Mr. Jacinto Texidor for appellant.
Messrs. Manuel Rodriguez Serra and Charles Hartzell for appellee.
M. Justice Pitney delivered the opinion of the court:
This action was brought in the district court for the judicial district of Ponce, by the appellant, against the respondent, for the purpose of establishing her ownership of an undivided interest in certain real property in Ponce [227 U.S. 584, 585] of which the defendant was in possession, and for setting aside the registration of possession and of ownership of the same property in the name of the defendant, alleged to have been fraudulently procured by him, and to stand as a bar, preventing the registration of the plaintiff's alleged undivided interest.
The action was fully tried before the district court without a jury, upon the issues raised by the plaintiff's amended complaint and the defendant's answer thereto, and the following decision was rendered:
Ponce, P. R., April 26th, 1909
The question involved in this suit is to determine the rights of Dona Marcelina Rosaly in a property which she, as a member of a mercantile partnership, gave in lease to the defendant in the year 1880. The other members of said partnership were relatives of the plaintiff herein. It seems that in the year 1886 and following years, the defendant bought the respective interests of the several partners, and it seems, also, that he did not buy the interest belonging to Dona Marcelina, for the reason that she had lost her rights to an interest in the property belonging to said mercantile partnership. More properly speaking, the defendant acquired all the interests belonging to all such persons as he believed to have an interest in the property referred to. Twenty-three years have elapsed since the year 1886. The plaintiff lacks absolutely any means to show what was her interest in the properties of the partnership, and whether or not she had any interest whatever in the year 1886. There is absolute lack of evidence on the part of the plaintiff. This court does not look at old claims with favor, specially when the plaintiff's delay in bringing the action is not explained. Counsel for both parties have entered into a lengthy argument upon the construction of the mortgage law and other points. But the court does not make any decision with regard to [227 U.S. 584, 586] such questions at the present time. The most important matter is the absolute want of evidence on which to base a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Therefore the action is dismissed, with costs against the plaintiff.
Martin E. Gill,
Judgment having been rendered accordingly, the plaintiff appealed to the supreme court of Porto Rico. Thereafter her attorneys filed in the district court what purports to be a full history of the proceedings at the trial. It is entitled, 'Statement of Facts and Bill of Exceptions,' and is certified by Hon. Charles E. Foote (who succeeded Judge Gill as judge of the district court) to contain a 'true and accurate statement of all the evidence introduced, exceptions taken, and proceedings had, during the trial of this cause in the district court of Ponce.'
The supreme court of Porto Rico, affirmed the judgment, Mr. Justice del Toro delivering the opinion (16 P. R. R. 156), in which, after stating the issues raised by the pleadings, he reviews the evidence and states the conclusions of the court thereon as follows:
The numerous exceptions to the rulings of the trial court upon matters of evidence were then reviewed, with the result of determining that there was no legal error therein.
The resulting judgment was expressed as follows:
San Juan, Porto Rico, March 11th 1910.
This court has carefully examined the transcript of record filed in this case, and considered the briefs and arguments of counsel for both sides, and for the reasons given in the opinion filed herewith, the court decides to dismiss the appeal and to affirm the judgment appealed [227 U.S. 584, 589] from, rendered by the district court of Ponce on the 26th of April, 1909.
An appeal having been taken to this court, the following order was made:
San Juan, Porto Rico, 19th of May, 1910.
As the statement of facts and bill of exceptions which was approved by the Hon. Charles E. Foote, District Judge for the Judicial District of Ponce, on the 15th of July, 1909, and which forms a part of the record on the appeal taken in the aboveentitled case, was the statement of facts and bill of exceptions considered and acted upon by this court in the discussion and decision of said appeal, it is hereby ordered that the same be used as statement of facts and bill of exceptions in this case. in the appeal taken by the plaintiff herein to the Supreme Court of the United States from the judgment rendered by the supreme court of Porto Rico.
Jose C. Hernandez,
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Porto Rico.
