MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.
On January 28, 1882, Dan R. Knight and John A. Lovett sold to William J. Knight several tracts of land situated in the State of Louisiana. The price stated in the act of sale was $15,000, $500 cash and the balance, $14,500, on credit, evidenced by a note of the purchaser. On February 5, 1887, W.J. Knight sold to Viola P. Knight, wife of Dan R. Knight, a one-half interest, and on February 7, 1887, he sold to J.C. Knight a one-fourth interest in the same lands. The remaining one-fourth interest was parted with by an act of sale dated April 13, 1889, wherein W.J. Knight joined with Viola P. Knight and John C. Knight in selling the entire land to Henry J. Lutcher and G. Bedell Moore. On April 3, 1901, Moore sold his undivided one-half interest to the Lutcher & Moore Lumber Company. All these acts of sale were duly recorded in the proper land conveyance records.
Because of diversity of citizenship the cause was removed into the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Louisiana. In that court the defendants answered. In addition to averring that the petition disclosed no cause of action and denying generally all the allegations of the petition not expressly admitted, it was averred: That William J. Knight had never intermarried with the mother of the petitioners; that even if there had been such a marriage and a community resulting from it, the property sued for was not an acquet of such community, because it was the separate property of W.J. Knight, as no cash price was ever paid by him for the property and no note given as recited in the notarial act of sale, and, although the transaction was put in the form of a sale, it was only ostensibly so, having been merely intended to be a donation to him of the property. It was, however,
As expressly stated in the argument, both by counsel for the petitioners and by counsel for the respondents, and as appears from recitals contained in a petition for rehearing printed in the record, to which we shall hereafter more particularly refer, the defendants who had removed this action to the Circuit Court in December, 1903, filed in that court their bill of complaint, in which they made the plaintiffs in this action defendants. The bill, after substantially reiterating the averments which we previously recited, and which were contained in the answer filed in this cause, prayed that the further prosecution of the action be perpetually enjoined. The right to prevent the further prosecution of the action at law was based on the assertion that the law action "clouded your orators' title to the land in suit; that your orators' defenses are equitable, and that the pendency of said suit and the cloud cast on your orators' title works irreparable injury and damage to your orators and that they have no adequate remedy at law."
The following demurrer was interposed to the bill of complaint:
"First. Plaintiffs are estopped from attacking their own title.
"Second. The deed under which the defendants claim has been adjudged a good and valid title.
"Third. The complaint comes too late, the defendants having filed a suit in law, and the plaintiffs have answered to their demands, in which they set up a defense, which if sustained will be adequate in law.
"Fourth. That the allegations of plaintiffs' bill of complaint is simply a reiteration of their answer in suit No. 276 in the
"Fifth. That the bill of complaint discloses no right or cause of action.
"Finally. Defendants especially demur to the right of plaintiffs to bring their bill in equity, as neither the law nor the jurisprudence of this State authorizes or provides suits in equity, and especially is this so as to real estate situated in the State. Hence, defendants prove that the injunction herein asked for be denied. That this branch of the case be dismissed at plaintiffs' cost and suit No. 276 be proceeded with according to law."
After argument, and on February 16, 1904, a decree was entered in favor of the respondents, in which it was recited that "The court sustained the demurrer and dismissed the suit at cost of complainants." This action, which had in the meanwhile been pending in the Circuit Court, upon the issues made up as heretofore stated, was tried and resulted in a verdict and judgment in favor of the defendants. Error having been prosecuted from the Circuit Court of Appeals in that court on April 4, 1905, the judgment was reversed and the cause remanded. The court did not pass upon the merits, because it found that the citizenship of the Lutcher & Moore Lumber Company, the corporation defendant, was not adequately averred in the petition for removal, and therefore the proper basis for jurisdiction in the court below had not been laid (136 Fed. Rep. 404) and a petition for rehearing was refused. 139 Fed. Rep. 1007.
