In Re Sanford Fork & Tool Company/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

160 U.S. 247

In Re Sanford Fork & Tool Company


When a case has been once decided by this court on appeal, and remanded to the circuit court, whatever was before this court, and disposed of by its decree, is considered as finally settled. The circuit court is bound by the decree as the law of the case, and must carry it into execution according to the mandate. That court cannot vary it, or examine it for any other purpose than execution; or give any other or further relief; or review it, even for apparent error, upon any matter decided on appeal; or intermeddle with it, further than to settle so much as has been remanded. Sibald v. U.S., 12 Pet. 488, 492; Railway Co. v. Anderson, 149 U.S. 237, 13 Sup. Ct. 843. If the circuit court mistakes or misconstrues the decree of this court, and does not give full effect to the mandate, its action may be controlled, either upon a new appeal (if involving a sufficient amount) or by a writ of mandamus to execute the mandate of this court. Perkins v. Fourniquet, 14 How. 313, 330; In re Washington & G. R. Co., 140 U.S. 91, 11 Sup. Ct. 673; Bank v. Hunter, 152 U.S. 512, 14 Sup. Ct. 675; In re City Nat. Bank of Ft. Worth, 153 U.S. 246, 14 Sup. Ct. 804. But the circuit court may consider and decide any matters left open by the mandate of this court; and its decision of such matters can be reviewed by a new appeal only. Hinckley v. Morton, 103 U.S. 764; Mason v. Mining Co., 153 U.S. 361, 14 Sup. Ct. 847; Nashua & L. R. Corp. v. Boston & L. R. Corp., 5 U.S. App. 97, 2 C. C. A. 542, and 51 Fed. 929. The opinion delivered by this court at the time of rendering its decree may be consulted to ascertain what was intended by its mandate, and either upon an application for a writ of mandamus or upon a new appeal it is for this court to construe its own mandate, and to act accordingly. Sibald v. U.S., 12 Pet. 488, 493; West v. Brashear, 14 Pet. 51; Supervisors v. Kennicott, 94 U.S. 498; Gaines v. Rugg, 148 U.S. 228, 238, 244, 13 Sup. Ct. 611.

In the case now before us, it is important, in determining what was heard and decided by the circuit court in the first instance, and by this court upon the appeal, to bear in mind the settled practice of courts of chancery, recognized and regulated by the rules established by this court for the circuit courts sitting in equity. Rev. St. §§ 916918.

Upon the coming in of the defendant's answer, several courses are open to the plaintiff.

First. The plaintiff may, upon motion, without notice to the defendant, have leave to amend his bill, with or without the payment of costs, as the court may direct. Equity rules 29, 45.

Second. The plaintiff may file exceptions to the answer for insufficiency. Equity rule 61. If the defendant does not submit to the exceptions, and file an amended answer, the plaintiff may set down the exceptions for hearing. Equity rule 63. If the exceptions are thereupon allowed by the court, the defendant must put in a full and complete answer; otherwise the plaintiff may take the bill, so far as the matter of the exceptions is concerned, as confessed. Equity rule 64.

Third. If the answer is not excepted to, or if it is adjudged or deemed sufficient, the plaintiff may file a general replication; whereupon the cause is to be deemed, to all intents and purposes, at issue, without further pleading on either side. Equity rule 66.

Fourth. A demurrer to the answer is unknown in equity practice. But the plaintiff may set down the case for hearing upon bill and answer; whereupon all the facts alleged in the bill and not denied in the answer, as well as all new facts alleged in the answer, are deemed admitted, as upon a demurrer to an answer in an action at law. Equity Rule 41, as amended at December term, 1871 (13 Wall. xi.); Equity Rule 60; Leeds v. Insurance Co., 2 Wheat. 380; Reynolds v. Bank, 112 U.S. 405, 409, 5 Sup. Ct. 213; Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244, 250, 251, 9 Sup. Ct. 36.

