177 U.S. 449 (1900), 210, Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company v. Jones

Docket Nº:No. 210
Citation:177 U.S. 449, 20 S.Ct. 690, 44 L.Ed. 842
Party Name:Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company v. Jones
Case Date:April 09, 1900
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 449

177 U.S. 449 (1900)

20 S.Ct. 690, 44 L.Ed. 842

Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company

v.

Jones

No. 210

United States Supreme Court

April 9, 1900

Argued March 21-22, 1900

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT

OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

On writ of error or appeal, the first and fundamental question is that of jurisdiction, first of this Court and then of the court from which the record comes. This question the court is bound to ask and answer for itself, even when not otherwise suggested, and without respect to the relation of the parties to it.

A limited partnership, doing business under a firm name and organized under the Act of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania approved June 2, 1874, entitled

An act authorizing the formation of partnership associations in which the capital subscribed shall alone be responsible for the debts of the association, except under certain circumstances,

is not a corporation within the rule that a suit by or against a corporation in a court of the United States is conclusively presumed, for the purposes of

Page 450

the litigation, to be one by or against citizens of the state creating the corporation. It is not sufficient that the association may be described as a quasi-corporation or as a "new artificial person." The rule does not embrace a new artificial person that is not a corporation.

Under the circumstances disclosed by the record, the circuit court should allow an amendment of the pleadings upon the subject of the citizenship of the parties, and the case should proceed to a final hearing on the merits in the event the pleadings as amended show a case within the jurisdiction of the court.

The case is stated in the opinion of the court.

HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The bill in this suit, commenced in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, describes the plaintiffs Benjamin F. Jones, George M. Laughlins, Henry A. Laughlins, Jr., and Benjamin F. Jones, Jr., as

members of the limited partnership association doing business under the firm name and style of Jones & Laughlins, Limited, which said association is a limited partnership association organized under an Act of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania approved June 23d [2d], 1874, entitled "An Act Authorizing the Formation of Partnership Associations in Which the Capital Subscribed Shall Alone be Responsible for the Debts of the Association, except under Certain Circumstances,"

and who "Have Their Office and Principal Place [20 S.Ct. 691] of Business in the City of Pittsburgh," and which association is "a Citizen of the Pennsylvania."

Penn.Laws, 1874, p. 271.

The defendant first named in the bill is the Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company, a corporation of the State Ohio, and some of the defendants are corporations and citizens of states other than the State of Pennsylvania.

The remaining defendants are thus described in the bill:

Taylor, Beall & Company is a partnership doing business in

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the City of Columbus and State of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being William D. Taylor, James P. Beall, and William J. Keever.

Sturgeon, Ford & Company is a partnership doing business in the City of Columbus and State of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being unknown to your orators.

Meacham & Wright is a partnership doing business in the City of Columbus and State of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being Floras D. Meacham and Frank S. Wright.

Sosman & Landis is a partnership of Chicago, Illinois, doing business in the State of Ohio, the names of the individual partners thereof being unknown to your orators.

Dundon & Bergin is a partnership doing business in the City of Columbus, State of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being Thomas J. Dundon and Matthew J. Bergin.

H. C. Johnson & Company is a partnership doing business in the State of Ohio, the names of the individual partners thereof being unknown to your orators.

Schoedinger, Fearn & Company is a partnership doing business in the State of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being F. O. Schoedinger, W. A. Fearn, and J. R. Dickson.

L. Hiltgartner & Sons is a partnership doing business in the City of Columbus, State of Ohio, the names of the individual partners thereof being unknown to your orators.

The nature of the case made by the bill is as follows:

By written agreement between Jones & Laughlins, Limited, and W. J. McClain, dated December 13, 1894, the former agreed, upon certain terms, to furnish structural steel for use in the erection of the Great Southern Hotel at Columbus, for the construction of which McClain had previously contracted with the Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company. Under the above contract, Jones & Laughlins, Limited, shipped and furnished to McClain structural steel of the value of $43,296.74. All of that sum was paid by McClain except $11,410.02, which was due to the plaintiffs with interest from January 28, 1896.

On the 11th day of August, 1896, McClain executed a deed of assignment for the benefit of his creditors. And on the 21st day of April, 1896, within four months after the above materials

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were delivered to McClain, Jones & Laughlins, Limited, filed with the recorder of Franklin County, Ohio, an affidavit containing an itemized statement of the amount and value of such materials. The object of the filing was to conform to the provisions of sections 3184 (as amended April 13th, 1894, 91 Ohio Laws, 135), and 3185 of the Revised Statutes of Ohio, both sections relating to mechanic's liens, and thereby obtain, in behalf of Jones & Laughlins, Limited, for the amount due them, a lien upon the hotel and the opera house connected with it, as well as upon the land on which they stood.

After stating that the defendants each claim to have some interest in the property in question as lienholders or otherwise, the exact nature and extent of which was unknown to the plaintiff, the relief asked was: 1. That the defendants be required to answer and fully set forth their respective interests in the property, and failing to do so that they be barred from asserting any claim thereto. 2. That a receiver be appointed to collect rents. 3. That the plaintiff's demand be declared a valid and subsisting lien on the property. 4. That all the liens be marshalled, the premises sold, and the proceeds distributed.

The Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company demurred generally to the bill as insufficient.

The defendants Sosman & Landis filed their answer and cross-bill, claiming a lien upon the property for a balance due under a contract made between them and McClain pursuant to which they furnished scenery, stage work, and fixtures for the improvements contemplated by the contract between McClain and the hotel company. To that cross-bill a demurrer was also filed.

The cause was heard in the circuit court upon the demurrers, the only question argued being the constitutionality of the Ohio statute of April 13, 1894. That court sustained the demurrers and dismissed the bill and cross-bill upon the ground that the provisions of the mechanic's lien law of Ohio, under which the plaintiffs and cross-plaintiffs proceeded, were unconstitutional. 79 F. 477.

Upon appeal to the circuit court of appeals, the decree of

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the circuit court was reversed, the former court holding that the statute of Ohio in question was not void. 86 F. 370. The hotel company then applied for and obtained this writ of certiorari.

The bill rests the jurisdiction of the circuit court upon the ground of the diverse citizenship of the parties. But was the case as presented by the record one of which the circuit court of the United States could take cognizance by reason of diversity of citizenship? When this question was suggested at the argument, counsel responded that no objection had been urged to the jurisdiction of that court. But the failure of parties to urge objections of that character cannot relieve this Court from the duty of ascertaining from the record whether the circuit court could properly take jurisdiction of this suit. In Mansfield...

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