John Miller & Bryan Croom vs. Fredrick & Lewis Hoc
About This Case
In 1847, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case of John Miller and Bryan Croom vs. Frederic and Louis Hoc. This case came to the high court as an appeal from the Superior Court of the former Territory of Florida.
In 1841, the brothers Frederic and Louis Hoc, French settlers and sons of Tallahassee grocer Louis Hoc, sued local planters John Miller and Bryan Croom for debt on an attachment bond in the Superior Court of Leon County.
The attachment or property levied may have been building materials, as an 1845 filing by their attorney referred to newly discovered evidence that the plaintiffs “retained possession of the property levied on…and with the burned brick, built a house or a part thereof, and used or sold the others.”
Miller and Croom filed pleas denying the debt action in December. In February of 1842, a judgment by default was entered against Miller and Croom, despite the fact that they had filed pleas.
Later in 1842 the Hoc brothers filed their reply for damages. There was a second case between the parties that was in all respects similar to this, and in March 1845, the two cases, by consent of both parties, were submitted together to a jury. The jury found for the Hoc brothers and assessed the damages at $1,500, which included both cases.
A few days later on motion of the Hocs, the jury empanelled in the case was recalled into Court for the purpose of apportioning the damages returned by them in their verdict between the two cases. Miller and Croom filed a bill of exceptions about the case, which was refused because the jury was called together only to specify the verdict already found. They lost the case and appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Florida. By this time, the parties in the case had been reduced to Miller and Croom versus Frederic Hoc, as his brother Louis had committed suicide in June of 1846.
The Supreme Court found that the lower court had erred in pronouncing a judgment by default, when the record showed that pleas by the defendant had in fact been entered. The Court also decided that separate and independent verdicts should have been rendered in each case, as opposed to a combined verdict. And finally, that the jury should not have been reconvened when there was no new issue to try. The judgment was reversed and sent back to the lower court for further proceedings.
Summary of the ruling, as published in Florida Reports, Volume 1 (1847):
“Where the record shows that a judgment by default, for want of a plea was entered, when in fact a plea had been filed and appeared upon the record, the court will conclude that the plea was overlooked, and that judgment was entered through inadvertence.
“When two distinct cases between the same parties, are by consent, submitted at the same time to the same jury, the jury should return a separate verdict in each case.
“And in such case the jury should assess the damages, not pro rata [proportionately], but according to the evidence in each case, independent of the other.
“Upon failure to rejoin to the replication to a plea of non damnificatus [the defendant’s plea that the plaintiff has not been damaged], there is no issue which can be submitted to a jury, and the defect is not cured by a verdict.
“A jury, after having rendered their verdict on Saturday and been discharged, cannot be recalled on the ensuing Wednesday for the purpose of putting their verdict in form, and apportioning the damages in each of the two cases which had been by consent submitted to them.”