Dow v. Johnson/Opinion of the Court
|Dow v. Johnson by
Opinion of the Court
The defendant in the court below, the plaintiff in error here, Neal Dow, was a brigadier-general in the army of the United States during the late civil war, and in 1862 and 1863 was stationed in Louisiana is command of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, on the Mississippi River, below New Orleans. These forts surrendered to the forces of the United States in April, 1862. The fleet under Admiral Farragut had passed them and reached New Orleans on the 25th of the month, and soon afterwards the city was occupied by the forces of the United States under General Butler. On taking possession of the city, the General issued a proclamation, bearing date on the 1st of May, 1862, in which, among other things, he declared that until the restoration of the authority of the United States the city would be governed by martial law; that all disorders, disturbances of the peace, and crimes of an aggravated nature, interfering with the forces or laws of the United States, would 'be referred to a military court for trial and punishment;' that other misdemeanors would be subject to the municipal authority, if it desired to act; and that civil causes between parties would 'be referred to the ordinary tribunals.' Under this proclamation, the Sixth District Court of the City and Parish of New Orleans was allowed to continue in existence, the judge having taken the oath of allegiance to the United States.
In January, 1863, General Dow was sued in that court by Bradish Johnson, the plaintiff in this case. The petition, which is the designation given in the system of procedure in Louisiana to the first pleading in a civil action, set forth that the plaintiff was a citizen of New York, and for several years had been the owner of a plantation and slaves in Louisiana, on the Mississippi River, about forty-three miles from New Orleans; that on the 6th of September, 1862, during his temporary absence, the steamer 'Avery,' in charge of Captain Snell, of Company B of the Thirteenth Maine Regiment, with a force under his command, had stopped at the plantation, and taken from it twenty-five hogsheads of sugar; and that said force had plundered the dwelling-house of the plantation and carried off a silver pitcher, half a dozen silver knives, and other table were, the private property of the plaintiff, the whole property taken amounting in value to $1,611.29; that these acts of Captain Snell and of the officers and soldiers under his command, which the petition characterized as 'illegal, wanton, oppressive, and unjustifiable,' were perpetrated under a verbal and secret order of Brigadier-General Neal Dow, then in the service of the United States, and in command of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, who, by his secret orders, which the petition declared were 'unauthorized by his superiors, or by any provision of martial law, or by any requirements of necessity growing out of a state of war,' wantonly abused his power, and inflicted upon the plaintiff the wrongs of which he complained; and therefore he prayed judgment against the General for the value of the property.
To this suit General Dow, though personally served with citation, made no appearance. He may have thought that during the existence of the war, in a district where insurrection had recently been suppressed, and was only kept from breaking out again by the presence of the armed forces of the United States, he was not called upon by any rule of law to answer to a civil tribunal for his military orders, and satisfy it that they were authorized by his superiors, or by the necessities growing out of a state of war. He may have supposed that for his military conduct he was responsible only to his military superiors and the government whose officer he was.
Be that as it may, or whatever other reason he may have had, he made no response to the petition; he was therefore defaulted. The Sixth District Court of the Parish of New Orleans did not seem to consider that it was at all inconsistent with his duty as an officer in the army of the United States to leave his post at the forts, which guarded the passage of the Mississippi, nearly a hundred miles distant, and attend upon its summons to justify his military orders, or seek counsel and procure evidence for his defence. Nor does it appear to have occurred to the court that, if its jurisdiction over him was recognized, there might spring up such a multitude of suits as to keep the officers of the army stationed in its district so busy that they would have little time to look after the enemy and guard against his attacks. The default of the General being entered, testimony was received showing that the articles mentioned were seized by a military detachment sent by him and removed from the plantation, and that their value amounted to $1,454.81. Judgment was thereupon entered in favor of the plaintiff for that sum, with interest and costs. It bears date April 9, 1863.
