There appears to be an ambiguity, if not an inconsistency, in the terms of the order or judgment of the general term. It affirms that there is no error in the record and proceedings of the special term, but does not affirm its order, which was appealed from, but in fact dismisses the appeal, as though it had no jurisdiction either to affirm or reverse the order brought up by the appeal. Interpreting the judgment of the general term by the opinion of the learned judge, who spoke for the court, Phillips v. Negley, 2 Mackey, 236, we must infer that it was intended to dismiss the appeal for want of jurisdiction to entertain it, on the ground that the order of the special term, vacating its own judgment, rendered at a previous term, was not only within the power of that court, but was so purely discretionary that it was not reviewable in an appellate court. The same consideration is urged upon us as a ground for dismissing the present writ of error for want of jurisdiction in this court, it being alleged that the order of the Supreme Court of the District at special term is one not only within the discretion of that court, but that, as it merely vacates a judgment for the purpose of a new trial upon the merits of the original action, it is not a final judgment, and, therefore, not reviewable on writ of error. If, properly considered, the order in question was an order in the cause, which the court had power to make at the term when it was made, the consequence may be admitted, that no appellate tribunal has jurisdiction to question its propriety; for, if it had power to make it, and it was a power limited only by the discretion of the court making it, as in other cases of orders setting aside judgments at the same term at which they were rendered, and granting new trials, there would be nothing left for the jurisdiction of an appellate court to act upon. The vacating of a judgment and granting a new trial, in the exercise of an acknowledged jurisdiction, leaves no judgment in force to be reviewed. If, on
The legal proposition involved in the judgment complained of, and necessary to maintain it, is, that the Supreme Court of this District at special term has the same discretionary power over its judgments, rendered at a previous term of the court, without any motion or other proceeding to that end made or taken at that term, to set them aside and grant new trials of the actions in which they were rendered, which it has over judgments, when such proceedings are taken during the term at which they were rendered; and that this being true, the proceeding and order of the court, in the exercise of this jurisdiction and discretion, cannot be reviewed on appeal or writ of error.
This proposition, it is argued, may be deduced from the inherent and implied powers of all courts of record, according to the course of the common law; and, if that fails, is supplied by the law of Maryland, as to the Supreme Court in the District of Columbia, adopted by the act of Congress of 27th February, 1801. 2 Stat. 103.
The first branch of this proposition is conclusively negatived for this court, in regard to the powers of the courts of the United States, by the decision in Bronson v. Schulten, 104 U.S. 410, 415, which is an authority directly upon the point. It was there said by Mr. Justice Miller, speaking for the court:
"In this country all courts have terms and vacations. The time of the commencement of every term, if there be half a dozen a year, is fixed by statute, and the end of it by the final adjournment of the court for that term. This is the case with regard to all the courts of the United States, and if there be
The opinion then notices an exception to this rule founded upon the common law writ of error coram vobis, by which errors of fact might be corrected, limited generally to the facts that one of the parties to the judgment had died before it was rendered, or was an infant and no guardian had appeared or been appointed, or was a feme covert, and the like, or error in the process through the fault of the clerk; for which writ, as was said in Pickett's Heirs v. Legerwood, 7 Pet. 144, in practice, a motion is now substituted, heard in a summary manner upon affidavits. And it is then added, that this remedy by motion has been extended in some States so as to embrace some of the cases where equitable relief had been administered by courts of chancery. "This practice," it was said, "has been founded in the courts of many of the States on statutes which conferred a prescribed and limited control over the judgment of a court after the expiration of the term at which it was rendered. In other cases the summary remedy by motion has been granted as founded in the inherent power of the
It is equally well established by the decisions of this court
But it is argued that the power exercised in the present instance is vested in the Supreme Court of this District by virtue of the laws of Maryland in force February 27, 1801, adopted by the act of Congress of that date.
