170 U.S. 468 (1898), 515, Vance v. W. A. Vandercook Company (No. 2)

Docket NºNo. 515
Citation170 U.S. 468, 18 S.Ct. 645, 42 L.Ed. 1111
Party NameVance v. W. A. Vandercook Company (No. 2)
Case DateMay 09, 1898
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 468

170 U.S. 468 (1898)

18 S.Ct. 645, 42 L.Ed. 1111

Vance

v.

W. A. Vandercook Company (No. 2)

No. 515

United States Supreme Court

May 9, 1898

Argued March 9-10, 1898

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA

Syllabus

In determining from the face of a pleading whether the amount really in dispute is sufficient to confer jurisdiction upon a court of the United States, it is settled that if, from the nature of the case as stated in the pleadings, there could not legally be a judgment for an amount necessary to the jurisdiction, jurisdiction cannot attach even though the damages be laid in the declaration at a larger sum.

The courts of South Carolina having held that in an action of trover, consequential damages are not recoverable, and the damage claimed by the plaintiff below in this case, omitting the consequential damages, being less than the sum necessary to give the circuit court jurisdiction of it, it follows that, on the face of the complaint, that court was without jurisdiction over the action.

Page 469

[18 S.Ct. 645] The appellee, a corporation of the State of California, began this action against the present plaintiffs in error, citizens of the State of South Carolina, averring the alleged wrongful seizure by the defendants Bahr and Scott at a railroad depot in the City of Charleston, South Carolina, of packages of wines and brandies, the property of the plaintiff. It was averred that, at the time of the seizure, the liquors were in the custody of a common carrier, under a shipment from San Francisco to the agent of the plaintiff at Charleston, who was to make delivery of each package to a particular individual, who, prior to the shipment, had given an order for the same. Averring that the defendant Vance had, subsequently to the seizure, and with knowledge of its wrongful nature, received said packages into his custody, it was further alleged that demand had been made for the return of the property seized, that it was still detained, and that plaintiff was entitled to the immediate possession thereof. Judgment was prayed against the defendants for the recovery of possession of the packages or their value, alleged to be one thousand dollars in case delivery could not be had, and for damages in the sum of ten thousand dollars. There was an allegation of special damage, to-wit:

That by said malicious trespass of said defendants and their continuation in the wrongful detention of said sixty-eight packages of wine, the plaintiff has been greatly injured in its lawful trade and business with the citizens and residents of the State of South Carolina, to its great hurt and damage, in the breaking up of such trade and commerce.

Itemized lists of the packages were attached as exhibits to the complaint.

It was also alleged that the defendants claimed that the acts by them done were performed under the authority of a law of South Carolina [18 S.Ct. 646] designated as the "Dispensary Law," and it was charged that the statute was void because in conflict with the Constitution of the United States. It was, moreover, averred that the forcible seizure and carrying away of the packages, and the detention thereof, were done

knowingly, wrongfully, willfully, and maliciously, with intent to oppress and humiliate and intimidate this plaintiff, and make it afraid

Page 470

to rely upon the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the judicial power thereof, for its protection in those rights, privileges, and immunities secured to the plaintiff by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

It was also alleged that the defendants, by "the said malicious trespass and wrongful retainer," intended to deter and intimidate plaintiff and others from asserting their rights under the Constitution of the United States.

S. W. Vance filed a separate answer, while Bahr and Scott jointly answered. The respective answers set up that the court had no jurisdiction of the action, that the complaint did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, that, by the provisions of the dispensary law of South Carolina, approved March 6, 1896, the action could not be maintained against the defendants for the reason that the acts complained of were by them performed in the discharge of duties imposed upon the defendants by the said law, and, if the action was maintainable, that there was a misjoinder of causes of action, in that the plaintiff sued for the recovery of the possession of personal property, and also for exemplary damages for the commission of a trespass in taking the same. It was denied that the seizures and detentions complained of were made with the intent to injure or oppress the complainant, and it was also denied that the property was of the value alleged in the complaint or that the plaintiff had been damaged in the sum claimed. It was further specially averred that the packages were seized and detained because the liquors contained therein had not been inspected as required by the provision of an amendment to the Dispensary Law adopted in 1897, and because of a failure to have attached to each package a certificate of inspection, as required by the statute.

