Your Right to Be Heard & Void Judgments
I came across this case and had to let you know about it. It looks to me like this case has never been overturned and Google Scholar shows that it has been quoted from hundreds of times here: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?about=8487234005794641173&q=%22acquired+jurisdiction%22&hl=en&as_sdt=4,6 It looks to me like this decision addresses some of the oppression we experience in trial courts. Small warning: I am aware of a change in jurisprudence from a denial of a right deprived a court of jurisdiction to denial of rights evaluated on whether they affected the outcome of the trial; but, on the surface, the holding expressed here appears to have survived that change. Hope you find this helpful, Bear
“The question for determination is, whether the decree of condemnation thus rendered, without allowing the owner of the property to appear in response to the monition, interpose his claim for the property, and answer the libel, was of any validity. In other words, the question is, whether the property of the plaintiff could be forfeited by the sentence of the court in a judicial proceeding to which he was not allowed to appear and make answer to the charges against him, upon the allegation of which the forfeiture was demanded.
277*277 There were several libels of information filed against the property of the plaintiff at the same time with the one here mentioned. They were identical in their allegations, except as to the property seized, and the same motion to strike from the files the appearance, claim, and answer of the respondent was made in each case, and on the same day, and similar orders were entered and like decrees of condemnation. One of these was brought here, and is reported in the 11th of Wallace. In delivering the unanimous opinion of this court, upon reversing the decree in the case, and referring to the order striking out the claim and answer, Mr. Justice Swayne said: "The order in effect denied the respondent a hearing. It is alleged he was in the position of an alien enemy, and could have no locus standi in that forum. If assailed there, he could defend there. The liability and right are inseparable. A different result would be a blot upon our jurisprudence and civilization. We cannot hesitate or doubt on the subject. It would be contrary to the first principles of the social compact and of the right administration of justice." 11 Wall. 267.
The principle stated in this terse language lies at the foundation of all well-ordered systems of jurisprudence. Wherever one is assailed in his person or his property, there he may defend, for the liability and the right are inseparable. This is a principle of natural justice, recognized as such by the common intelligence and conscience of all nations. A sentence of a court pronounced against a party without hearing him, or giving him an opportunity to be heard, is not a judicial determination of his rights, and is not entitled to respect in any other tribunal.
That there must be notice to a party of some kind, actual or constructive, to a valid judgment affecting his rights, is admitted. Until notice is given, the court has no jurisdiction in any case to proceed to judgment, whatever its authority may be, by the law of its organization, over the subject matter. But notice is only for the purpose of affording the party an opportunity of being heard upon the claim or the charges made; it is a summons to him to appear and speak, if he has anything to say, why the judgment sought should not be rendered. A denial to a party of the benefit of a notice would be in effect to 278*278 deny that he is entitled to notice at all, and the sham and deceptive proceeding had better be omitted altogether. It would be like saying to a party, Appear, and you shall be heard; and, when he has appeared, saying, Your appearance shall not be recognized, and you shall not be heard. In the present case, the District Court not only in effect said this, but immediately added a decree of condemnation, reciting that the default of all persons had been duly entered. It is difficult to speak of a decree thus rendered with moderation; it was in fact a mere arbitrary edict, clothed in the form of a judicial sentence.
The law is, and always has been, that whenever notice or citation is required, the party cited has the right to appear and be heard; and when the latter is denied, the former is ineffectual for any purpose. The denial to a party in such a case of the right to appear is in legal effect the recall of the citation to him. The period within which the appearance must be made and the right to be heard exercised, is, of course, a matter of regulation, depending either upon positive law, or the rules or orders of the court, or the established practice in such cases. And if the appearance be not made, and the right to be heard be not exercised, within the period thus prescribed, the default of the party prosecuted, or possible claimants of the property, may, of course, be entered, and the allegations of the libel be taken as true for the purpose of the proceeding. But the denial of the right to appear and be heard at all is a different matter altogether. Windsor v. McVeigh, 93 U.S. 274, 276-278 (1876).