The statute of Maryland supposed to confer this power is an
"In any case where a judgment shall be set aside for fraud, deceit, surprise, or irregularity in obtaining the same, the said courts respectively may direct the continuances to be entered from the court when such judgment was obtained, until the court such judgment shall be set aside, and may also continue such cause for so long a time as they shall judge necessary for the trial of the merits between the parties, not exceeding two courts after such cause has been reinstated, unless, &c."
This statutory provision, it will be observed, is entirely silent as to the mode according to which a judgment may be set aside at a subsequent term, whether by a writ of error coram vobis or coram nobis, bill in equity, or other procedure, and does not, either in express terms or by any necessary implication, provide that it may be done by a motion and summary proceedings thereon; and also, that it seems to proceed upon the idea that continuances should regularly be entered to show that the proceeding, if at law, to set a judgment aside, in theory at least, ought to originate at the same term at which the judgment was rendered.
The remedy by writ of error coram nobis continued in force and in use in Maryland. Hawkins v. Bowie, 9 G. & J. 428, 437; Bridendolph v. Zeller's Executors, 3 Maryland, 325. And in the first of these cases it was held that a reversal of a judgment upon such a writ was a final judgment from which an appeal would lie. The court said: "Now, if reversing the original judgment and awarding costs to the plaintiff in error in this proceeding in error coram nobis, was not so far final as to fall within that class of judicial acts from which an appeal will lie to this court, we cannot see the reason, nor can we well conceive of any remedy the parties would have if the county courts were to undertake to vacate and annul all the judgments in their records." This remark equally applies whether the result is reached by this writ or by the more summary mode of a motion. It was so decided in Graff v. Merchants' & Miners' Transportation Co., 18 Maryland, 364, and Craig v. Wroth, 47 Maryland, 281. In the last-named case, it was said by the
It appears also from the case of Kearney v. Sascer et al., 37 Maryland, 264, that the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery, upon a bill in equity, to grant relief against a judgment on equitable grounds, constitutes part of the remedial system in that State, notwithstanding the practice to set aside judgments on motion made after the term; and in that case the court quoted and adopted the rule regulating the measure of relief, and the circumstances justifying the court in granting it, as
It thus appears that in Maryland, prior to 1801, the only statute in existence referring to the subject, while it assumes the existence of a power in the courts to set aside their judgments, after the term in which they were rendered, for certain causes, does not specify the modes in which that relief may be administered, and does not enumerate a summary proceeding by motion as one of them; that the cases in which that relief has been administered in that way have all arisen and been decided since the date of the cession to the United States of the territory constituting the District of Columbia; that these decisions are based, not upon the statute as creating or conferring such power, but upon an interpretation of the common law by which all courts of record are assumed to be possessed of it, as adherent in and incident to their constitution as courts of justice; that, in whatever form, the proceedings are regarded, not as interlocutory steps in the original cause, but as independent applications to a legal discretion governed by fixed rules, and, therefore, terminating in final judgments, subject as in other cases to review or error in a court of appeal; and that the jurisdiction of chancery by a plenary suit in equity is not excluded, but is maintained and exercised in conformity with the general principles of equity jurisprudence.
It follows from this statement that these decisions of the Maryland courts, being founded upon general principles, and made since the organization of the District of Columbia, are not binding upon the courts of the District as authorities, though entitled to all the respect due to the opinions of the highest court of the State; a rule acted upon in this court in Ould v. Washington Hospital, 95 U.S. 303, and approved in Russell v. Allen, 107 U.S. 163, 171. We feel at liberty, therefore, to follow our own convictions as to the power of the courts of the District over their judgments; and are of opinion, and so decide, that, after the term at which they were rendered, the power of the court over the parties and over its record remains only in the excepted cases already noticed, when, on motion, it may be purged of clerical errors, or the judgment reversed by
Reversed, and the cause remanded, with directions to dismiss the motion of the defendant, but without prejudice to his right to file a bill in equity.