Hungerford v. Sigerson
THIS was an appeal from the District Court of the United States for the district of Wisconsin.
The facts of the case are stated in the opinion of the court.
It was argued by Mr. Bradley for the appellant, and by Mr. Cushing and Mr. Gillett for the appellee.
Mr. Bradley admitted that the bill was very inartificially drawn, but contended that there were three grounds upon which the jurisdiction of the court could be sustained.
First. Complicated accounts between the parties.
Second. The breach of the trust with which the said note was clothed.
Third. The want of remedy in the common-law court.
If the bill shows a state of facts well pleaded, which would entitle the complainant either to a discovery or relief, the demurrer must be overruled. (Livingston v. Story, 9 Pet., 658.)
And they are well pleaded if they are material, and stated in terms which may be deemed reasonably certain in their import. (Sto. Eq. Pl., sec. 452, note 1.)
There had been no settlement of accounts between the parties, and the balance owed was uncertain. This note was for twice as much as was claimed by the defendant, and the complainant was not to be sued upon it. Yet he sued and recovered judgment for the whole amount. Equity has jurisdiction to relieve. (Gainsborough v. Gifford, 2 P. Will., 424.)
The defendant thus gained an undue advantage. It is against conscience that he should use that advantage thus improperly gained, and that gives jurisdiction to restrain the proceedings at law. (Eden on Inj., ch. 2, p. 3.)
He could not have availed himself of the defences, because the court of law could neither give adequate relief by account, nor compel a discovery of the facts of that mutual understanding, under which the note was given, as these facts were from their nature private, and therefore known only to the parties. (Bateman v. Willoe; 1 Sch. and Lefr., 204; Marine Ins. Co. v. Hodgson, 7 Cr., 332.)
The counsel for the appellee said that in the bill there is no allegation that a fraud was committed to induce the complainant to give the note;
Nor any that the defendant transferred it contrary to promise;
Nor any that the defendant misled him so as to prevent his defending the suit;
Nor any that he could not have defended the suit successfully;
Nor any that he could not have made proof of all the facts necessary for a successful defence on that trial of the cause;
Nor any that he has no relief except in equity, nor that he has no remedy at law;
Nor any that the complainant has offered to settle with the defendant, and to pay him what was justly and equitably his due;
Nor any that he stated the whole case to counsel, when he was advised that he had no defence on said note which he could make in that suit;
Nor any that the advice of counsel referred to was before the judgment upon said note;
Nor any that his failure to defend was occasioned by such advice.
FIRST.-A court of equity has no jurisdiction where the party has had a full remedy at law.
Except under some special statute, no court of equity can entertain jurisdiction without the complainant averring that he has no remedy at law. In this case, the bill was filed in the District Court of the United States, under the powers conferred by the judiciary act. The sixteenth section of this act provides, 'that suits in equity shall not be sustained in either of the courts of the United States, in cases where plain, adequate, and complete remedy may be had at law.' (See Gordon v. Hobart, 2 Sumner, 401; Baker v. Biddle, 1 Baldwin, 405.)
The omission of the party to avail himself of his defence at law cannot confer jurisdiction. If the party has once had an opportunity to defend himself, it is the same to both parties, as if he had actually done so. It ends the matter.
SECOND.-Where a party failed to defend a suit at law, equity will not relieve, except when the defence was not available at law, or where he was prevented by fraud, accident, or wrongful act of the other party, without any negligence or fault on his part.
This proposition is in the very words of the Court of Appeals in New York, in Vilas v. Jones, 1 Coms., 274, pp. 281, 282.
It is supported by a long current of decisions.
In More v. Bayley, 1 Breese, 60, the court said, that if 'a defendant neglects to make his defence at law, a court of equity will not relieve him.'
In Cowan v. Price, 1 Bibb, 173, the same rule is laid down.
In Williams v. Lee, 3 Atk., 224, Lord Hardwicke held in the same way.
In Winthrop's case (3 Desausure, 310, p. 324) this point was ruled in the same way.
In Bateman v. Willoe, 1 Schoales and Lefroy, 201, p. 204, after laying down the same rule, Lord Redesdale says, 'it is not sufficient to show that injustice has been done, but that it has been done under circumstances which authorize the court to interfere.'
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