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United States Supreme Court

63 U.S. 23

Lawler  v.  Claflin

THIS was an appeal from the Supreme Court of the Territory of Minnesota.

The action was commeneed in the District Court, second district, county of Ramsey, by Claflin and the other defendants in error, against Lawler and thirty-two other persons, who were claimants under Lawler.

The statutes of Minnesota abolished the distinction between the forms of action at law, and declared that there should be in the Territory but one form of action at law, to be called a civil action, for the enforcement and protection of private rights and the redress of private wrongs, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute. The only pleadings allowed on the part of the plaintiff were: 1, the complaint; 2, the reply or demurrer; and on the part of the defendant, the demurrer and answer. All equity and chancery jurisdiction, authorized by the original act of the Territory, shall be exercised, and all suits or proceedings to be instituted for that purpose are to be commenced, prosecuted, and conducted to a final decision and judgment, by the like process, pleadings, trial, and proceedings, as in civil actions, and shall be called civil actions.

Under this mode of practice, Claflin and the other defendants in error, who were merchants of the city of New York, filed a complaint against Lawler, as mortgagor, to foreclose a mortgage given by him to them, upon property in St. Paul. The complaint claimed that the premises might be sold according to law.

It is not necessary to follow the proceedings under this new mode of practice. Suffice it to say that Lawler answered, and the plaintiffs replied. A jury trial was waived in open court by the attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants, and the cause was tried before the judge. The defendants then moved to dismiss the action for certain reasons, but the motion was overruled. They then offered depositions which were objected to, but allowed to be read for certain purposes; after which, the plaintiffs offered some depositions which were objected to, but allowed to be read. Other evidence was offered by the plaintiffs, which was objected to, but received; upon which state of the case, the judge decreed that Lawler executed the note and mortgage, and was indebted to the plaintiffs in the amount claimed.

No bill of exception was taken during the progress of the trial, but the whole case went up to the Supreme Court of the Territory. That court made the following remarks in the course of its opinion:

'A jury trial was waived, and the cause was tried by the court.

'The court rendered a judgment of foreclosure in favor of the plaintiffs, and made the usual order directing a sale of the mortgaged premises.

'From the judgment, an appeal has been taken to this court.

'The paper books furnished to the court contain not only the judgment roll, including properly the decision of the court below, but also the evidence in the case. The cause has been argued as though the evidence was properly before this court; but this is a mistake.

'In this case, it is true that the evidence consisted wholly, or nearly so, of depositions; but there is no more propriety in sending up written than oral testimony, and we have no right to look beyond the record in the case.

'The record consists of the pleadings, the decision of the judge, and the judgment. The question, then, is, does the record show any error of law?

'No error has been assigned, and none appears in the record, unless it appears in the decision of the court below.

'The decision is something more than a general verdict. Perhaps any error disclosed by the decision, although such decision may contain more matter than is required by the statute, may be noticed. The true course, I apprehend, however, is for the party to take his exceptions to every ruling, in the same manner as in a jury trial, unless such ruling will form a legitimate part of the decision, or the error, if any exist, will appear in the pleadings.'

It was stated in the outset of this report that the case was brought up to this court by appeal, and not by writ of error.

It was argued by Mr. Stevens, upon a brief filed by himself, and Mr. Brisbane, for the appellant, and by Mr. Gillet for the appellees.

The counsel for the appellant founded his argument upon the theory that the whole case was before this court, evidence and all; whilst Mr. Gillet contended that the decision of the court, where a jury trial was waived, was conclusive as to all questions of fact, and that the absence of a bill of exceptions precluded all inquiry into questions of law, where the case should have been brought up by writ of error, and not by appeal.

Mr. Justice McLEAN delivered the opinion of the court.


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).