The defendants admitted the seizure, but averred that it was made and that the vessel was condemned for violation of the revenue laws of Mexico, and to prove the averment produced a transcript of the record of the proceedings of the Mexican court against the vessel, and of the decree of condemnation. Among the questions considered by the court was the effect of that record as proof of the laws of Mexico, and of the jurisdiction of the court and the cause of seizure and condemnation. After stating that the sentence of a foreign court of admiralty and prize in rem was in general conclusive, not only in respect to the parties in interest, but 280*280 also for collateral purposes and in collateral suits, as to the direct matter of title and property in judgment, and as to the facts on which the tribunal professed to proceed, Mr. Justice Story said, that it did not strike him that any sound distinction could be made between a sentence pronounced in rem by a court of admiralty and prize, and a like sentence pronounced by a municipal court upon a seizure or other proceeding in rem; that in each the sentence was conclusive as to the title and property, and, it seemed to him, was equally conclusive as to the facts on which the sentence professed to be founded. But the learned judge added, that it was an essential ingredient in every case, when such effect was sought to be given to the sentence, that there should have been proper judicial proceedings upon which to found the decree; that is, that there should have been some certain written allegations of the offence, or statement of the charge for which the seizure was made, and upon which the forfeiture was sought to be enforced; and that there should be some personal or public notice of the proceedings, so that the parties in interest, or their representatives or agents, might know what the offence was with which they were charged, and might have an opportunity to defend themselves, and to disprove the same. "It is a rule," said the learned judge, "founded in the first principles of natural justice, that a party shall have an opportunity to be heard in his defence before his property is condemned, and that charges on which the condemnation is sought shall be specific, determinate, and clear. If a seizure is made and condemnation is passed without the allegation of any specific cause of forfeiture or offence, and without any public notice of the proceedings, so that the parties in interest have no opportunity of appearing and making a defence, the sentence is not so much a judicial sentence as an arbitrary sovereign edict. It has none of the elements of a judicial proceeding, and deserves not the respect of any foreign nation. It ought to have no intrinsic credit given to it, either for its justice or for its truth, by any foreign tribunal. It amounts to little more, in common sense and common honesty, than the sentence of the tribunal which first punishes and then hears the party, — castigatque, auditque. It may be binding upon the subjects of that particular nation. But, upon the 281*281 eternal principles of justice, it ought to have no binding obligation upon the rights or property of the subjects of other nations, for it tramples under foot all the doctrines of international law, and is but a solemn fraud, if it is clothed with all the forms of a judicial proceeding."
In another part of the same opinion the judge characterized such sentences "as mere mockeries, and as in no just sense judicial proceedings;" and declared that they "ought to be deemed, both ex directo in rem and collaterally, to be mere arbitrary edicts or substantial frauds."
This language, it is true, is used with respect to proceedings in rem of a foreign court, but it is equally applicable and pertinent to proceedings in rem of a domestic court, when they are taken without any monition or public notice to the parties. In Woodruff v. Taylor, 20 Vt. 65, the subject of proceedings in rem in our courts is elaborately considered by the Supreme Court of Vermont. After stating that in such cases notice is given to the whole world, but that from its nature it is to the greater part of the world constructive only, and mentioning the manner in which such notice is given in cases of seizure for violation of the revenue laws, by publication of the substance of the libel with the order of the court thereon specifying the time and place of trial, and by proclamation for all persons interested to appear and contest the forfeiture claimed, the court observed, that in every court and in all countries where judgments were respected, notice of some kind was given, and that it was just as material to the validity of a judgment in rem that constructive notice at least should appear to have been given as that actual notice should appear upon the record of a judgment in personam. "A proceeding," continued the court, "professing to determine the right of property, where no notice, written or constructive, is given, whatever else it might be called, would not be entitled to be dignified with the name of a judicial proceeding. It would be a mere arbitrary edict, not to be regarded anywhere as the judgment of a court."
In the proceedings before the District Court in the confiscation case, monition and notice, as already stated, were issued and published; but the appearance of the owner, for which they called, having been refused, the subsequent sentence of 282*282 confiscation of his property was as inoperative upon his rights as though no monition or notice had ever been issued. The legal effect of striking out his appearance was to recall the monition and notice as to him. His position with reference to subsequent proceedings was then not unlike that of a party in a personal action, after the service made upon him has been set aside. A service set aside is never service by which a judgment in the action can be upheld.
