403, 413. In a case before the House of Lords a year afterwards, Lord Redesdale "observed, that a plea was a special answer to a bill, differing in this from an answer in the common form, as it demanded the judgment of the court, in the first instance, whether the special matter urged by it did not debar the plaintiff from his title to that answer which the bill required. If a plea were allowed, nothing remained in issue between the parties, so far as the plea extended, but the truth of the matter pleaded." "Upon a plea allowed, nothing is in issue between the parties but the matter pleaded, and the averments added to support the plea." "Upon argument of a plea, every fact stated in the bill, and not denied by answer in support of the plea, must be taken for true." Roche v. Morgell, 2 Sch. & Lef. 721, 725–727.
The distinction between a demurrer and a plea dates as far back as the time of Lord Bacon, by the 58th of whose Ordinances for the Administration of Justice in Chancery, "a demurrer is properly upon matter defective contained in the bill itself, and no foreign matter; but a plea is of foreign matter to discharge or stay the suit, as that the cause hath been formerly dismissed, or that the plaintiff is outlawed or excommunicated, or there is another bill depending for the same cause, or the like." Orders in Chancery (Beames's ed.) 26. Lord Redesdale, in his Treatise on Pleadings, says: "A plea must aver facts to which the plaintiff may reply, and not, in the nature of a demurrer, rest on facts in the bill." Mitford Pl. 297. And Mr. Jeremy, in a note to this passage, com
Opinion of the Court.
menting on the ordinance of Lord Bacon, observes, "The prominent distinction between a plea and a demurrer, here noticed, is strictly true, even of that description of plea which is termed negative, for it is the affirmative of the proposition which is stated in the bill;" in other words, a plea, which avers that a certain fact is not as the bill affirms it to be, sets up matter not contained in the bill. That an objection to the equity of the plaintiff's claim, as stated in the bill, must be taken by demurrer and not by plea is so well established, that it has been constantly assumed and therefore seldom stated in judicial opinions; yet there are instances in which it has been explicitly recognized by other courts of chancery, as well as by this court. Billing v. Flight, 1 Madd. 230; Steff v. Andrews, 2 Madd. 6; Varick v. Dodge, 9 Paige, 149; Phelps v. Garrow, 3 Edw. Ch. 139; Rhode Island v. Massachusetts, 14 Pet. 210, 258, 262; National Bank v. Insurance Co., 104 U. S. 54, 76.
It only remains to apply these elementary principles of equity pleading to the case before us.
The averments in the first part of the plea, restating in detail some of the facts alleged in the bill, were admitted by stipulation of counsel in writing to be true, and no controversy arose upon them.
The substance of the averments in the second part of the plea was that neither Kennedy, nor the bondholders whose agent and representative he was, had any notice or knowledge that the plaintiff had or claimed to have any interest in the project set forth in the bill, until after the sales of the railroads under decrees of foreclosure. The matter of fact thus averred was put in issue by the replication. The testimony of the plaintiff, (in connection with Kennedy's letter to him,) which was uncontradicted, and was the only evidence upon the matter pleaded, shows that Kennedy, before the completion of the sale and purchase of the bonds, knew that the plaintiff was to have an interest in the project, although he may not have known the extent of that interest, or that it had been already acquired. The want of any notice to Kennedy and the bondholders, averred in the plea, was thus disproved.
Opinion of the Court.
The plea, indeed, is supported by the affidavit of one of the defendants that it is true in point of fact. But the oath of the party to its truth in point of fact is added only for the same purpose as the certificate of counsel that in their opinion it is well founded in matter of law, in order to comply with the 31st Rule in Equity, the object of which is to prevent a defendant from delaying or evading the discovery sought, without showing that the plea is worthy of the consideration of the court. Ewing v. Bright, 3 Wall. Jr. 134; Wall v. Stubbs, 2 Ves. & B. 354. An answer under oath is evidence in favor of the defendant, because made in obedience to the demand of the bill for a discovery, and therefore only so far as it is responsive to the bill. Seitz v. Mitchell, 94 U. S. 580. But a plea, which avoids the discovery prayed for, is no evidence in the defendant's favor, even when it is under oath and negatives a material averment in the bill. Heartt v. Corning, 3 Paige, 566.
The allegations of the bill, that the plaintiff at all times, to the best of his knowledge and ability, gave full and true answers to all inquiries made by Kennedy or any of the trustees or bondholders, or any person interested in the property under his charge as receiver and as manager, and in all things acted honestly and in good faith towards all persons interested in it, were not denied by the plea, and therefore, for the purposes of the hearing thereon, were conclusively admitted to be true. So much of the plaintiff's testimony, as tended to show that he intentionally concealed his interest from the stockholders and from the court, was outside of the averments of the plea, and therefore irrelevant to the issue to be tried.
The plaintiff having neither moved to set aside the plea as irregular for want of an answer supporting it, nor set down the case for hearing upon the bill and plea only, but having replied to the plea, and the only issue of fact thus joined having been determined by the evidence in his favor, it is unnecessary to consider whether the averments of fact in the second part of the plea ought to have been supported by an answer, or whether, if proved, they would have made out a defence to the bill.
The averments in the third part of the plea, that, by reason
Opinion of the Court.
of the plaintiff's position as receiver and general manager of the railroads, his entering into the agreement sued on, and engaging in the enterprise of purchasing the bonds and thereby acquiring the railroads, were unlawful, and did not entitle him to the aid of a court of equity to enforce the agreement or any rights growing out of it, were averments of pure matter of law, arising upon the plaintiff's case as stated in the bill, and affecting the equity of the bill, and therefore a proper subject of demurrer, and not to be availed of by plea.
The result is, that the principal question considered by the court below and argued at the bar is not presented in a form to be decided upon the record before us; and that, for the reasons above stated, and as suggested in behalf of the plaintiff at the reargument, the plea was erroneously sustained, and must be overruled, and the defendants ordered, in accordance with the 34th Rule in Equity, to answer the bill.
Decree reversed, and case remanded, with directions to overrule the plea, and to order the defendants to answer the bill.
PENSACOLA ICE COMPANY v. PERRY.
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA.
Submitted December 20, 1886. Decided February 7, 1887.
It appearing by the record in this court that the verdict at the trial of an action of ejectment in the Circuit Court of the United States sitting in Florida did not state the quantity of the estate or describe the land, the judgment was reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial.
THE case is stated in the opinion of the court.
Mr. William A. Blount for plaintiff in error.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE delivered the opinion of the court.