Where a trial judge apparently sustained a general demurrer the ground of which was that the petition did not set forth a cause of action, and sustained at the same time two demurrers not directed at the merits of the cause of action, the judgment of this court on the appeal of the case--wherein this court held that the lower court did not dismiss the action on the merits and dismissed the writ of error--is the law of the case rather than the trial-court judgment, and the court erred in sustaining the plea of res judicata and in holding the second action barred.
Preston M. Almand, as administrator of the estate of Mrs. W. A. (Annie Laurie Hyman) Reese, brought this suit against Northern Assurance Co., Ltd., on August 15, 1952, in the City Court of Athens, to recover on a fire-insurance policy for a fire loss sustained by the estate on April 7, 1949. It was alleged that the parties had entered into an agreement on November 16, 1949, adjusting the loss under the policy at $2,800, and that the plaintiff then filed proof of loss. Credit was given for $1,229.34 paid to the holder of a deed to secure debt upon the property destroyed, and the suit was for the balance with interest, damages for bad faith, and attorney's fees.
The defendant filed demurrers and an answer to this suit, subject to the demurrers, admitting that $1,570.66 with interest was due and alleging tender of this amount on August 12 and 15, 1952, after the interpleader and injunction was dismissed, which tenders were refused by the plaintiff.
The defendant also filed, on December 23, 1952, a plea of res judicata, setting up a judgment rendered in its favor on August 15, 1952, in a suit in Clarke Superior Court, on the same cause of action and between the same parties, and in which the court had jurisdiction. It was alleged in the plea that the plaintiff had filed his bill of exceptions to the Court of Appeals, seeking to reverse the judgment of Clarke Superior Court, but that this court dismissed the appeal, and that the judgment of Clarke Superior Court stands as a final adjudication of the cause of action sued upon.
This plea was tried separately from the other issues in the case. The evidence submitted consisted of the following parts of the record in the former suit, in this court and in Clarke Superior Court: (1) The petition, filed by the same plaintiff in Clarke Superior Court and brought on the same policy and for the same loss by fire.
(2) An amendment to the petition, alleging that the plaintiff's counsel had learned of the restraining order before process had issued against the defendant; that, upon such information being transmitted by the plaintiff's counsel to the clerk of the court, no process issued, and that the case in which the restraining order was granted had been dismissed; and the amendment contained a prayer for process.
(3) The defendant's demurrers to the former suit, filed on August 12, 1952, being as follows: "1. Defendant demurs generally to plaintiff's petition as amended upon the ground that same fails to state a cause of action in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant.
"2. Defendant demurs to plaintiff's petition as amended upon the ground that said petition as amended shows upon its face that the original petition was filed on April 6, 1951, returnable to the July term, 1951, of the Clarke Superior Court, but that no process was issued on said original petition; that plaintiff amended said petition on June 28, 1952, by alleging that no process had been issued on said original petition and praying an order be passed authorizing and directing the Clerk of Clarke Superior Court to proceed with the issuance of process in the above stated case; that on June 28, 1952, said amendment was allowed subject to objection and demurrer and ordered filed and on June 28, 1952, the Judge of the Superior Court for the Western Circuit, Honorable Henry H. West, ordered that process issue in said case returnable as provided by law; and that the judge in such a case is without authority at or after the return term of court to order a new process to issue; that under the law of Georgia the process issued under the court's order of June 28, 1952, is null and void and of no force and effect and no valid and legal process having ever issued in this case, the same is a mere nullity and subject to dismissal on demurrer.
"3. Defendant demurs to plaintiff's petition as amended upon the ground that said amended petition shows upon its face that no process issued on the original petition and that process cannot be later supplied by amendment and said petition, having no valid process supplied by amendment and said petition, having no valid process issued in connection therewith is null and void and does not constitute a lawful and valid suit against this defendant."
(4) The judgment of Clarke Superior Court, on August 15, 1952, that "the general demurrers of the defendant, Nos. 1, 2 & 3, are hereby sustained and the petition is dismissed."
(5) The bill of exceptions to this judgment of the superior court, in which the plaintiff assigned error upon "the order sustaining the general demurrer of the defendant to the petition as amended."
(6) The decision and opinion of this court in the case of Almand v. Northern Assurance Co., Ltd., 87 Ga. App. 193
(73 S. E. 2d 101), in which the writ of error was dismissed.
(7) The judgment of the superior court upon the remittitur.
(8) The motion by the defendant in error to dismiss the writ of error in the former case was introduced in evidence by the plaintiff, and it set out that, after the superior-court suit had been dismissed and on the same day, August 15, 1952, the plaintiff had renewed the same suit in the City Court of Athens, before excepting to the judgment in Clarke Superior Court; and it was contended in the motion that the plaintiff had thereby acquiesced in the judgment sustaining the demurrers, on the authority of Hall v. Alford, 34 Ga. App. 753 (131 S. E. 95).
After hearing and considering this evidence, the Judge of the City Court of Athens sustained the plea of res judicata and dismissed the plaintiff's suit, and the exception here is to that judgment.