Upon this judgment the present action was brought in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maine. The declaration states the recovery of the judgment mentioned, and makes profert of an authenticated copy. To it the defendant pleaded the general issue, nul tiel record, and three special pleas. The object of the special pleas is to show that the District Court had no jurisdiction to render the judgment in question, for the reason that at the time its district was a part of the country in insurrection against the government of the United States, and making war against it, and was only held in subjection by its armed forces. It is not important to state at length the averments of each of these pleas. It will be sufficient to state the material parts of the second plea and a single averment of the third. The second plea, in substance, sets up that as early as February, 1861, the State of Louisiana adopted an ordinance of secession, by which she attempted to withdraw from the Union and established an independent government; that from that time until after April 9, 1863, the date of the judgment in question, she was in rebellion against the government of the United States, making war against its authority; that in consequence the military forces of the United States engaged in suppressing the rebellion took forcible possession of that portion of the State comprising the district of the Sixth District Court of New Orleans, and held military occupation of it until long after April 9, 1863, during which time martial law was established there and enforced; that the defendant was then a brigadier-general in the military service of the United States, duly commissioned by the President, and acting in that State under his orders and the articles of war; that by the general order of the President of July 22, 1862, military commanders within the States of Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas were directed, in an orderly manner, to seize and use any property, real or personal, which might be necessary or convenient for their several commands as supplies, or for other military purposes; that the defendant, in the performance of his duty as a brigadier-general, was in command of troops of the United States in Louisiana; and that the troops by his order seized from the plaintiff, then a citizen of that State, certain chattels necessary and convenient for supplies for the army of the United States, and other military purposes; and that for that seizure the action was brought in the Sixth District Court of New Orleans against him, in which the judgment in question was rendered; but that the District Court had no jurisdiction of the action or over the defendant at its commencement, or at the rendition of the judgment.
The third plea also avers that, for the purpose of suppressing the rebellion and restoring the national authority, the government of the United States, through its proper officers, declared and maintained martial law in Louisiana, from May 1, 1862, until long after the 9th of April, 1863, and deprived all the courts in that State, including the Sixth District Court of New Orleans, of all jurisdiction, except such as should be conferred on them by authority of the officer commanding the forces of the United States in that State, and that no jurisdiction over persons in the military service of the United States, for acts performed in the line of their duty, was by such authority conferred upon that court.
To the first plea, that of nul tiel record, the plaintiff replied that there was such a record, of which he prayed inspection; and the record being produced, the court found in his favor. To the special pleas the plaintiff replied that the District Court had lawful jurisdiction over parties and causes of action within its district at the time and place mentioned, and to render the judgment in question. To the replication the defendant demurred; and upon the demurrer two questions arose, upon which the judges in the Circuit Court were opposed in opinion, namely; 1st, whether the replication is a good and sufficient reply to the special pleas; and, 2d, whether the Sixth District Court, at the time and place mentioned, had jurisdiction of the parties and cause of action, to render the judgment in question.
By statute, when the judges of the Circuit Court are opposed in opinion upon any question arising on the trial of a cause, the opinion of the presiding justice prevails, and judgment is entered in conformity with it. Here the presiding justice was of opinion that the replication was a sufficient reply to the special pleas, and that the District Court had jurisdiction over the parties and the cause, and to render the judgment in question. Accordingly, the plaintiff had final judgment upon the demurrer, which was entered for $2,659.67 and costs; and the defendant has brought the cause here by writ of error on a certificate of division of opinion.
The important question thus presented for our determination is, whether an officer of the army of the United States is liable to a civil action in the local tribunals for injuries resulting from acts ordered by him in his military character, whilst in the service of the United States, in the enemy's country, upon an allegation of the injured party that the acts were not justified by the necessities of war.
