GAGNON V. UNITED STATES, 193 U. S. 451 (1904)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gagnon v. United States, 193 U.S. 451 (1904)

Gagnon v. United States

No. 163

Argued February 29, 1904

Decided March 21, 1904

193 U.S. 451


The inherent power which exists in a court to amend its records, and correct mistakes and supply defects and omissions therein, is not a power to create a new record, but presupposes an existing record susceptible of correction or amendment.

An order, entered nunc pro tunc thirty-three years after an unrecorded judgment naturalizing an alien is alleged to have been rendered, may be attacked collaterally on the ground that the court had no jurisdiction to enter such an order when no entry or memorandum appears in the record or files at the time alleged for the original entry of the judgment.

In the absence of jurisdiction to make such an order, the fact that notice of the application therefor was given to the Attorney General does not give the court jurisdiction.

This was a petition filed in the Court of Claims in 1894 and amended in 1902, to recover the value of one-half of certain property taken in 1866 from the firm of which the petitioner was a member by Indians then in amity with the United States.

The facts found in the case were substantially as follows: Charles Gagnon was a British subject. In March, 1858, he declared before the District Court of Woodbury County, Iowa, his intention to become a citizen of the United States. He

Page 193 U. S. 452

alleged that in 1863 he was admitted by the District Court of Richardson County, in the Territory of Nebraska, as a citizen of the United States, but no entry of this fact appeared in the records of that court for the year 1863.

It appeared Hosford & Gagnon, under which firm name they traded, owned horses and cattle of the aggregate value of $15,500 and in 1866, without just cause or provocation on their part, Indians belonging to the defendant tribes, then in amity with the United States, took them away. Hosford filed his claim for one-half of the amount and obtained judgment, which has been satisfied. Gagnon's claim was for the remaining half.

It further appeared that, in the prosecution of his claim, Gagnon failed to produce his certificate of naturalization, or a duly authenticated copy thereof. To meet the requirements of the law providing that only citizens of the United States can recover under the Indian Depredation Act, Gagnon relied exclusively on a record of the District Court for the First Judicial District of the State of Nebraska (successor of the district court of the territory), purporting to enter nunc pro tunc a judgment of naturalization of the territorial court as of the date of September 25, 1863.

No paper, memorandum, or entry of any kind was found in the records of the court tending to show that a certificate of naturalization had been issued to Gagnon in that year. It also appeared that the persons who held the offices of judge and clerk of the territorial court in 1863 were both dead.

The record of the state court recited that it had been made to appear "by competent evidence" that the alleged application for naturalization had been granted by the territorial court, but that the

"judgment of naturalization was never recorded, and if recorded, the record is lost and cannot be found in the records of this court, and it being legal and proper that said record should be supplied, and this Court being willing that said error and omission be corrected, it is ordered and adjudged that said judgment so rendered by this court at its

Page 193 U. S. 453

September term, 1863, be entered at large on the journal of this court as of the date when it should have been entered, to-wit, on the 25th day of September, 1863, and that the clerk issue to the said Charles Gagnon the proper certificate of naturalization,"


It further appeared that, on March 19, 1897, Gagnon's attorneys wrote the Attorney General that application would be made to the District Court of Richardson County, Nebraska, on March 29, 1897, "for restoration of certain lost records relative to the naturalization of said Gagnon."

Upon the facts thus found, the Court of Claims decided that Gagnon was not a citizen of the United States at the time the depredation was committed, and the petition was dismissed. 38 Ct.Cl. 10. Thereupon an appeal was taken to this Court.

Page 193 U. S. 456

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