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UNITED STATES v. F. & M. SCHAEFER BREWING CO.

decided: April 7, 1958.

UNITED STATES
v.
F. & M. SCHAEFER BREWING CO.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT.

Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker

Author: Whittaker

[ 356 U.S. Page 228]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents questions concerning the timeliness of an appeal by the Government from a summary judgment of a District Court to the Court of Appeals in an action for the recovery of money only. The basic question presented is which of two series of judicial and ministerial acts -- one on April 14 and the other on May 24, 1955 -- constituted the "judgment" and "entry of the judgment." If it was the former, the appeal was out of time, but if the latter, it was not.

The overt facts are clear and undisputed. Respondent sued the Government for $7,189.57, alleged to have been illegally assessed and collected from it as federal stamp taxes, and for interest thereon from the date of payment. After issue was joined, respondent moved for summary judgment. The district judge, after hearing the motion,

[ 356 U.S. Page 229]

     filed an opinion on April 14, 1955 (130 F.Supp. 322), in which, after finding that respondent had paid stamp taxes to the Government in the amount of $7,012.50 and interest in the amount of $177.07, but making no finding of the date or dates of payment, he referred to an earlier decision of the same legal question by his colleague, Judge Leibell, in United States v. National Sugar Refining Co., 113 F.Supp. 157, and concluded, saying: "I am in agreement with Judge Leibell's analysis and, accordingly, the plaintiff's motion is granted." Thereupon, the clerk made the following notation in the civil docket: "April 14, 1955. Rayfiel, J. Decision rendered on motion for summary judgment. Motion granted. See opinion on file."

Thereafter, on May 24, 1955, counsel for respondent presented to the judge, and the latter signed and filed, a formal document captioned "Judgment," which referred to the motion and the hearing of it and to the "opinion" of April 14, and then,

"ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the plaintiff, The F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Co., recover of the defendant, United States of America, the sum of $7,189.57 and interest thereon from February 19, 1954 in the amount of $542.80, together with costs as taxed by the Clerk of the Court in the sum of $37, aggregating the sum of $7,769.37, and that plaintiff have judgment against defendant therefor."

On the same day the clerk stamped the document "Judgment Rendered: Dated: May 24th, 1955," and made the following notation in the civil docket:

"May 24, 1955. Rayfiel, J. Judgment filed and docketed against defendant in the sum of $7189.57 with interest of $542.80 together with costs $37 amounting in all to $7769.37. Bill of Costs attached to judgment."

[ 356 U.S. Page 230]

     On July 21, 1955, the Government filed its notice of appeal from the order "entered in this action on May 25th, 1955 . . . ." Thereafter, respondent moved to dismiss the appeal upon the ground that the opinion of April 14 constituted the "judgment," that the clerk's entry of that date constituted "entry of the judgment," and that the appeal was not taken within 60 days from the "entry of the judgment," as required by Rule 73 (a).*fn1 The Court of Appeals, holding that the opinion of April 14 was a "decisive and complete act of adjudication," and that the notation made by the clerk in the civil docket on that date constituted "entry of the judgment" within the meaning of Rule 58 and adequately disclosed the "substance" of the judgment as required by Rule 79 (a), sustained the motion and dismissed the appeal as untimely. 236 F.2d 889. Because of an asserted conflict among the circuits*fn2 and the public importance of the proper interpretation and uniform application of the provisions of the Federal Rules governing the time within

[ 356 U.S. Page 231]

     which appeals may be taken from judgments of District Courts in actions for money only tried without a jury, we granted certiorari. 353 U.S. 907.

Stated summarily, the Government contends (1) that practical considerations require that a final judgment be contained in a separate document so labeled; (2) that the district judge's opinion did not contain any of the elements of a final judgment for money nor manifest an intention that it was to be his final act in the case; (3) that it was only the formal judgment of May 24 which awarded any sum of money to respondent and which invoked the provisions of Rule 58, saying "When the court directs that a party recover only money or costs or that all relief be denied, the clerk shall enter judgment forthwith upon receipt by him of the direction"; (4) that where, as here, a formal judgment is signed and filed by the judge it is prima facie his final decision, and, inasmuch as nothing in his opinion indicated any contrary intention, the formal "judgment" constituted his final decision; and (5) that the notation made by the clerk in the civil docket on April 14 did not indicate an award of any sum of money to respondent and, therefore, did not "show . . . the substance of [a money] judgment of the court," as required by Rule 79 (a) and, hence, did not constitute "the entry of [a] judgment" for money, within the meaning of Rule 58, nor start the running of the time to appeal under Rule 73 (a).