But before proceeding to its consideration there is a preliminary question of jurisdiction to be disposed of. The act of Feb. 16, 1875, 'to facilitate the disposition of cases in the Supreme Court of the United States, and for other purposes,' provided, that whenever by the laws then in force it was required that the matter in dispute should exceed the sum or value of $2,000, exclusive of costs, in order that the judgments and decrees of the circuit courts of the United States might be re-examined in the Supreme Court, such judgments and decrees thereafter rendered should not be re-examined in the Supreme Court, unless the matter in dispute should exceed the sum or value of $5,000, exclusive of costs. 18 Stat. 315. It is therefore contended that a judgment cannot be reviewed by this court, upon a certificate of division of opinion between the judges of the Circuit Court, if the judgment be under $5,000; and the judgment in the present case is under that amount. We do not think, however, that this conclusion is warranted by the language of the act in question. That act makes no change in the previous laws, except as to amounts necessary to give the court jurisdiction, when the amount is material. Where before $2,000 was the sum required for that purpose, afterwards $5,000 was the sum. But before that act questions arising in the progress of a trial could be brought to this court for determination upon a certificate of division of opinion, without reference to the amount in controversy in the case. The original act of 1802, allowing this mode of procedure, was always held to extend our appellate jurisdiction to material questions of law arising in all cases, criminal as well as civil, without regard to the amount in controversy or the condition of the litigation. Its defect consisted in the delays it created by frequently suspending proceedings in the midst of a trial. To obviate this defect the first section of the act of June, 1872, was passed, requiring the case to proceed notwithstanding the division, the opinion of the presiding justice to prevail for the time being; and this feature is retained in the Revised Statutes. Sects. 650, 652, 693. The benefit of the certificate can now be had after judgment upon a writ of error or appeal. That is the only material change from the original law. We have no doubt, therefore, of our jurisdiction in this case.
This brings us to the consideration of the main question involved, which we do not regard as at all difficult of solution, when reference is had to the character of the late war. That war, though not between independent nations, but between different portions of the same nation, was accompanied by the general incidents of an international war. It was waged between people occupying different territories, separated from each other by well-defined lines. It attained proportions seldom reached in the wars of modern nations. Armies of greater magnitude and more formidable in their equipments than any known in the present century were put into the field by the contending parties. The insurgent States united in an organization known as the Confederate States, by which they acted through a central authority guiding their military movements; and to them belligerent rights were accorded by the Federal government. This was shown in the treatment of captives as prisoners of war, the exchange of prisoners, the release of officers on parole, and in numerous arrangements to mitigate as far as possible the inevitable suffering and miseries attending the conflict. The people of the loyal States on the one hand, and the people of the Confederate States on the other, thus became enemies to each other, and were liable to be dealt with as such without reference to their individual opinions or dispositions. Commercial intercourse and correspondence between them were prohibited, as well by express enactments of Congress as by the accepted doctrines of public law. The enforcement of contracts previously made between them was suspended, partnerships were dissolved, and the courts of each belligerent were closed to the citizens of the other, and its territory was to the other enemy's country. When, therefore, our armies marched into the country which acknowledged the authority of the Confederate government, that is, into the enemy's country, their officers and soldiers were not subject to its laws, nor amenable to its tribunals for their acts. They were subject only to their own government, and only by its laws, administered by its authority, could they be called to account. As was observed in the recent case of Coleman v. Tennessee, it is well settled that a foreign army, permitted to march through a friendly country, or to be stationed in it by authority of its sovereign or government, is exempt from its civil and criminal jurisdiction. The law was so stated in the celebrated case of The Exchange, reported in the 7th of Cranch. Much more must this exemption prevail where a hostile army invades an enemy's country. There would be something singularly absured in permitting an officer or soldier of an invading army to be tried by his enemy, whose country it had invaded. The same reasons for his exemption from criminal prosecution apply to civil proceedings. There would be as much incongruity, and as little likelihood of freedom from the irritations of the war, in civil as in criminal proceedings prosecuted during its continuance. In both instances, from the very nature of war, the tribunals of the enemy must be without jurisdiction to sit in judgment upon the military conduct of the officers and soldiers of the invading army. It is difficult to reason upon a proposition so manifest; its correctness is evident upon its bare announcement, and no additional force can be given to it by any amount of statement as to the proper conduct of war. It is manifest that if officers or soldiers of the army could be required to leave their posts and troops, upon the summons of every local tribunal, on pain of a judgment by default against them, which at the termination of hostilities could be enforced by suit in their own States, the efficiency of the army as a hostile force would be utterly destroyed. Nor can it make any difference with what denunciatory epithets the complaining party may characterize their conduct. If such epithets could confer jurisdiction, they would always be supplied in every variety of form. An inhabitant of a bombarded city would have little hesitation in declaring the bombardment unnecessary and cruel. Would it be pretended that he could call the commanding general, who ordered it, before a local tribunal to show its necessity or be mulcted in damages? The owner of supplies seized or property destroyed would have no difficulty, as human nature is constituted, in believing and affirming that the seizure and destruction were wanton and needless. All this is too plain for discussion, and will be readily admitted.
