CENTURY INDEMNITY CO. v. NELSON(1938)
Dedided Feb. 28, 1938.
Messrs. Jewel Alexander and Oliver Dibble, both of San Francisco, Cal ., for petitioner.
Joe G. Sweet, of San Francisco, Cal., for respondent. [303 U.S. 213, 214]
Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
This cause went up by appeal from the District Court, Northern District, California. Of the twenty-eight assignments of error, eleven, based upon the trial court's refusal of certain requested special findings, were rejected by the Circuit Court of Appeals. It held the requests 'were made too late,' that 'the findings were proposed after the trial had been completed and after the court had announced its decision and hence did not occur during the trial.' To support this view it cited Continental National Bank v. National City Bank, 9 Cir., 69 F.2d 312, 317, which affirms-'It is settled that they (requests for findings) come too late if made after judgment, even though the trial judge after judgment granted leave to make the request.'
A jury having been duly waived, the trial judge heard evidence. At the conclusion of this counsel for both sides made motions for judgment and findings. The minutes of May 31, 1934, shows: 'This case having been heretofore heard and submitted and due consideration having been had, it is ordered that judgment be entered for plaintiff, with interest and costs, upon findings of facts and conclusion of law to be presented.'
The bill of exceptions recites: 'Thereafter (after requests for judgment and findings) the case was orally argued before the court and was submitted upon written briefs. Thereafter and on June 1, 1934, (May 31?) and outside the presence of the parties, the Court made and entered its order granting judgment to the plaintiff with findings to be submitted. Thereafter proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law were served and lodged with the Court by plaintiff, and within the time allowed by law the defendant served and lodged its proposed special findings of fact and conclusions of law in lieu of those proposed by the plaintiff. [303 U.S. 213, 215] Thereafter and on June 16, 1934, the Court, without the presence of the parties, signed the proposed special findings of fact and conclusions of law of the plaintiff and filed same on said date as the findings and conclusions of the Court, and judgment was entered on said June 16, 1934.'
June 16, 1934, 'Special Findings and Conclusions of Law' presented for plaintiff Nelson were signed by the District Court and were filed. The document concluded thus:
Section 875, Title 28, U.S.C.A., is in the margin;1 also Rule 42, District Court, Northern District of California. 2 [303 U.S. 213, 216] We are unable to accept the conclusion below that within the intent of the statute the 'progress of the trial' ended on June 1, when the court ordered 'that judgment be entered for plaintiff, with interest and costs, upon findings of fact and conclusions of law to be presented,' and thereafter it was too late adequately to present special findings of fact. The qualifying words in the order, 'upon findings of fact and conclusions of law to be presented,' are appropriate to suggest 'merely a preliminary order' and reservation of opportunity for further action. Considering them along with Rule 42 and the subsequent action by counsel for both sides and the court-all without suggestion of objection-it appears plain enough that all parties understood the cause was 'inprogress of trial' until entry of the final judgment on June 16. Rule 42 is susceptible of the interpretation insisted upon by counsel for petitioner and ap- [303 U.S. 213, 217] parently they proceeded in good faith according to that view. In so doing, we think they were right. See Clement v. Phoenix Ins. Co., Fed.Cas. No. 2, 882.
Continental National Bank v. National City Bank, supra, does not discuss Rule 42 and went upon facts which seem materially different from those presented by this record.
Refusal to consider the eleven assignments of error arose from what we regard as wrongful interpretation and application of section 875, 28 U. S.C.A. and Rule 42. Their evident purpose is to insure orderly and timely presentation to the judge of matters deemed important in advance of any definite action by him in respect of them. They should not be so narrowly construed as to defeat their real purpose.
It is not necessary in the circumstances to treat the first order for judgment (June 1) as ending 'the progress of the trial.' All counsel and the presiding judge seem, rightly we think, to have entertained a wholly different view and to have acted accordingly.
The challenged judgment must be reversed. The cause will be remanded to the Circuit Court of Appeals for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.
Mr. Justice CARDOZO took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
[ Footnote * ] Mandate conformed to 96 F.2d 679.
[ Footnote 1 ] Section 875, title 28 U.S.C.A.
[ Footnote 2 ] Rule 42, United States District Court, Northern District of California.