Degge v. Hitchcock , 229 U.S. 162 ( 1913 )

  • 229 U.S. 162 (1913)


    Nos. 157, 158.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued January 31, 1913.
    Decided May 26, 1913.

    *164 Mr. O.A. Erdman, with whom Mr. Walter B. Guy was on the brief, for plaintiffs in error.

    Mr. Assistant Attorney General Adkins, with whom Mr. Louis G. Bissell was on the brief, for defendant in error.

    *169 MR. JUSTICE LAMAR, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

    This case is the first instance, so far as we can find, in which a Federal court has been asked to issue a writ of certiorari to review a ruling by an executive officer of the *170 United States Government. That at once suggests that the failure to make such application has been due to the conceded want of power to issue the writ to such officers. For, since the adoption of the Constitution, there have been countless rulings by heads of departments that directly affected personal and property rights and where the writ of certiorari, if available, would have furnished an effective method by which to test the validity of quasi-judicial orders under attack. The modern decisions cited to sustain the power of the court to act in the present case are based on state procedure and statutes that authorize the writ to issue not only to inferior tribunals, boards, assessors and administrative officers, but even to the Chief Executive of a State in proceedings where a quasi-judicial order has been made. But none of these decisions are in point in a Federal jurisdiction where no statute has been passed to enlarge the scope of the writ at common law.

    In ancient times it was used to compel the production of a record for use as evidence; more often to supplement a defective record in an appellate court, and later, to remove, before judgment — Harris v. Barber, 129 U.S. 366, 369 — a record from a court without jurisdiction and with a view of preventing error rather than of correcting it. When later still its scope was enlarged so as to make it serve the office of a writ of error, certiorari was granted only in those instances in which the inferior tribunal had acted without jurisdiction, or in disregard of statutory provisions. But in those cases the writ ran to boards (Reaves v. Ainsworth, 219 U.S. 296), officers, tribunals and inferior judicatures, whose findings and decisions, even though erroneous, had the quality of a final judgment, and there being no right of appeal or other method of review, the extraordinary writ of certiorari was resorted to from necessity to afford a remedy where there would otherwise have been a denial of justice. But in all those cases it ran *171 from court to court, — including boards, officers or tribunals having a limited statutory jurisdiction, but whose judgments would be conclusive unless set aside.

    The appellant insists that under these common law principles the writ should issue here because, having to act "upon evidence satisfactory to him" (Rev. Stat., § 3929), and notice and a hearing having been given, the Postmaster General acted in a judicial capacity in making the order, which was therefore subject to review on certiorari because he exceeded his jurisdiction and, without any proof of fraud in the use of the mails, deprived appellants of the valuable right to receive letters and money through the post-office.

    It is true that the Postmaster General gave notice and a hearing to the persons specially to be affected by the order and that in making his ruling he may be said to have acted in a quasi-judicial capacity. But the statute was passed primarily for the benefit of the public at large and the order was for them and their protection. That fact gave an administrative quality to the hearing and to the order and was sufficient to prevent it from being subject to review by writ of certiorari. The Postmaster General could not exercise judicial functions, and in making the decision he was not an officer presiding over a tribunal where his ruling was final unless reversed. Not being a judgment, it was not subject to appeal, writ of error, or certiorari. Not being a judgment, in the sense of a final adjudication, the appellants were not concluded by his decision, for had there been an arbitrary exercise of statutory power or a ruling in excess of the jurisdiction conferred, they had the right to apply for and obtain appropriate relief in a court of equity. School of Magnetic Healing v. McAnnulty, 187 U.S. 94. Philadelphia Co. v. Stimson, 223 U.S. 605, 620.

    The fact that there was this remedy is itself sufficient to take the case out of the principle on which, at common *172 law, right to the writ was founded. For there it issued to officers and tribunals only because there was no other method of preventing injustice. Besides, if the common law writ, with all of its incidents, could be construed to apply to administrative and quasi-judicial rulings it could, with a greater show of authority, issue to remove a record before decision and so prevent a ruling in any case where it was claimed there was no jurisdiction to act. This would overturn the principle that, as long as the proceedings are in fieri the courts will not interfere with the hearing and disposition of matters before the Departments. Plested v. Abbey, 228 U.S. 42, 51. To hold that the writ could issue either before or after an administrative ruling would make the dispatch of business in the Departments wait on the decisions of the courts and not only lead to consequences of the most manifest inconvenience, but would be an invasion of the Executive by the Judicial branch of the Government.

    The writ of certiorari is one of the extraordinary remedies and being such it is impossible to anticipate what exceptional facts may arise to call for its use, but the present case is not of that character, but rather an instance of an attempt to use the writ for the purpose of reviewing an administrative order. Public Clearing House v. Coyne, 194 U.S. 497. This cannot be done.


Document Info

DocketNumber: Nos. 157 and 158

Citation Numbers: 229 U.S. 162, 33 S. Ct. 639, 57 L. Ed. 1135, 1913 U.S. LEXIS 2431

Judges: Lamar, After Making the Foregoing Statement

Filed Date: 5/26/1913

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 5/5/2017

Cited By (20)

Hartranft v. Mullowny , 247 U.S. 295 ( 1918 )

United States Ex Rel. Milwaukee Social Democratic ... , 255 U.S. 407 ( 1921 )

Silberschein v. United States , 266 U.S. 221 ( 1924 )

Dismuke v. United States , 297 U.S. 167 ( 1936 )

Daranowich v. Land , 186 F.2d 386 ( 1951 )

COLORADO STATE BOARD OF EXAM. OF ARCH. v. Marshall , 315 P.2d 198 ( 1957 )

Drumheller v. Berks County Local Board No. 1 , 130 F.2d 610 ( 1942 )

Rood v. Goodman , 83 F.2d 28 ( 1936 )

Plapao Laboratories, Inc. v. Farley , 92 F.2d 228 ( 1937 )

Jeffries v. Olesen , 121 F. Supp. 463 ( 1954 )

Automobile Sales Co. v. Bowles , 58 F. Supp. 469 ( 1944 )

Rodenhiser v. Department of Public Safety , 137 A.2d 392 ( 1957 )

Siegel v. United States , 87 F. Supp. 555 ( 1949 )

H. E. Prettyman v. the Fla. R. E. Com., Branham , 92 Fla. 515 ( 1926 )

Knott v. State Ex Rel. , 140 Fla. 713 ( 1939 )

Florida Motor Lines, Inc. v. Railroad Com'rs. , 100 Fla. 538 ( 1930 )

Winneshiek Co. St. Bk. v. District Court , 203 Iowa 1277 ( 1927 )

State Ex Rel. Gardner v. Hall , 282 Mo. 425 ( 1920 )

Pue v. . Hood, Comr. of Banks , 222 N.C. 310 ( 1942 )

State v. Yashar ( 2007 )

View All Citing Opinions »