Flanders v. Tweed (76 U.S. 425)

Flanders v. Tweed by Samuel Nelson
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

76 U.S. 425

Flanders  v.  Tweed

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the District of Louisiana; the case being this:

The 4th section of an act of Congress of March 3d, 1865, [1] thus enacts:

'Issues of fact in civil cases in any Circuit Court of the United States may be tried and determined by the court without the intervention of a jury, whenever the parties or attorneys of record file a stipulation in writing with the clerk of the court waiving a jury. The finding of the court upon the facts, which finding may be either general or special, shall have the same effect as the verdict of the jury. The rulings of the court in the cause, in the progress of the trial, when excepted to, at the time, may be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States, upon a writ of error, or upon appeal, provided the rulings be duly presented by a bill of exceptions. When the finding is special, the review may also extend to the determination of the sufficiency of the facts found to support the judgment.'

This statute being in force, Tweed brought suit, in the court below, against Flanders, to recover damages, some $40,000, for the seizure and detention of a quantity of cotton, in New Orleans. He had previously procured the possession of it by a writ of sequestration, according to the practice of the courts in that State. The petition charged that the defendant was a deputy general agent of the Treasury Department of the United States. The defendant pleaded admitting that he was a deputy general agent, as described in the petition, and denied all the other allegations of it. A large amount of evidence was taken in the case on both sides; the plaintiff insisting that he bought the cotton at private sale from the individual owners, and the defendant that it was, at the time, under seizure, and in his possession, as special agent of the Treasury Department, holding it for the use of the government. This evidence and the proceedings of the court occupied about a hundred pages of the record. The court gave judgment against the defendant for $36,976.33. The judgment was rendered 26th February, 1868. A statement of facts by the judge was found in the record, filed May 29th, 1868, nearly three months after the date when the judgment was rendered. This finding of the facts began by stating that 'the cause came on to be tried on the pleadings, by consent of the parties, by the judge presiding; and after hearing the evidence therein, and the argument of counsel, the court finds the following facts.' This statement of the facts by the judge was the only evidence relied on of the consent of the parties to waive a jury, except what might be presumed from the circumstance that both parties proceeded with the trial before the judge without objection in the court below.

The case being brought by Flanders, the defendant below, on error to this court,

Mr. Hoar, Attorney-General, and Mr. W. A. Field, Assistant Attorney-General, going into the record as if the case were in form properly before this court, argued in his behalf that the judgment of the court below should be reversed for want of jurisdiction of the cause in the Circuit Court, with directions that the suit be dismissed. But that if it should be deemed that there was no defect of jurisdiction, then that sufficient ground was presented in the erroneous rulings of the court (which as they conceived they had sufficiently shown) for reversing the judgment, and directing a new trial.

Messrs. Ashton and T. D. Lincoln (a brief of Messrs. Billings and Hughes being filed), contra, argued, that the statement of facts made three months after the proper time, and in a way plainly irregular, was a nullity, and could not be considered here; [2] that the 'statement' being thus disposed of, and there being no demurrer or other pleading on the part of the plaintiff in the record, nor any bill of exceptions, no question of law upon the pleadings, or upon the evidence on either side, was raised by the decision of the court below, and that none could be considered here. The whole subject had been fully settled at this term, in Norris v. Jackson. [3] The legal presumption in favor of the correctness of the judgment below would therefore prevail, and judgment would have to be affirmed if the petition of the plaintiff brought the case within the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court; a matter which the counsel then proceeded to argue that it did.

Mr. Justice NELSON delivered the opinion of the court.


  1. 13 Stat. at Large, 501.
  2. Generes v. Bonnemer, 7 Wallace, 564.
  3. Supra, 125.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).