Morris v. Gates

In Morris v. Gates, 124 W. Va. 275, 20 S.E.2d 118 (1942) the Court addressed the issue of an unsigned complaint. The plaintiffs filed an unsigned complaint seeking to subject a tract of land, owned by the defendants, to a vendor's lien. The defendants did not file an answer to the complaint, nor make any appearance in the proceeding. The plaintiffs obtained a favorable judgment. However, subsequent to obtaining the judgment, the plaintiffs filed a properly signed amended complaint that sought additional relief. The defendants prosecuted an appeal assigning numerous grounds of error, none of which involved the fact that the original complaint was unsigned. Although the defendants in Morris did not assign error to the unsigned complaint, the Court, sua sponte, held that "the question thus arising being jurisdictional, we think it cannot, with propriety, be ignored." Morris, 124 W. Va. at 278, 20 S.E.2d at 120. The Court went on to reverse the case on the issue raised sua sponte as follows: We believe it is unnecessary to cite authority to sustain the well-settled general rule that courts and parties alike are not required to act upon pleadings the responsibility for which cannot be determined, and the further fact that affirmative pleadings, such as a bill of complaint, contain binding allegations usable against the same parties in any subsequent litigation between them and, according to some cases, by parties unknown to the proceeding in which they are entered. As we view this record, the unsigned form of a bill of complaint would not, accompanied by neither waiver nor estoppel, be sufficient to bind anyone, and therefore could not properly be regarded as an appearance. The appellees take the position that this defect is cured by the filing of the amended bill of complaint upon which both of the decrees of sale are predicated. This contention might be maintainable if the amended bill of complaint had contained the allegations of the original bill or had included them by reference, and had been properly matured or substantive appearances entered of record. But none of these situations being shown by this record, the amended bill of complaint simply alleging the judgment lien owned by Herold & Herold and making no reference to the original bill of complaint, save to allege that it was filed and taken for confessed, we find nothing in this record that we believe supplied what we regard as a missing element of a chancery cause, the absence of which deprives the conduct of that cause, requiring a bill of complaint for its support, of all foundation. (Morris, 124 W. Va. at 278-79, 20 S.E.2d at 120.)