The cause has been argued here very much at large, and as if it were the duty of this court to review the evidence and reach its own conclusions of fact therefrom. This is a misapprehension of the proper function of this court in the premises. At the time the appeal was taken and the record made up 35 of the act of April 12, 1900, chap. 191, known as the Foraker act, was in force (31 Stat. at L. 77, 85, since superseded by 244 of the Judicial Code of March 3, 1911, 36 Stat. at L. 1157, chap. 231, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, p. 229), by which it was enacted 'that writs of error and appeals from the final decisions of the supreme court of Porto Rico and the district court of the United States shall be allowed and may be taken to the Supreme Court of the United States in the same manner and under the same [227 U.S. 584, 590] regulations and in the same cases as from the supreme courts of the territories of the United States,' etc. Writs of error and appeals from the supreme courts of the territories were regulated by act of April 7, 1874, chap. 80, 2, 18 Stat. at L. 27, 28, by which it was provided: 'That on appeal, instead of the evidence at large, a statement of the facts of the case in the nature of a special verdict, and also the rulings of the court on the admission or rejection of evidence when excepted to, shall be made and certified by the court below, and transmitted to the Supreme Court, together with the transcript of the proceedings and judgment or decree.'
Our jurisdiction, therefore, is confined to determining whether the facts found by the supreme court of Porto Rico support its judgment, and whether there was material and prejudicial error in the admission or rejection of evidence, manifested by exceptions duly certified. Gonzales v. Buist, 224 U.S. 126, 130 , 56 S. L. ed. 693, 695, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 463; Nielsen v. Steinfeld, 224 U.S. 534, 538 , 56 S. l. ed. 872, 873, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 609; Eagle Min. & Improv. Co. v. Hamilton, 218 U.S. 513, 515 , 54 S. L. ed. 1131, 1132, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 27; Stringfellow v. Cain, 99 U.S. 610, 613 , 25 S. L. ed. 421, 422; Neslin v. Wells, F. & Co. 104 U.S. 428, 429 , 26 S. L. ed. 802, 803; Haws v. Victoria Copper Min. Co. 160 U.S. 303, 313 , 40 S. L. ed. 436, 439, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 282; Harrison v. Perea, 168 U.S. 311, 323 , 42 S. L. ed. 478, 482, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 129; Young v. Amy, 171 U.S. 179, 183 , 43 S. L. ed. 127, 128, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 802.
An examination of the 'statement of facts and bill of exceptions' shows that it contains nothing that could, by any stretch of construction, be deemed a finding of facts in the nature of a special verdict. In the absence of such findings there is nothing for us to review except the rulings upon evidence, and, in the absence of error in those rulings, the judgment must be affirmed. Thompson v. Ferry, 180 U.S. 484 , 45 L. ed. 633, 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 453; Gonzales v. Buist, 224 U.S. 126, 130 , 56 S. L. ed. 693, 695, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 463; Eagle Min. & Improv. Co. v. Hamilton, 218 U.S. 513, 515 , 54 S. L. ed. 1131, 1132, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 27.
But since the judgment record itself discloses that the opinion delivered by Mr. Justice del Toro was made a part of the judgment, we may, for present purposes, [227 U.S. 584, 591] accept the statement of facts contained in that opinion in lieu of more formal findings.
The essential facts, as recited in the opinion, may be summarized as follows: That prior to the year 1868, Don Mateo Rabainne and his son, Don Luis Rabainne, as partners in the name of M. Rabainne e Hijos, were the owners of the property in question; that Don Mateo died April 23, 1868, and Don Luis died April 8, 1869; that the partnership was liquidated by deed executed January 29, 1870, by the heirs and representatives of the deceased partners; that in the liquidation a certain part of the interest of Don Luis was found to belong to his widow, the present plaintiff and appellant; that she, together with the widow of Don Mateo, and with Don Jobo Lopez, son-in-law of the latter, entered into a new partnership to continue the former business, under the firm name of M. Rabainnee Hijos, to which partnership the plaintiff contributed all her interest in the property in question; that the plaintiff's interest in the firm was subsequently reduced by withdrawals of capital, and finally extinguished, so that she became a debtor of the partnership. Therefore the supreme court held that the fundamental fact of the plaintiff's interest in the property at the time of her action against the defendant had not been proven. This is equivalent to a negative finding upon a fact essential to the maintenance of her suit, and it, of course, supports the judgment affirming the judgment of the district court that dismissed the action.
There remains only the question whether prejudicial error was committed by the trial court respecting the admission or exclusion of evidence. There are numerous exceptions, with assignments of error based thereon. They have been examined, without finding substantial error in the rulings complained of. They do not merit detailed discussion here.