Nor is the position of the invading belligerent affected, or his relation to the local tribunals changed, by his temporary occupation and domination of any portion of the enemy's country. As a necessary consequence of such occupation and domination, the political relations of its people to their former government are, for the time, severed. But for their protection and benefit, and the protection and benefit of others not in the military service, or, in other words, in order that the ordinary pursuits and business of society may not be unnecessarily deranged, the municipal laws-that is, such as affect private rights of persons and property, and provide for the punishment of crime-are generally allowed to continue in force, and to be administered by the ordinary tribunals as they were administered before the occupation. They are considered as continuing, unless suspended or superseded by the occupying belligerent. But their continued enforcement is not for the protection or control of the army, or its officers or soldiers. These remain subject to the laws of war, and are responsible for their conduct only to their own government, and the tribunals by which those laws are administered. If guilty of wanton cruelty to persons, or of unnecessary spoliation of property, or of other acts not authorized by the laws of war, they may be tried and punished by the military tribunals. They are amenable to no other tribunal, except that of public opinion, which, it is to be hoped, will always brand with infamy all who authorize or sanction acts of cruelty and oppression.
If, now, we apply the views thus expressed to the case at bar, there will be no difficulty in disposing of it. The condition of New Orleans and of the district connected with it, at the time of the seizure of the property of the plaintiff and the entry of the judgment against Dow, was not that of a country restored to its nominal relations to the Union, by the fact that they had been captured by our forces, and were held in subjection. A feeling of intense hostility against the government of the Union prevailed, as before, with the people, which was ready to break out into insurrection upon the appearance of the enemy in force, or upon the withdrawal of our troops. The country was under martial law; and its armed occupation gave no jurisdiction to the civil tribunals over the officers and soldiers of the occupying army. They were not to be harassed and mulcted at the complaint of any person aggrieved by their action. The jurisdiction which the District Court was authorized to exercise over civil causes between parties, by the proclamation of General Butler, did not extend to cases against them. The third special plea alleges that the court was deprived by the general government of all jurisdiction except such as was conferred by the commanding general, and that no jurisdiction over persons in the military service for acts performed in the line of their duty was ever thus conferred upon it. It was not for their control in any way, or the settlement of complaints against them, that the court was allowed to continue in existence. It was, as already stated, for the protection and benefit of the inhabitants of the conquered country and others there not engaged in the military service.
If private property there was taken by an officer or a soldier of the occupying army, acting in his military character, when, by the laws of war, or the proclamation of the commanding general, it should have been exempt from seizure, the owner could have complained to that commander, who might have ordered restitution, or sent the offending party before a military tribunal, as circumstances might have required, or he could have had recourse to the government for redress. But there could be no doubt of the right of the army to appropriate any property there, although belonging to private individuals, which was necessary for its support or convenient for its use. This was a belligerent right, which was not extinguished by the occupation of the country, although the necessity for its exercise was thereby lessened. However exempt from seizure on other grounds private property there may have been, it was always subject to be appropriated, when required by the necessities or convenience of the army, though the owner of property taken in such case may have had a just claim against the government for indemnity.
