234 U.S. 369 (1914), 337, Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company

Docket Nº:No. 337
Citation:234 U.S. 369, 34 S.Ct. 810, 58 L.Ed. 1356
Party Name:Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company
Case Date:June 08, 1914
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 369

234 U.S. 369 (1914)

34 S.Ct. 810, 58 L.Ed. 1356

Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company

No. 337

United States Supreme Court

June 8, 1914

v. Western Union Telegraph Company

Argued March 20, 1914

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI

Syllabus

On a direct appeal under § 238, Judicial Code, from a judgment of the district court dismissing the bill for want of jurisdiction on the ground that neither of the parties was a resident of that district and that the suit was one that could only be brought in a district in which

Page 370

one of the parties resided, this Court is only concerned with the jurisdiction of the district court as a federal court; whether appellant is entitled to the relief sought is not a jurisdictional question in the sense of § 238.

When the matter in controversy is of the requisite value and diverse citizenship exists, the question is simply whether the case is cognizable in the particular district court in which the case is brought.

Section 57, Judicial Code, makes suits to remove any encumbrance, lien, or cloud upon title to real or personal property cognizable by the district court of the district in which the property is situated regardless of residence of the parties and process for service of the nonresident defendants by notification outside of the district or by publication.

The provision in § 57, Judicial Code, respecting suits to remove clouds from title embraces a suit to remove a cloud cast upon the title by a deed or instrument which is void upon its face when such suit is founded upon a remedial statute of the state, as well as when resting upon established usages and practice of equity.

As construed by the highest court of Mississippi, § 975, Rev.Code of 1871 of that state, entitles the rightful owner of real property in that state to maintain a suit to dispel a cloud cast upon the title thereto by an invalid deed, even though, under applicable principles of equity, it be void on its face.

In Mississippi, as declared by its highest court, the judgment of a special court of eminent domain may be challenged by a bill in equity upon the ground that the condemnation is not for a public purpose, and if other elements of federal jurisdiction are present, the case is one to remove cloud upon title and, under § 57, Judicial Code, the case is cognizable in the district court of the district in which the property is situated, although neither of the parties reside therein.

The facts, which involve the jurisdiction of the district courts of the United States under § 57, Judicial Code, are stated in the opinion.

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VANDEVANTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

By a bill in equity exhibited in the district court, the appellant seeks the annulment of three judgments of special courts of eminent domain in Harrison, Jackson, and Hancock Counties, Mississippi, purporting to condemn portions of its right of way in those counties for the use of the appellee. According to the allegations of the bill, when given the effect that must be given to them for present purposes, the case is this: the appellant has a fee simple title to the land constituting the right of way, and is in possession, and the appellee is asserting a right to subject portions of the right of way to its use under the three judgments recently obtained. The appellant insists, for various reasons fully set forth, that the judgments were procured and rendered in such disregard of applicable local laws as to be clearly invalid, and that they operate to becloud its title. The matter in controversy exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum or value of $3,000, the right of way is within the district in which the bill was filed, and the appellant and appellee are, respectively, Kentucky and New York corporations. The prayer of the bill is that the judgments be held null and void and the appellee enjoined from exercising or asserting any right under them. Appearing specially for the purpose, the appellee objected to the district court's jurisdiction upon the ground that neither of the parties was a resident of that district, and that the suit was not one that could be brought in a district other than that of the residence of one of them without the appellee's consent. The court sustained the objection, dismissed the bill, and allowed this direct appeal under § 238 of the Judicial Code.

We are only concerned with the jurisdiction of the district court as a federal court -- that is, with its power to entertain the suit under the laws of the United States.

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Fore River Shipbuilding Co. v. Hagg, 219 U.S. 175; United States v. Congress Construction Co., 222 U.S. 199; Chase v. Wetzlar, 225 U.S. 79, 83. Whether, upon the showing in the bill, the appellant is entitled to the relief sought is not a jurisdictional question in the sense of § 238, and is not before [34 S.Ct. 811] us. Smith v. McKay, 161 U.S. 355; Citizens' Savings & Trust Co. v. Illinois Central Railroad Co., 205 U.S. 46, 58; Darnell v. Illinois Central Railroad Co., 225 U.S. 243.

As the matter in controversy is of the requisite value and the parties are citizens of different states, the suit manifestly is within the general class over which the district courts are given jurisdiction by the Judicial Code, § 24, cl. 1, so the question for decision is whether the suit is cognizable in the particular district court in which it was brought.

In distributing the jurisdiction conferred in general terms upon the district courts, the Code declares, in § 51, that,

except as provided in the six succeeding sections, no civil suit shall be brought in any district court against any person by any original process or proceeding in any other district than that whereof he is an inhabitant, but where the jurisdiction is founded only on the fact that the action is between citizens of different states, suit shall be brought only in the district of the residence of either the plaintiff or the defendant.

If this section be applicable to suits which are local in their nature, as well as to such as are transitory (as to which see Casey v. Adams, 102 U.S. 66; Greeley v. Lowe, 155 U.S. 58; Ellenwood v. Marietta Chair Co., 158 U.S. 105; Kentucky Coal Lands Co v. Mineral Development Co., 191 F. 899, 915), it is clear that the district court in which the suit was brought cannot entertain it unless one of the six succeeding sections provides otherwise or the appellee waives its personal privilege of being sued only in the district of its or the appellant's residence. In re Moore, 209 U.S. 490;

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Western Loan Co. v. Butte & Boston Mining Co., 210 U.S. 368.

The appellant relies upon § 57, one of the six succeeding sections, as adequately sustaining the jurisdiction. This section reads as follows:

When, in any suit commenced in any district court of the United States to enforce any legal or equitable lien upon or claim to, or to remove any encumbrance or lien or cloud upon the title to real or personal property within the district where such suit is brought, one or more of the defendants therein shall not be an inhabitant of or found within the said district, or shall not voluntarily appear thereto, it shall be lawful for the court to make an order directing such absent defendant or defendants to appear, plead, answer, or demur by a day certain to be designated, which order shall be served on such absent defendant or defendants, if practicable, wherever found, and also upon the person or persons in possession or charge of said property, if any there be; or where such personal service upon such absent defendant...

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