The doctrine invoked by counsel, that, where a court has once acquired jurisdiction, it has a right to decide every question which arises in the cause, and its judgment, however erroneous, cannot be collaterally assailed, is undoubtedly correct as a general proposition, but, like all general propositions, is subject to many qualifications in its application. All courts, even the highest, are more or less limited in their jurisdiction: they are limited to particular classes of actions, such as civil or criminal; or to particular modes of administering relief, such as legal or equitable; or to transactions of a special character, such as arise on navigable waters, or relate to the testamentary disposition of estates; or to the use of particular process in the enforcement of their judgments. Norton v. Meador, Circuit Court for California. Though the court may possess jurisdiction of a cause, of the subject-matter, and of the parties, it is still limited in its modes of procedure, and in the extent and character of its judgments. It must act judicially in all things, and cannot then transcend the power conferred by the law. If, for instance, the action be upon a money demand, the court, notwithstanding its complete jurisdiction over the subject and parties, has no power to pass judgment of imprisonment in the penitentiary upon the defendant. If the action be for a libel or personal tort, the court cannot order in the case a specific performance of a contract. If the action be for the possession of real property, the court is powerless to admit in the case the probate of a will. Instances of this kind show that the general doctrine stated by counsel is subject to many qualifications. The judgments mentioned, given in the cases supposed, would not be merely erroneous they would be absolutely void; because the court in rendering them would transcend the limits of its authority in those cases. See the language of Mr. Justice 283*283 Miller, to the same purport, in the case of Ex parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163. So it was held by this court in Bigelow v. Forrest, 9 id. 351, that a judgment in a confiscation case, condemning the fee of the property, was void for the remainder, after the termination of the life-estate of the owner. To the objection that the decree was conclusive that the entire fee was confiscated, Mr. Justice Strong, speaking the unanimous opinion of the court, replied: "Doubtless a decree of a court, having jurisdiction to make the decree, cannot be impeached collaterally; but, under the act of Congress, the District Court had no power to order a sale which should confer upon the purchaser rights outlasting the life of French Forrest (the owner). Had it done so, it would have transcended its jurisdiction." Id. 350.
So a departure from established modes of procedure will often render the judgment void; thus, the sentence of a person charged with felony, upon conviction by the court, without the intervention of a jury, would be invalid for any purpose. The decree of a court of equity upon oral allegations, without written pleadings, would be an idle act, of no force beyond that of an advisory proceeding of the Chancellor. And the reason is, that the courts are not authorized to exert their power in that way.
The doctrine stated by counsel is only correct when the court proceeds, after acquiring jurisdiction of the cause, according to the established modes governing the class to which the case belongs, and does not transcend, in the extent or character of its judgment, the law which is applicable to it. The statement of the doctrine by Mr. Justice Swayne, in the case of Cornell v. Williams, reported in the 20th of Wallace, is more accurate. "The jurisdiction," says the justice, "having attached in the case, everything done within the power of that jurisdiction, when collaterally questioned, is held conclusive of the rights of the parties, unless impeached for fraud." 20 Wall. 250.
It was not within the power of the jurisdiction of the District Court to proceed with the case, so as to affect the rights of the owner after his appearance had been stricken out, and the benefit of the citation to him thus denied. For jurisdiction 284*284 is the right to hear and determine; not to determine without hearing. And where, as in that case, no appearance was allowed, there could be no hearing or opportunity of being heard, and, therefore, could be no exercise of jurisdiction. By the act of the court, the respondent was excluded from its jurisdiction.
Judgment affirmed. Windsor v. McVeigh, 93 U.S. 274, 279-284 (1876).
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- > It looks to me like this case [Windsor v. McVeigh, 93 U.S. 274, 279-284 (1876)] has never been overturned and Google Scholar shows that it has been quoted from hundreds of times . . .Apparently that decision hasn't been overturned - I looked to see if I had it on a CD of numerous U.S. supreme court cases & while that decision isn't on it, it is referred to & the below quotation is from a 1996 decision, Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, Justice Ginsburg dissenting:As this Court affirmed more than a century ago: "Common justice requires that no man shall be condemned in his person or property without . . . an opportunity to make his defence." Baldwin v. Hale, 1 Wall. 223, 233 (1864). See also Windsor v. McVeigh, 93 U.S. 274, 277 (1876). A pro forma opportunity will not do. Due process demands an opportunity to be heard "at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner." Armstrong v. Manzo, 380 U.S. 545, 552 (1965); [Footnote & further list of cases omitted]~ ~ ~
- Windsor v. McVeigh, 93 U.S. 274, 277 (1876). Apro forma opportunity will not do. Due process demands an opportunity to be heard "at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner." Armstrong v. Manzo, 380 U.S. 545, 552 (1965)I cannot help but think of the treatment Irwin Schiff has received in re these cites. He certainly was not allowed to testify in his capacity (as an expert on tax law) and his jury was kept virtually incommunicado as to evidence.Common justice requires that no man shall be condemned in his person or property without . . . an opportunity to make his defence." Baldwin v. Hale, 1 Wall. 223, 233 (1864)And what of Pete Henderson? The courts demanded he testify to what he knew to be false!