134 U.S. 1 (1890), Hans v. Louisiana

Citation:134 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842
Case Date:March 03, 1890
Court:United States Supreme Court

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134 U.S. 1 (1890)

10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842




United States Supreme Court.

March 3, 1890

In error to the circuit court of the United States for the eastern district of Louisiana.


[10 S.Ct. 504] J. D. Rouse and Wm. Grant, for plaintiff in error.

W. H. Rogers, B. J. Sage, and Alex. Porter Morse, for defendant in error.



This is an action brought in the circuit court of the United States, in December, 1884, against the state of Louisiana, by Hans, a citizen of that state, to recover the amount of certain coupons annexed to bonds of the state, issued under the provisions of an act of the legislature approved January 24, 1874. The bonds are known and designated as the 'consolidated bonds of the state of Louisiana,' and the coupons sued on are for interest which accrued January 1, 1880. The grounds of the action are stated in the petition as follows: 'Your petitioner a vers that by the issue of said bonds and

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coupons said state contracted with and agreed to pay the bearer thereof the principal sum of said bonds forty years from the date thereof, to-wit, the 1st day of January 1874, and to pay the interest thereon represented by coupons as aforesaid, including the coupons held by your petitioner, semiannually upon the maturity of said coupons; and said legislature, by an act approved January 24, 1874, proposed an amendment to the constitution of said state, which was afterwards duly adopted, and is as follows, to-wit: 'No. 1. The issue of consolidated bonds, authorized by the general assembly of the state at its regular session in the year 1874, is hereby declared to create a valid contract between the state and each and every holder of said bonds, which the state shall by no means and in no wise impair. The said bonds shall be a valid obligation of the state in favor of any holder thereof, and no court shall enjoin the payment of the principal or interest thereof or the levy and collection of the tax therefor. To secure such levy, collection, and payment the judicial power shall be exercised when necessary. The tax required for the payment of the principal and interest of said bonds shall be assessed and collected each and every year until the bonds shall be paid, principal and interest, and the proceeds shall be paid by the treasurer of the state to the holders of said bonds as the principal and interest of the same shall fall due, and no further legislation or appropriation shall be requisite for the said assessment, and collection and for such payment from the treasury.' And petitioner further avers that, notwithstanding said solemn compact with the holders of said bonds, said state hath refused and still refuses to pay said coupons held by petitioner, and by its constitution, adopted in 1879, ordained as follows: 'That the coupons of said consolidated bonds falling due the 1st of January, 1880, be, and the same is hereby, remitted, and any interest taxes collected to meet said coupons are hereby transferred to defray the expenses of the state government;' and by article 257 of said constitution also prescribed that 'the constitution of this state, adopted in 1868, and all amendments thereto, is declared

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to be superseded by this constitution;' and said state thereby undertook to repudiate her contract obligations aforesaid, and to prohibit her officers and agents executing the same, and said state claims that by said provisions of said constitution she is relieved from the obligations of her aforesaid contract, and from the payment of said coupons held by petitioner, and so refuses payment thereof, and has prohibited her officers and agents making such payment. Petitioner also avers that taxes for the payment of the interest upon said bonds due January 1, 1880, were levied, assessed, and collected, but said state unlawfully and wrongfully diverted the money so collected, and appropriated the same to payment of the general expenses of the state, and has made no other provision for the payment of said interest. Petiticner also avers that said provisions of said constitution are in contravention of said contract, and their adoption was an active violation thereof, and that said state thereby sought to impair the validity thereof with your petitioner, in violation of article [10 S.Ct. 505] 1, section 10, of the constitution of the United States, and the effect so given to said state constitution does impair said contract. Wherefore petitioner prays that the state of Louisiana be cited to answer this demand, and that after due proceedings she be condemned to pay your petitioner said sum of ($87,500) eighty-seven thousand five hundred dollars, with legal interest from January 1, 1880, until paid, and all consts of suit; and petitioner prays for general relief.'

A citation being issued directed to the state, and served upon the governor thereof, the attorney general of the state filed an exception, of which the following is a copy, to-wit: 'Now comes defendant, by the attorney general, and excepts to plaintiff's suit, on the ground that this court is without jurisdiction ratione personae. Plaintiff cannot sue the state without its permission; the constitution and laws do not give this honorable court jurisdiction of a suit against the state; and its jurisdiction is respectfully declined. Wherefore respondent prays to be hence dismissed, with costs, and for general relief.'

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By the judgment of the court this exception was sustained, and the suit was dismissed. See Hans v. Louisiana, 24 F. 55.

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To this judgment the present writ of error is brought; and the question is presented whether a state can be sued in a circuit court of the United States by one of its own citizens upon a suggestion that the case is one that arises under the constitution or laws of the United States.

The ground taken is that under the constitution, as well as under the act of congress passed to carry it into effect, a case is within the jurisdiction of the federal courts, without regard to the character of the parties, if it arises under the constitution or laws of the United States, or, which is the same thing, if it necessarily involves a question under said constitution or laws. The language relied on is that clause of the third article of the constitution, which declares that 'the judicial power of the United States shall extend to all cases in law and equity arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;' and the corresponding clause of the act conferring jurisdiction upon the circuit court, which, as found in the act of March 3, 1875, is as follows, to-wit: 'That the circuit courts of the United States shall have original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several states, of all suits of a civil nature, at common law or in equity, * * * arising under the constitution or laws of the United States, or treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority.' It is said that these jurisdictional clauses make no exception arising from the character of the parties, and therefore that a state can claim no exemption from suit, if the case is really one arising under the constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. It is conceded that, where the jurisdiction depends alone upon the character of the parties, a controversy between a state and its own

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citizens is not embraced within it; but it is contended that, though jurisdiction does not exist on that ground, it nevertheless does exist if the case itself is one which necessarily involves a federal question; and, with regard to ordinary parties, this is undoubtedly true. The question now to be decided is whether it is true where one of the parties is a state, and is sued as a defendant by one of its own citizens.

That a state cannot be sued by a citizen of another state, or of a foreign state, on the mere ground that the case is one arising under the constitution or laws of the United States, is clearly established by the decisions of this court in several recent cases. Louisiana v. Jumel, 107 U.S. 711, 2 S.Ct. 128; Hagood v. Southern, 117 U.S. 52, 6 S.Ct. 608; In re Ayers, 123 U.S. 443, 8 S.Ct. 164. Those were cases arising under the constitution of the United States, upon laws complained of as impairing the obligation of contracts, one of which was the constitutional amendment of Louisiana, complained of in the present case. Relief was sought against state officers who professed to act in obedience to those laws. This court held that the suits were virtually against the states themselves, and were consequently violative of the eleventh amendment of the constitution, and could not be maintained. It was not denied that they presented cases arising under the constitution; but, notwithstanding that, they were held to be prohibited by the amendment referred to.

In the present case the plaintiff in error contends that he, being a citizen of Louisiana, is not embarrassed by the obstacle of the eleventh amendment, inasmuch as that amendment only prohibits suits against a state which are brought by the citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of a foreign state. It is true the amendment does so read, and, if there were no other reason or ground for abating his suit, it might be maintainable; and then we should have this anomalous result, that, in cases arising under the constitution or laws of the United States, a state may be sued in the federal courts by its own citizens, though it cannot be sued for a like cause of action by the citizens of other states, or of a foreign state; and may be thus sued in the federal courts, although not allowing itself to be sued in its own courts. If this is the necessary

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consequence of the language of the constitution and the law, the result is no less startling and unexpected...

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