In order to shorten this opinion and avoid duplication of citations we first wish to concede certain propositions of law set forth in the dissenting opinion. We recognize that the filing of a general demurrer is a waiver of process and defective process. The writer concedes that the filing of a general demurer together with a demurrer directed at the lack of process or defective process is a waiver of process and defective process unless the general demurrer is filed subject to the demurrer directed at the lack of process, and such latter demurrer supersedes the general demurrer so as to reach the question of process before the general demurrer is passed on. Other members of this court concurring in this opinion make this second concession merely for the sake of argument and of the decision of this case because, whether the second proposition is correct or not, it would not affect the conclusion in this case. We all recognize also that a former ruling on a general demurrer going to the merits is a bar to a subsequent action on the same cause of action. We also recognize that, where a bill of exceptions is dismissed and the judgment of the trial court stands unreversed and unchanged, the judgment of the trial court is the law of the case.
The crux of this case is this: Where the trial court sustains one general demurrer on its face apparently going to the merits of the case, and also at the same time sustains other demurrers directed at lack of legal process, and on appeal from that judgment this court interprets the trial court's judgment as not being a ruling on the general demurrer to the merits, but one dismissing the action for lack of process, and dismisses the writ of error because the plaintiff below rendered the technical dismissal moot because he had re-sued his case--does the unreversed judgment of the trial court become the law of the case to the effect that the action was dismissed on its merits, or does the judgment of this court become the law of the case to the effect that as interpreted by this court the trial court's judgment was not a dismissal of the case on the merits? We think that this court's judgment is the law of the case, and that the trial court erred in dismissing the action in the instant case. The basis for this view is plain. If the trial court dismissed the first case on its merits and this court had dismissed the writ of error without affecting the trial court's judgment by interpretation and construction, the trial-court judgment would be the law of the case. This would have been true if this court had dismissed the writ of error because the bill of exceptions was not presented in time, or was not served, or a similar reason. However, the complexion of the case is quite different when this court in making its decision whether to pass on the merits or dismiss the writ of error interprets and construes the trial-court judgment not to be a dismissal on the merits. Such a decision was vital to the plaintiff in error. If the trial court's judgment was a dismissal on the merits, the plaintiff in error was entitled to a ruling on his exception to that judgment and his writ should not have been dismissed. If the trial court had rendered a judgment showing on its face that it did not rule on the merits, the plaintiff in error could have filed a second action, as against a plea of res judicata. The result is the same when this court in ruling on the trial court's judgment rules that it is not a judgment on the merits. Such a judgment was in the plaintiff in error's favor and protected the second action as against a plea of res judicata. He would have been under a misconception of its meaning if he had moved for a rehearing. The ruling by this court as to what the trial court's judgment meant is the law of that case, whether the ruling was right or wrong. This court had jurisdiction of the case, and therefore it had jurisdiction to decide whether to pass on a moot question, and in so acting had jurisdiction to interpret the trial-court judgment. This court's judgment and ruling on the trial court's judgment is certainly of higher dignity than the trial-court judgment, and it would certainly be an anomaly to say that the trial-court judgment takes precedence over a judgment of this court which defined and construed the trial-court judgment in such a way as to define the plaintiff in error's rights. This court construed the lower-court judgment as
meaning that the lower court sustained the general demurrer on the grounds of no cause of action because there was no process, on the theory that, if there is no process, there is no petition to set forth a cause of action. This court, in rendering judgment in the first case, followed the ruling in Hall v. Alford, 34 Ga. App. 753 (131 S. E. 95). The writer, speaking for himself alone, is of the opinion that the judgment in the Hall case should have been one of affirmance. However that may be, the principle announced in the Hall case is that, where a trial court dismisses a case on a ground not directed at the merits, the filing of a second action shows acquiescence in the dismissal. The reason for this ruling is that the appealing party has rendered moot the question whether his case was properly dismissed on a ground not involving the merits because he had instituted a second action, which on the face of it was a good action as respects the defect by reason of which his first action was dismissed. The whole basis of the acquiescence rule is that the second action is good as to the defect; mentioned. Otherwise, the appeal would not be moot. We know of no rule of law, and no case has been cited to show one, to the effect that if a case is dismissed on general demurrer, the losing party forfeits his right of appeal by filing a second action; before appealing. We have always understood that if identical actions are filed at different times, the pendency of the first is cause for abatement of the second. Code (Ann.) 3-607. Whether the first action was appealed before or after the second was filed has nothing to do with the issue. We think we can show beyond peradventure that there was no acquiescence in this cafe by filing of the second action. On the face of the judgment sustaining the demurrers it appears that the court dismissed the case on its merits as well as on grounds not going to the merits. If the plaintiff was correct in his contention that the ruling of the court on the merits was error, and the defendant was correct in his contention that the demurrers not going to the merits were good, then the plaintiff of necessity had to file another action if he expected to protect his client. If he had waited until his appeal had been decided, he might have been too late. We think he had a right to file his second action to insure his client's rights in the event his first action was held to have been properly dismissed otherwise than on the merits. Instead of passing on the ruling of the lower court, which was on its face a ruling on the merits, this court construed the lower-court judgment not to be a ruling on the merits, which put the case in the category of those where the trial-court judgments showed on their faces that the dismissal was not on the merits. This court has said what the trial-court judgment meant in determining its jurisdiction to pass on the case. That judgment of this court stands unreversed and is the law of the case to the extent that the defendant may not plead a judgment on the merits as a bar to the present action. That is the only question before this court and, of course, it is the only question we can or intend to decide.