Resolution of these contentions depends principally upon the proper construction and application of the pertinent provisions of Rules 58 and 79 (a). Rule 58, in pertinent part, provides:

[ 356 U.S. Page 232]

     "When the court directs that a party recover only money or costs or that all relief be denied, the clerk shall enter judgment forthwith upon receipt by him of the direction . . . . The notation of a judgment in the civil docket as provided by Rule 79 (a) constitutes Page 232} the entry of the judgment ; and the judgment is not effective before such entry." (Emphasis supplied.)

So much of Rule 79 (a) as is pertinent here provides:

"All . . . judgments shall be noted . . . in the civil docket . . . . These notations shall be brief but shall show . . . the substance of each . . . judgment of the court . . . . " (Emphasis supplied.)

At the outset the Government contends that practical considerations -- namely, certainty as to what judicial pronouncements are intended to be final judgments in order to avoid both premature and untimely appeals, to render certain the date of judgment liens, and to enable the procurement of writs of execution, transcripts and certified copies of judgments -- require that a judgment be contained in a separate document so labeled, and urges us so to hold. Whatever may be the practical needs in these respects, the answer is that no present statute or rule so requires, as the Government concedes, and the decisional law seems settled that "no form of words . . . is necessary to evince [the] rendition [of a judgment]." United States v. Hark, 320 U.S. 531, 534. See also In re Forstner Chain Corporation, 177 F.2d 572, 576.

While an opinion may embody a final decision, the question whether it does so depends upon whether the judge has or has not clearly declared his intention in this respect in his opinion. Therefore, when, as here, the action is for money only -- whether for a liquidated or an unliquidated amount, as Rule 58 makes no such distinction -- it is necessary to determine whether the language of the opinion embodies the essential elements of a judgment for money and clearly evidences the judge's intention that it shall be his final act in the case. If it does so, it constitutes his final judgment and, under Rule 58, it "directs that a party recover [a sum of] money," and,

[ 356 U.S. Page 233]

     "upon receipt by [the clerk] of the [opinion]," requires him to "enter judgment forthwith" against the party found liable for the amount awarded, which is to be done by making a brief "notation of [the] judgment in the civil docket [showing the substance of the judgment of the court] as provided by Rule 79 (a)." When all of these elements clearly appear final judgment has been both pronounced and entered, and the time to appeal starts to run under the provisions of Rule 73 (a). And, as correctly held by the Court of Appeals, the later filing and entry of a more formal judgment could not constitute a second final judgment in the case nor extend the time to appeal. 236 F.2d, at 892.

But, on the other hand, if the opinion leaves doubtful whether the judge intended it to be his final act in the case -- and, in an action for money, failure to determine either expressly or by reference the amount to be awarded is strong evidence of such lack of intention -- one cannot say that it "directs that a party recover [a sum of] money," as required by Rule 58 before the clerk "shall enter judgment forthwith"; nor can one say that the clerk's "notation in the civil docket" -- if it sets forth no more substance than is contained or directed in the opinion, and being only a ministerial act (In re Forstner Chain Corporation, supra, 177 F.2d, at 576) it may do no more -- "show[s] . . . the substance of [a] judgment" of the court, as required by Rule 79 (a), and "constitutes the entry of the judgment" against a party for a sum of money under Rule 58.

[ 356 U.S. Page 234]

     While, as stated, there is no statute or rule that specifies the essential elements of a final judgment, and this Court has held that "no form of words and no peculiar formal act is necessary to evince [the] rendition [of a judgment]" (United States v. Hark, supra, at 534), yet it is obvious that a final judgment for money must, at least, determine, or specify the means for determining, the amount (United Page 234} States v. Cooke, 215 F.2d 528, 530); and an opinion, in such a case, which does not either expressly or by reference determine the amount of money awarded reveals doubt, at the very least, whether the opinion was a " complete act of adjudication" -- to borrow a phrase from the Court of Appeals -- or was intended by the judge to be his final act in the case.

But respondent argues, as the Court of Appeals held, that the opinion stated the amount of money illegally collected from respondent and, therefore, adequately determined the amount awarded, and that inasmuch as the clerk's entry incorporated the opinion by reference, it, too, adequately stated the amount of the judgment. This contention might well be accepted were it not for the fact that the action also sought recovery of interest on the amount paid by respondent from the date of payment to the date of judgment, and for the fact that the opinion does not state the date or dates of payment and, hence, did not state facts necessary to compute the amount of interest to be included in the judgment. Cf. United States v. Cooke, supra, at 530. In an effort to counter the effect of these omissions, respondent states that a search of the record, which it urges we should make, would show that the Government's answer admitted the date of payment, and thus would furnish the information necessary to compute the amount of interest to be included in the judgment. It relies upon a statement in the Forstner case, supra, saying "Whether such a judgment has been rendered depends primarily upon the intention of the court, as gathered from the record as a whole . . . . " 177 F.2d, at ...


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