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Opinion of the Court.
fact and the judgment; and on the record as thus presented plaintiff in error rests her claim of reversal upon three propo sitions: First, that the act of the territorial legislature, authorizing special findings of fact and providing for judgment on the special findings, if inconsistent with the general verdict (Laws of New Mex. 1889, c. 45, page 97), is in contravention of the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which reads:
"In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reëxamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
Second, that there is no such conflict between the general verdict and the special findings as authorized a judgment contrary to the general verdict; and, third, that if there be any conflict between the special findings and the general verdict, the special findings are so inconsistent with each other as to neutralize and destroy themselves.
First, with regard to the constitutional question, the specific objection is thus stated in the brief:
"It is not contended, although the English authorities would appear to warrant the contention, that at the common law the judge might not require the jury to answer special questions, or interrogate the jury as to the grounds upon which their general verdict was found; but it is most earnestly contended that the extent of the power of the judge, if in his opinion the special findings or answers of the jury to interrogatories were inconsistent with the general verdict, was to set aside the general verdict and award a venire de novo, while under this statute authority is attempted to be conferred upon the judge to render final judgment upon the special findings."
We deem it unnecessary to consider the contention of defendant in error that the territorial courts are not courts of the United States, and that the Seventh Amendment is not operative in the Territories, for by the act of April 7, 1874, c. 80, 18 Stat. 27, Congress, legislating for all the Territories, declared that no party "shall be deprived of the right of trial
Opinion of the Court.
by jury in cases cognizable at common law"; and while this may not in terms extend all the provisions of the Seventh Amendment to the Territories, it does secure all the rights of trial by jury as they existed at common law.
The question is whether this act of the territorial legislature in substance impairs the right of trial by jury. The Seventh Amendment, indeed, does not attempt to regulate matters of pleading or practice, or to determine in what way issues shall be framed by which questions of fact are to be submitted to a jury. Its aim is not to preserve mere matters of form and procedure but substance of right. This requires that questions of fact in common law actions shall be settled by a jury, and that the court shall not assume directly or indirectly to take from the jury or to itself such prerogative. So long as this substance of right is preserved the procedure by which this result shall be reached is wholly within the discretion of the legislature, and the courts may not set aside any legislative provision in this respect because the form of action - the mere manner in which questions are submitted -is different from that which obtained at the common law
Now a general verdict embodies both the law and the facts. The jury, taking the law as given by the court, apply that law to the facts as they find them to be and express their conclusions in the verdict. The power of the court to grant a new trial if in its judgment the jury have misinterpreted the instructions as to the rules of law or misapplied them is unquestioned, as also when it appears that there was no real evidence in support of any essential fact. These things obtained at the common law; they do not trespass upon the prerogative of the jury to determine all questions of fact, and no one to-day doubts that such is the legitimate duty and function of the court, notwithstanding the terms of the constitutional guarantee of right of trial by jury. Beyond this, it was not infrequent to ask from the jury a special rather than a general verdict, that is, instead of a verdict for or against the plaintiff or defendant embodying in a single declaration the whole conclusion of the trial, one which found specially upon the various facts in issue, leaving to the court
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the subsequent duty of determining upon such facts the relief which the law awarded to the respective parties.
It was also a common practice when no special verdict was demanded and when only a general verdict was returned to interrogate the jury upon special matters of fact. Whether or no a jury was compelled to answer such interrogations, or whether, if it refused or failed to answer, the general verdict would stand or not, may be questioned. Mayor &c. v. Clark, 3 Ad. & Ell. 506. But the right to propound such interrogatories was undoubted and often recognized. Walker v. Bailey, 65 Maine, 354; Spurr v. Shelburne, 131 Mass. 429. In the latter case the court said (page 430): "It is within the discretion of the presiding justice to put inquiries to the jury as to the grounds upon which they found their verdict, and the answers of the foreman, assented to by his fellows, may be made a part of the record, and will have the effect of special findings of the facts stated by him. And no exception lies to the exercise of this discretion. Dorr v. Fenno, 12 Pick. 521; Spoor v. Spooner, 12 Met. 281; Mair v. Bassett, 117 Mass. 356; Lawler v. Earle, 5 Allen, 22." So that the putting of special interrogatories to a jury and asking for specific responses thereto in addition to a general verdict is not a thing unknown to the common law, and has been recognized independently of any statute. Beyond this we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that in many States in the Union, in whose constitutions is found in the most emphatic language an assertion of the inviolability of trial by jury, are statutes similar to the one enacted by the territorial legislature of New Mexico; that those statutes have been uniformly recognized as valid, and that a large amount of the litigation in the courts is carried through in obedience to the provisions of such statutes. It would certainly startle the profession to be told that such statutes contravene a constitutional requirement of the inviolability of jury trials.