The court erred in sustaining the plea of res judicata and in dismissing the action.
The defendant filed a demurrer, an answer, and a plea of res judicata to the suit in the city court. The defendant, in the plea of res judicata, set up the judgment rendered in ifs favor in the suit in Clarke Superior Court, alleging that that suit was on the same cause of action and between the same parties and was one of which the court had jurisdiction; and it was also alleged in said plea that the plaintiff had filed his bill of exceptions to the Court of Appeals, seeking to reverse the judgment of Clarke Superior Court, but that the Court of Appeals dismissed the bill of exceptions, and that the judgment of Clarke Superior Court stands as a final adjudication of the cause of action sued upon. This plea of res judicata was tried separately from the other issues in the case, and the evidence submitted on said trial consisted of the parts of the record in the suit in Clarke Superior Court and in the Court of Appeals, the same being set out in the statement of facts in the present case, and consisting of the petition, the amendment thereto, the defendant's demurrers, and the judgment thereon, etc., appearing as items (1) through (8), inclusive, in said statement of facts.
After hearing and considering this evidence, the Judge of the City Court of Athens sustained the plea of res judicata and dismissed the plaintiff's suit. The plaintiff excepted to this judgment.
It was ruled in the Wilson case, 165 Ga. 520 (1), supra: "Where a defendant specially demurs to the omission of process from the petition, and in the same paper, without having in any manner protested the court's lack of jurisdiction due to the omission of the process, files a general demurrer asserting that the petition sets forth no cause of action, the defect as to the process must be held to have been waived." Two of the grounds of demurrer in that case were: "(1) No process was annexed to the petition. (2) No cause of action is set out." It was said in the opinion in that case, on page 522: "The defendant waived process by his general demurrer, the second paragraph of the demurrer being 'that no cause of action is set out in said petition.' Under section 5559 of the Code of 1910 [Code, 1933, 81-209], the defendant was pleading to the merits in the same breath that he was asserting that there was no process; but this court has uniformly held that the filing of a general demurrer is a waiver of process."
The demurrer to the suit in the superior court, between the parties here involved, like the demurrer in the Wilson case, was one paper, the first ground of same being that the petition failed to set out a cause of action, and the other two grounds going to the matter of process. No question of jurisdiction was raised by the demurrer. Code 81-503 is as follows: "If a defendant shall appear and plead to the merits, without pleading to the jurisdiction, and without excepting thereto, he shall thereby admit the jurisdiction of the court." As pertinent to this point, also see Carter v. Smith, 5 Ga. App. 804, supra.
The question as to process was waived by the first ground of demurrer, which went to the merits of the case. The order of the court sustained the general demurrer and dismissed the petition. That judgment has not been reversed. It was excepted to, and error was assigned in the bill of exceptions on the sustaining of the general demurrer, but the writ of error was dismissed. Almand v. Northern Assurance Co., Ltd., 87 Ga. App. 193
(73 S. E. 2d 101).
1012); Hadden v. Fuqua, 194 Ga. 621
(22 S. E. 2d 377). Where a bill of exceptions is dismissed and the judgment of the trial court stands unreversed, the judgment of the trial court is the law of the case. Palmer v. Jackson, 188 Ga. 336
(4 S. E. 2d 28); Tyndale v. Manufacturers Supply Co., 209 Ga. 564
(74 S. E. 2d 857).
Applying these principles of law to the facts of the present case, where it appears that the first ground of demurrer in the former suit, to wit, that the petition failed to state a cause of action, was sustained, and this ruling was not reversed on appeal, but the writ of error was dismissed ( Almand v. Northern Assurance Co., Ltd., supra), the judge of the city court did not err in sustaining the plea of res judicata. While it was stated in the decision in 87 Ga. App. 193
that the writ of error was dismissed without prejudice to the prosecution of the present renewed action, the opinion in that case shows that such statement was made only with respect to the rulings on the demurrers pointing out a want of valid process in the former suit, i.e., grounds 2 and 3, and nothing was mentioned concerning the judgment of the superior court sustaining the first ground of the demurrer, to the effect that the petition failed to state a cause of action. So, when the writ of error was dismissed, it left the judgment of Clarke Superior Court, sustaining the general demurrer, standing unreversed, and that judgment bars the present suit on the same cause of action.
Furthermore, "No suitor may prosecute two actions in the courts at the same time, for the same cause, and against the same party" (Code 3-601); and where the plaintiff chose to relinquish his right of exception to the judgment in the former suit by filing the present suit before tendering his bill of exceptions to the former judgment, he cannot now complain that his cause of action is barred by the former judgment against him, which stands unreversed.
I am of the opinion that the Judge of the City Court of Athens did not err in sustaining the plea of res judicata and in dismissing the plaintiff's suit in that court. Judge Worrill concurs in my view of this case as expressed in this dissent.