For the purpose of the hearing upon exceptions to an answer, the facts alleged in the bill and in the answer must, indeed, be considered as admitted, and only matter of law is presented for decision, as in a case set down for hearing upon bill and answer. But the difference between the two cases is this: When a case in equity is set down for hearing on bill and answer, the whole case is presented for final decree in favor of either party. But when the matter set down for hearing is the plaintiff's exceptions to the answer, the case is not ripe for a final decree; the only question to be decided is the sufficiency of the answer; and no final decree can be entered against either party, unless it declines or omits to plead further.

In the present case the plaintiffs, upon the coming in of the answer, neither moved for leave to amend the bill, nor filed a replication, nor set down the case for hearing upon bill and answer.

But they filed exceptions to the answer, and those exceptions only were set down for hearing, and were heard and passed upon by the court. While some of the exceptions were directed, as in usual, to the want of due answer to specific allegations of the bill, others of the exceptions related to the sufficiency of the whole answer to constitute any defense. Its sufficiency in the latter respect might properly have been questioned by setting down the case for hearing upon bill and answer. But neither for this, nor for any other reason, was any objection made to the exceptions as irregular or improper in form.

The circuit court, upon sustaining the exceptions, could not (unless the defendants chose to stand by their answer) enter a final decree against the defendants, or do anything more than order them to put in a full and complete answer on pain of being held to have confessed the bill. If the circuit court, instead of sustaining the exceptions to the answer, had overruled those exceptions, the plaintiffs would have had the right to file a replication, and the bill could not be dismissed unless and until they neglected to file one.

When the decree of the circuit court sustaining the plaintiffs' exceptions to the answer and (because the defendants declined to plead further) granting to the plaintiffs the relief prayed for in the bill was reversed by this court, the only matter which was or could be decided by this court, upon the record before it, was that the answer was sufficient. This court, in so deciding, could go no further than the circuit court could have done, had it made the like decision. Neither the circuit court, nor this court, upon adjudging that the answer was sufficient, could, without any consent or neglect on the part of the plaintiffs, deprive them of their ritht, under the general rules in equity, to file a replication.

Nor did this court undertake, either by its opinion or by its mandate, to preclude the plaintiffs from filing a replication. On the contrary, at the outset of the opinion, after observing that, in the manner in which the case was submitted for decision, the facts alleged in the bill and not denied in the answer, and the new facts alleged in the answer, must be asumed to be true, the question arising upon those admitted facts was stated to be 'whether the decree in favor of the plaintiffs can be sustained;' and, while the opinion declared that, assuming those facts, the mortgage was valid, yet both the opinion and the mandate ordered no final judgment for the defendant, but only ordered the judgment for the plaintiff to be reversed, and the cause remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings not inconsistent consistent with the opinion of this court.

The case being thus left open by the opinion and mandate of this court, and by the general rules of practice in equity, for further proceedings, with a right in the plaintiffs to file a replication putting the cause at issue, the circuit court might, in its discretion, allow amendments of the pleadings for the purpose of more fully or clearly presenting the facts at issue between the parties. Insurance Co. v. Hodgson, 6 Cranch, 206, 218; Neale v. Neale, 9 Wall. 1; Hardin v. Boyd, 113 U.S. 756, 5 Sup. Ct. 771.

The case is quite different, in this respect, from those in which the whole case, or all but a subsidiary question of accounting, had been brought to and decided by this court upon the appeal, as in the cases principally relied on by the petitioner. Stewart v. Salamon, 94 U.S. 434, and 97 U.S. 361; Gaines v. Rugg, 148 U.S. 228, 13 Sup. Ct. 611; Ex parte Dubuque & P. R. Co., 1 Wall. 69; In re Washington & G. R. Co., 140 U.S. 91, 11 Sup. Ct. 673.

It must be remembered, however, that no question, once considered and decided by this court, can be re-examined at any subsequent stage of the same case. Clark v. Keith, 106 U.S. 464, 1 Sup. Ct. 568; Sibald v. U.S., and Railway Co. v. Anderson, cited at the beginning of this opinion.

Writ of mandamus denied.

Notes[edit]

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).