Indeed, the very argument of counsel for plaintiff in error is an admission that up to a certain extent those statutes are undoubtedly valid. That argument is practically that when the specific findings are returned and found to be conflicting
Opinion of the Court.
with the general verdict the court is authorized to grant a new trial, but can do no more. But why should the power of the court be thus limited? If the facts as specially found compel a judgment in one way, why should not the court be permitted to apply the law to the facts as thus found? It certainly does so when a special verdict is returned. When a general verdict is returned and the court determines that the jury have either misinterpreted or misapplied the law the only remedy is the award of a new trial, because the constitutional provision forbids it to find the facts. But when the facts are found and it is obvious from the inconsistency between the facts as found and the general verdict that, in the latter, the jury have misinterpreted or misapplied the law, what constitutional mandate requires that all should be set aside and a new inquiry made of another jury? Of what significance is a question as to a specific fact? Of what avail are special interrogatories and special findings thereon if all that is to result therefrom is a new trial, which the court might grant if it were of opinion that the general verdict contained a wrong interpretation or application of the rules of law? Indeed, the very thought and value of special interrogatories is to avoid the necessity of setting aside a verdict and a new trial-to end the controversy so far as the trial court is concerned upon that single response from the jury.
We are clearly of opinion that this territorial statute does not infringe any constitutional provision, and that it is within the power of the legislature of a Territory to provide that on a trial of a common law action the court may, in addition to the general verdict, require specific answers to special interrogatories, and, when a conflict is found between the two, render such judgment as the answers to the special questions compel.
For a full understanding of the second question it is necessary to notice the pleadings. The original declaration after stating that the Rio Grande River runs in its regular channel about half a mile east of the plaintiff's premises, and that the waters from rainfalls pass and flow in their natural
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fall from the surrounding and adjacent country over the plaintiff's and other lands in the vicinity and empty into the river, and that by that means the surface water, up to the time of the grievances complained of, had been carried off without injury to the plaintiff, or his property-charged that on May 1, 1885, the defendant, in and by the construction of its roadbed, did dam and close up all of the natural and usual outlets and places through which the surface-water had been accustomed to make its escape, thereby causing such surfacewater theretofore flowing to the river as aforesaid to be dammed up and set back upon the premises of the plaintiff and other property owners; that on September 7, 1886, there was a heavy rainfall and the surface-water, unable by reason of the obstruction to reach the river, was set back on the premises of the plaintiff, making a lake or pond of waters three to four feet in depth, and doing great injury to his property. A demurrer to this declaration having been sustained, an amended declaration was filed, which, omitting all reference to rainfalls and surface-water, charged that the defendant obstructed the natural and artificial watercourses by which the waters from the north and west of the plaintiff's property, and from the Socorro and Magdalena Mountains, in their natural flow and fall passed over the lands of the plaintiff and other lands and emptied into the Rio Grande. A demurrer to this declaration having been overruled the plaintiff was directed to file a bill of particulars showing the places and courses of the alleged natural and artificial watercourses, and did so, describing three or four beds or channels through which in a natural fall, as he averred, the waters passed from the Socorro and Magdalena Mountains into the Rio Grande.
Now, the contention of the defendant in error is that it is apparent, from the answers given to the special questions, that there were no natural watercourses obstructed by defendant's roadbed, and that the water which did the damage was simply surface-water. The second, third, fourth and fifth are as follows:
"Q. 2. Was there a cloudburst in the Magdalena or Socorro