The case of Elphinstone v. Bedreechund is an authority, if any were needed, that a municipal court has no jurisdiction to adjudge upon the validity of a hostile seizure of property; that is, a seizure made in the exercise of a belligerent right. There it appeared that a city of India had been captured by the British forces, and a provisional government established, which subsequently held undisturbed possession of the place. Several months after its occupation, the members of the provisional government seized the private property of a native, under the belief that it was public property intrusted to his care by the hostile sovereign. The native had been refused the benefit of the articles of capitulation of a fortress, of which he was governor, but had been permitted to reside under military surveillance in his own house in the city, where the seizure was made. At the time, there were no hostilities in the immediate neighborhood, and the civil courts were sitting for the administration of justice; but the war was not at an end throughout the country, and there was a feeling of great hostility on the part of the people of the place, which was only prevented from breaking out into insurrection by the presence of an armed force. In these respects the position of the place was similar to that of New Orleans and the adjacent country under the command of General Butler. The property seized consisted of gold coin, jewels, and shawls; and the owner having died, an action for their value was brought by his executor against the members of the provisional government who ordered the seizure, and judgment was rendered against them in the Supreme Court of Bombay. That court appeared to be controlled in its decision by the fact that for some months before the seizure the city had been in the undisturbed possession of the provisional government, and that civil courts, under its authority, were sitting there for the administration of justice. But on appeal to the Privy Council the judgment was reversed. 'We think,' said Lord Tenterden, speaking for the Council, 'the proper character of the transaction was that of a hostile seizure made, if not flagrante, yet nondum cessante bello, regard being had both to the time, the place, and the person; and, consequently, that the Municipal Court had no jurisdiction to adjudge upon the subject, but that, if any thing was done amiss, recourse could only be had to the government for redress.' 1 Kn. 361. Here, the special pleas allege that the articles of property taken by the military detachment under General Dow were seized by his order, as necessary and convenient supplies for the occupying army. It was a hostile seizure, as much so as that of the property in the case cited, being made, like that one, in the exercise of a belligerent right, upon the propriety or necessity of which the Municipal Court had no authority to adjudge.
This doctrine of non-liability to the tribunals of the invaded country for acts of warfare is as applicable to members of the Confederate army, when in Pennsylvania, as to members of the National army when in the insurgent States. The officers or soldiers of neither army could be called to account civilly or criminally in those tribunals for such acts, whether those acts resulted in the destruction of property or the destruction of life; nor could they be required by those tribunals to explain or justify their conduct upon any averment of the injured party that the acts complained of were unauthorized by the necessities of war. It follows that, in our judgment, the District Court of New Orleans was without jurisdiction to render the judgment in question, and the special pleas in this case constituted a perfect answer to the declaration. See Coleman v. Tennessee, 97 U.S. 509; Ford v. Surget, id. 594; also LeCaux v. Eden, 2 Doug. 594; Lamar v. Browne, 92 U.S. 187; and Coolidge v. Guthrie, 2 Amer. Law Reg. N. S. 22.
We fully agree with the presiding justice of the Circuit Court in the doctrine that the military should always be kept in subjection to the laws of the country to which it belongs, and that he is no friend to the Republic who advocates the contrary. The established principle of every free people is, that the law shall alone govern; and to it the military must always yield. We do not controvert the doctrine of Mitchell v. Harmony, reported in the 13th of Howard; on the contrary, we approve it. But it has no application to the case at bar. The trading for which the seizure was there made had been permitted by the Executive Department of our government. The question here is, What is the law which governs an army invading an enemy's country? It is not the civil law of the invaded country; it is not the civil law of the conquering country: it is military law,-the law of war,-and its supremacy for the protection of the officers and soldiers of the army, when in service in the field in the enemy's country, is as essential to the efficiency of the army as the supremacy of the civil law at home, and, in time of peace, is essential to the preservation on liberty.
Our decision upon the questions certified to us is, that the replication is not a good and sufficient reply to the special pleas; and that the Sixth District Court of New Orleans, at the time and place mentioned, had not jurisdiction of the parties and cause of action to render the judgment in question. The judgment of the Circuit Court must, therefore, be reversed, and the cause remanded with directions to that court to enter final judgment for the defendant on the demurrer to the replications; and it is
MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE dissented from the opinion of the court on the point relating to the jurisdiction of this court, but concurred therewith on the remaining questions involved in the case.
MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD and MR. JUSTICE MILLER dissented.
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