United States v. Linn (42 U.S. 104)/Dissent McLean

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

42 U.S. 104

United States  v.  Linn

Mr. Justice McLEAN dissented.

The joint plea of non est facturm to the first count in the declaration being bad against Linn, is undoubtedly bad against the other defendants. But this point was not raised in the Circuit Court. It was not intended to be raised. On the contrary, the counsel agreed to submit the question under the plea, whether the annexation of the seals by Linn vitiated the bond as against the sureties. And the reason for this was stated in the following entry on the record: 'A judgment having been obtained against Linn for the full amount of his defalcation, a judgment on this bond was not asked against him or any of the defendants, unless the jury shall find against all the defendants.'

This agreement was treated by the counsel on both sides, in the Circuit Court, as waiving any technical question arising on the pleading. No one could doubt that the bond was good against Linn. And it is equally clear that, technically, the plea was bad for the other defendants, it being bad as to Linn. And it was to avoid any technicality of this kind that the agreement was entered into. It is less definite than it should have been, but still its object seems to be manifest. That a construction here would be given to the agreement different from that which was given to it by the United States attorney in the Circuit Court, was not expected. His construction is shown from the fact of his not having suggested any objection to the court below arising on the joint plea.

The plea of Joseph Duncan as to the alteration of the bond is held to be bad, because it is not averred that it was altered by the plaintiffs or by their authority. At the same time it is admitted that, on the general issue, the person claiming under the deed must explain any interlineation or alteration upon its face, so as to show the bond is not vitiated. The reason of this is clear. The party having possession of the bond is presumed to have a knowledge of any alteration of it, and is therefore required to explain it. Prima facie, any material alteration vitiates the bond.

Now the special plea in this case states a material alteration, by affixing the seals, after the instrument had been approved of by the district judge. The demurrer admits the facts stated in the plea. Does it not follow, then, that the plea is good, if the alteration alleged in it be a material one; such an one as vitiates the instrument unless explained? No rule in pleading is better settled than that a fact which is presumed to be known to the plaintiff, and is not presumed to be within the knowledge of the defendant, the defendant need not aver it in his plea, if he can without the averment set up a prima facie defence. Mr. Chitty says, 1 vol. of Plead. 255, 'It is also a general rule, that matter which should come more properly from the other side need not be stated. In other words, it is enough for each party to make out his own case or defence. He sufficiently substantiates the charge or answer for the purposes of pleading, if his pleading establish a prima facie charge or answer. He is not bound to anticipate, and therefore is not compelled to notice and remove in his declaration or plea every possible exception, answer, or objection which may exist, and with which the adversary may intend to oppose him.' Com. Dig. Pleader, c. 81; Plowd. 376; 2 Saund. 62 a, n. 4; 1 Term Rep. 638; 8 Term Rep. 167; Stephen's Pl. 1st ed. 354.

No one can doubt that the alteration averred in the above plea, appearing on the face of the instrument, would vitiate it, unless explained by the holder. And it follows then that the plea stating the fact, which the demurrer admits, must be answered and explained.

The defendant must know whether an instrument which he has executed has been altered in a material part. But he is not presumed to know by whom it has been altered, while it is in the possession of the party who claims under it. If the defendant must aver this, he must prove it; and this would be impossible. But, on the other hand, the person claiming under the instrument, and who has always been in possession of it, may well be presumed to know by whom it has been altered, and, therefore, he, and he only, can explain it. Any other rule would be most unreasonable and contrary to any proper system of pleading.

The rules lately adopted by the courts of England in regard to pleading seem 'not to have fallen under the notice of this court.' This is to be regretted, as those rules have been published in the late editions of Mr. Chitty on Pleading, and are known to the profession throughout the country.

It is true, as the court say, that intendments are taken against the plea; but intendments must not only be practicable, but reasonable. If a fact in the plea be omitted, which the defendant cannot be presumed to know, and which must be known to the plaintiff, no intendment against the plea can be drawn.

Mr. Stephens, in his Treatise on Pleading, 350, under the head that, 'it is not necessary to state matter which would come more properly from the other side,' says, 'this, which is the ordinary form of the rule, does not fully express its meaning. The meaning is, that it is not necessary to anticipate the answer of the adversary; which, according to Hale, C. J., 'is like leaping before one comes to the stile.' It is sufficient that each pleading should in itself contain a good prima facie case, without reference to possible objections not yet urged.' 'Thus in pleading a devise of land by force of the statute of wills, 32 Hen. 8, c. 1, it is sufficient to allege that such an one was seised of the land in fee, and devised it by his last will, in writing, without alleging that such devisor was of full age. For though the statute provides that wills made by femes covert, or persons within age, &c., shall not be taken to be effectual; yet if the devisor were within age, it is for the other party to show this in his answer, and it need not be denied by anticipation.'

'So where an action of debt was brought upon the statute 21 Hen. 6, against the bailiff of a town for not returning a burgess of that town for the last Parliament, (the words of the statute being that the sheriff shall send his precept to the mayor, and if there be no mayor, then to the bailiff,) the plaintiff declared that the sheriff had made his precept unto the bailiff, without averring that there was no mayor. And after verdict for the plaintiff, this was moved in arrest of judgment. But the court was of opinion clearly, that the declaration was good; for we shall not intend that there was a mayor, except it be showed; if there were one, it should come more properly on the other side.'

'Where the matter is such that its affirmation or denial is essential to the apparent or prima facie right of the party pleading, there it ought to be affirmed or denied.' Now the alteration of the instrument in a material part, after Duncan the defendant had signed it, without his consent or knowledge, did make a prima facie case. It made such a case, as, upon the general issue, would have required the plaintiffs to show by whom it was altered. And this shows that the plea is good. It is the same principle whether it arise on the general issue or by special plea. The same order of proof is required. The plaintiffs, therefore, instead of demurring, should have pleaded over, and alleged that the alteration was made by a stranger, and, consequently, that it did not vitiate the instrument.

The plea should have concluded with a verification, and not to the country. But this could only be taken advantage of by special demurrer. This defect is not one of the causes assigned in the demurrer, and, therefore, cannot be objected to.

The second and third counts of the declaration being bad, as ruled by the court, the judgment of the Circuit Court should, on those counts, have been affirmed, and not reversed. Mr. Stephens, in his Pleading, 144, says again, 'It is a rule, that on demurrer the court will consider the whole record, and give judgment for the party who, on the whole, appears to be entitled to it.' 'Thus on demurrer to the replication, if the court think the replication bad, but perceive a substantial fault in the plea, they will give judgment, not for the defendant, but for the plaintiff, provided the declaration be good; but if the declaration also be bad in substance, then, upon the same principle, judgment would be given for the defendant.' Piggot's case, 5 Rep. 29 a; Bates v. Cost, 2 Barn. & Cres. 474.

I believe this case is the first exception to the above rule. Notwithstanding the above defective counts, judgment is given generally against the defendant. It is hoped that this ruling will not establish a precedent in other cases.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the district of Illinois, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this court, that the judgment of the said Circuit Court in this cause be and the same is hereby reversed, and that this cause be and the same is hereby remanded to the said Circuit Court, with directions to proceed therein conformably to to the opinion of this 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).