136 US 468 Stevens v. Fuller
136 U.S. 468
10 S.Ct. 911
34 L.Ed. 461
May 19, 1890.
Wm. E. Jewell, for appellant.
E. W. Hutchins and H. Wheeler, for appellee.
This is an appeal by William J. Stevens from an order of the circuit court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts, refusing to discharge him from custody on a writ of habeas corpus. The following are the material facts: William G. Fuller having recovered a judgment against Stevens in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts for $18,000, an execution was issued thereon to the marshal, which commanded him, if he could find no property belonging to Stevens, to take his body and commit him to jail. Accompanying that execution was an affidavit made by Fuller that the Judgment in question amounted to $20, exclusive of costs, and that $20 remained uncollected, and that he believed, and had good reason to believe, that Stevens had property not exempt from execution, which he did not intend to apply to the payment of the judgment claim, and that he intended to leave the state and district of Massachusetts. Thereupon a commissioner of the circuit court certified that, after due hearing, he was satisfied that there was reasonable cause to believe that the charge made in the affidavit was true, and that, satisfactory cause having been shown, he thereby authorized the arrest of Stevens, if his arrest was authorized by law, to be made after sunset. Stevens was arrested and brought before Henry L. Hallett, a United States commissioner for the distict of Massachusetts, who interrogated him, and he declared that he did not desire to take any oath, or to recognize or to give bail for his appearance at any time, and he failed to recognize or give bail. Thereafter the commissioner gave notice to Fuller that Stevens desired to take the oath for the relief of poor debtors, at a time specified and appointed, at the office of the commissioner. Stevens then gave a recognizance for his appearance at such time and place, to be examined. He duly appeared and submitted to be examined, protesting that the commissioner was not authorized by law to order him to be examined touching his property, and stating that he did not waive any informalities in his arrest or in any of the other proceedings. His examination was begun and continued for some time. In the course of it he offered evidence from the court of insolvency for the county of Suffolk, in the district, that proceedings in insolvency had been begun by him and were then pending. Thereupon >>Fuller filed with the commissioner charges of fraud against Stevens, alleging that Stevens, since he had contracted the debt for which the judgment was rendered, had fraudulently conveyed, concealed, or otherwise disposed of some part of his estate with a design to secure the same to his own use and to defraud his creditors, and specifying the particulars of seven different conveyances of land, and a mr tgage of land, and three payments of money, by him with such design. The examination of Stevens as a poor debtor was suspended by the commissioner, and a hearing was had before him on such charges of fraud. Stevens put in a plea of want ofjurisdiction as to such charges, on the ground that alll the transfers of property but one were made by him in the state of New Hampshire, and while he was an inhabitant thereof, and not within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, or of any court or magistrate therein, and that at the time of thefiling of such charges he had been adjudged an insolvent debtor under the laws of Massachusetts, by the judge of the court of insolvency for Suffolk county, and all of his right, title, and interest in the property mentioned in the charges of fraud had become vested in said court of insolvency. At the same time he filed with the commissioner a motion to quash the charges, on the ground that it appeared therefrom that the property alleged was conveyed by him while he was a resident in and a citizen of New Hampshire, and was conveyed by him in New Hampshire, and not within the jurisdiction of the courts of Massachusetts, or of the commissioner, or of the circuit court of the United States, for the district of Massachusetts, and that he could not be tried by such commissioner, or sentenced by him thereon, if found guilty; and also because all of the charges were vague, and did not with sufficient certainty set forthe any fraudulent transfer of any property belonging to him. Afterwards an assignment in insolvency of the estate, real and personal, of Stevens was made by the judge of the court of insolvency to duly appointed assignees. After the close of the testimony before the commissioner on the charges of fraud, and before his decision thereon was rendered, Stevens requested that his examination as a poor debtor be again taken up, and he be allowed to offer evidence of his releases and conveyance to his assignees in insolvency, at their request, of all his title to the estates so charged to have been fraudulently conveyed by him, and requested also that he be allowed to complete his own examination as a poor debtor; which requests were refused by the commissioner. On the 25th of January, 1890, the commissioner gave his decision on the charges of fraud, sustaining them, and finding Stevens guilty thereof, and sentencing him to be imprisoned for six months in the jail at Boston. Stevens appealed from that decision to the circuit court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts, and gave a recognizance with sureties. Thereafter, but on the same day, and before any other or further order or act of the commissioner, and before any finding made on the charge in the affidavit which accompanied the execution as to property, Stevens again requested that his examination as a poor debtor, so suspended, be taken up, and he be permitted to offer evidence of the releases and conveyance above mentioned, and also to complete his own examination as a poor debtor. Both of such requests were refused by the commissioner, and the examination of Stevens as a poor debtor was not completed. No other witness than Stevens was offered during his examination as a poor debtor, and no other evidence except such assignment in insolvency was offered thereon, except that partly given by him. His examination was not read to him and corrected, and he did not sign or swear to it. On the same day the commissioner made a certificate that it appeared that Stevens 'has property and estate to the amount of twenty dollars, besides the estate, goods, and chattels which are by law exempt from being taken on executon,' and that, after due examination of him, the commissioner refused to administer to him the oath for the relief of poor debtors. Thereupon Stevens was taken into custody by the marshal of the district under the execution, and lodged in the Suffolk county jail, where he was detained. On the foregoing facts, Stevn s, on the 28th of January, 1890, obtained from the circuit court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts a writ of habeas corpus, returnable in that court. At the hearing thereon evidence was introduced by both parties as to what took place at the hearing before the commissioner on the 25th of January, 1890, and the commissioner himself was examined as a witness. The circuit court ordered that the writ of habeas corpus be discharged, and that Stevens be remanded to the custody of the marshal. To review that order Stevens has taken an appeal to this court.