In the Circuit Court, after the receipt of the mandate of the Circuit Court of Appeals, plaintiffs objecting and excepting, the defendants, in accordance with leave granted, amended the averments of citizenship in the petition for removal so as to cause them to be in all respects adequate. Subsequently, upon grounds which it is not necessary to state, plaintiffs
The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and the opinion delivered by it is as follows: "By the Court: After a thorough and attentive consideration of the questions raised on this writ, we are of opinion that the matters of defense relied upon by plaintiff in error on the trial below, in so far as they were not given consideration, were of an equitable nature, not cognizable in a court of law, we therefore affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court." A lengthy petition for rehearing was filed on December 26, 1907, and a few days thereafter there was also filed what was styled "Motion by plaintiffs in error to withhold mandate, stay proceedings, and order trial of the equitable issues, with suggestions of res judicata and waiver." Both in the petition and in the motion counsel contended that contrary to the ruling of the Circuit Court of Appeals the trial court held all the issues properly triable on the law side of the court, and that the plaintiffs in this action never at any time suggested that any of the matters of defense were equitable, and to dispose of the cause as the court had done would deprive the defendants of their rights and entail great hardship upon them. The defendants also incorporated in the motion the bill of complaint filed in the equity cause heretofore referred to and which was instituted by them to enjoin the prosecution of this action, as also the demurrer and the decree of dismissal. In connection therewith the suggestion was made that the decree in said cause ought in conscience to be treated as res judicata of the question of the nature of the defenses interposed in this action. Elaborate argument was advanced to sustain the contention that the defenses introduced amounted only to a denial of the case made by the plaintiffs, and that the evidence excluded by the trial court should have been received, and upon the undisputed record a verdict should have been directed for the defendants below. The appellate court was asked to allow an oral argument of the
The record unquestionably establishes that the Circuit Court, with the acquiescence of all parties, treated the defenses interposed by the answer of the defendants as legal in their nature. Aside, however, from the strict record, both the respondents and the petitioners call our attention to the transcript containing the proceedings in the equity cause. Indeed, counsel for respondents particularly press upon our attention that the defendants below, plaintiffs in the equity cause, acquiesced in the decree entered against them in the Circuit Court in such cause by not appealing therefrom, and that "it binds and estops them from now urging the same matters set up in that bill." There is no denial, but, on the contrary, by necessary implication, counsel for respondents admit the truth of the statement made in the petition for rehearing, filed in the Circuit Court of Appeals, that the cause was disposed of by that court "on questions not raised by either party, and not considered when this cause was submitted," and contrary to the "attitude of the trial court with reference to the defenses being at law and not in equity."
It is a reasonable inference that when, after the removal of the cause, the defendants filed their bill of complaint setting
"The objection that the matter of plaintiffs' demand is one of equitable cognizance in the Federal courts cannot prevail. No such objection was raised in the court below at any stage of the proceedings, and it cannot be permitted to a defendant to go to trial before a jury on the facts of a case involving fraud, and let it proceed to judgment on the verdict without any attempt to assert the equitable character of the suit, and then raise that question for the first time in this court."
Applying this doctrine to the facts and circumstances which we have previously stated, we are of opinion that it inevitably results that the effect of the action of the Circuit Court of Appeals was substantially to deny to the plaintiffs in error in that court, petitioners here, their day in court; in other words, was equivalent to condemning them without affording them an opportunity to be heard.
It is undoubted that by the operation of the writ of certiorari, granted in accordance with the provisions of the Judiciary Act of 1891, the entire record is before us with power to decide the case as it was presented to the Circuit Court of Appeals, by reason of the writ of error issued out of that court. Certain is it also that the Judiciary Act of 1891 contemplates that, as a general rule, where under its provisions a case comes to this court on certiorari to a Circuit Court of Appeals it will be disposed of so that the mandate of this court, to avoid circuity, will go directly to the Circuit Court. The great purpose of the act of 1891, however, to which all its provisions are subservient, is to distribute the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States, and thus to relieve the docket of this court by casting upon the Circuit Courts of Appeal the duty of finally deciding the cases over which the jurisdiction of those courts is by the act made final. The power to certiorari in accordance with the act, in its essence, is only a means to the end that this imperative and responsible duty may be
The judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.