By a stipulation in writing, it was agreed that the issues of fact should be tried by the court without a jury. At the trial, as appears by a bill of exceptions allowed by the presiding judge, the court, on the request of counsel for the defendant, passed upon the matters of law heretofore referred to and also upon several propositions of law relied on by the defendants -- that is, that the Dispensary Law was not in conflict with the

Page 471

Constitution of the United States and was a valid exercise of the police power of the state, particularly by reason of the provisions of the act of Congress of 1890, known as the "Wilson Act." Each of these propositions of law was decided aversely to the defendants, and an exception was noted.

The facts found by the court were

that the property described in the complaint is the property of the plaintiff, and that the value thereof is the sum of one thousand dollars, and that the damages to the plaintiff from the detention of the said property by the defendants is the sum of one thousand dollars.

And, as matter of law, the court found

that the plaintiff is entitled to judgment against the defendants for the recovery of the possession of the said property described in the complaint, or the sum of one thousand dollars, value of said property, in case delivery thereof cannot be had, and for the further sum of one thousand dollars damages.

Judgment was entered in conformity with the findings. A writ of error having been allowed, the cause was brought to this Court for review.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the Court.

Counsel for plaintiffs in error discuss in their brief the contentions that the circuit court erred in holding that it had jurisdiction of the action, and that there was not a misjoinder of causes of action, and also assert that the court erred in refusing to hold that the Dispensary Law of South Carolina was a valid enactment.

We shall dispose of the case upon the jurisdictional question, as it is manifest that the amount of recovery to which the plaintiff was entitled, upon the construction put upon the complaint by its counsel, and acted upon by the trial court, could not equal the sum of two thousand dollars.

Page 472

In his brief, counsel for defendant in error says:

It is clear that the complaint is a case for recovery of personal property, and for damages for its detention. The allegations in the complaint as to the wrongful taking of the property are not by way of stating a cause of action for malicious trespass, but, under the law of the State of South Carolina, are necessary as allegations of wrongful seizure, wrongful taking, and support an action for recovery of personal property and damages for detention, without a previous demand before the suit, and the court, by its judgment, so construed the complaint and gave judgment in conformity to the code. . . .

The circuit judge has treated the complaint as an ordinary action for recovery of personal property, and for damages for its detention, and has found the title of the property in the plaintiff, and has found the damages for detention. He has found no other damages. He has found no damages for malicious taking. He has found no damages for malicious trespass. He has found only "damages for detention." And those damages, as matter of fact, were testified to [18 S.Ct. 647] as being at least twelve hundred dollars. The circuit judge has found them to be one thousand dollars, and they are conclusive as matters of fact, and are the usual damages accompanying the successful plaintiff who recovers judgment against the defendants for recovery of possession of personal property, and damages incident to wrongful detention. The defendants therefore have no possible cause of complaint.

In determining from the face of a pleading whether the amount really in dispute is sufficient to confer jurisdiction upon a court of the United States, it is settled that if, from the nature of the case as stated in the pleadings, there could not legally be a judgment for an amount necessary to the jurisdiction, jurisdiction cannot attach even though the damages be laid in the declaration at a larger sum. Barry v. Edmunds, 116 U.S. 550, 560; Wilson v. Daniel, 3 Dall. 401, 407.

As, by section 914 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, the practice, pleadings, and forms and modes of proceeding

Page 473

in actions at common law in a circuit court of the United States are required to conform as near as may be to those prevailing in the state court, and as, by section 721, the laws of the several states are made rules of decision in trials at common law in the...

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