The circuit court stated its decision and the grounds thereof in these words: 'The court decided that, although no formal request appeared to have been made by either party before the commissioner that the examination of the debtor should be in writing, yet, as it was in fact taken in writing and this mode of proceeding was adopted with the assent of both parties, this was equivalent to a previous formal request that it should be so taken; that, as the examination was not signed and sworn to by the debtor, as required by the statute, and no opportunity was given him to sign and swear to it, and he never refused to do so, the examination was imperfect and incomplete, and had not reached a stage to justify the commissioner in assuming to pass upon the question whether the debtor was entitled to be admitted to take the oath for the relief of poor debtors; that the commissioner's certificate annexed to the execution was therefore premature and irregular; that this irregularity did not, however, have the effect to render all the proceedings before him absolutely void, so as to authorize the court to direct the discharge of the debtor from custody upon this writ, and thus deprive the creditor of his right to hold the body of the debtor for his debt; but that the debtor's remedy was, rather, by application to the court to set aside the certificate as irregular, and to direct that he might go at large under his old recognizance, or upon a new recognizance; and that the examination might proceed before the commissioner, and, when completed, a new adjudication be made by him.' We are of opinion that the order of the circuit court must be affirmed. The matters alleged before that court against the action of the commissioner did not go to the question of his jurisdiction so as to make such action reviewable on habeas corpus by the circuit court. He had jurisdiction of the subject-matter and of the person of Stevens under the proceedings instituted in conformity with the statutes of Massachusetts. The objections taken on the part of Stevens, at the hearing before the commissioner and also urged here, to the proceedings before the commissioner, all of them went only to alleged errors and irregularities in those proceedings, which could not be reviewed by the circuit court on a writ of habeas corpus, and cannot be taken cognizance of by this court on this appeal. It was proper for the circuit court to admit in evidence the poor debtor examination before the commissioner, and the evidence offered before him on the charges of fraud. It is conceded in the brief of the counsel for Stevens that the proper affidavit was made and the proper certificate of the commissioner was annexed to the execution authorizing the arrest. The points urged before the circuit court, and urged here, that Stevens was entitled to have his examination as a poor debtor read over to him, and to have it corrected, and to sign and swear to it, and the other points raised by him as to the proceedings before the commissioner, are mere questions of irregularity, not reviewable by the circuit court on habeas corpus, or by this court on this appeal. This rule is well established in cases of original writs of habeas corpus issued by this court. Ex parte Parks, 93 U. S. 18; Ex parte Reed, 100 U. S. 13, 23; Ex parte Siebold, Id. 371, 375; Ex parte Carll, 106 U. S. 521, 1 Sup. Ct. Rep. 535; Ex parte Wilson, 114 U. S. 417, 421, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 935. The same o ctrine applies to the circuit court in the present case in its review on habeas corpus of the proceedings before the commissioner, and it has been applied by this court on appeals to it from inferior courts in habeas corpus proceedings. Benson v. McMahon, 127 U. S. 457, 461, 462, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1240; In re Coy, 127 U. S. 731, 758, 759, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1263; Ex parte Nielsen, 131 U. S. 176, 182, 184, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 672; Ex parte Savin, 131 U. S. 267, 279, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 699; Ex parte Cuddy, 131 U. S. 280, 285, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 703. The case of Ex parte Savin, supra, was an appeal from an order of a circuit court of the United States dismissing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, where the party had been imprisoned for contempt of court by a district court of the United States. This court said, speaking by Mr. Justice HARLAN: 'Our conclusion is that the district court had jurisdiction of the subject-matter and of the person, and that irregularities, if any, occurring in the mere conduct of the case, do not affect the validity of its final order. Its judgment, so far as it involved mere errors, cannot be reviewed in this collateral proceeding, and must be affirmed.' These views are conclusive to show that the order of the circuit court must be affirmed, and it is so ordered.