268 U.S. 619 (1925), 739, Robertson v. Railroad Labor Board

Docket Nº:No. 739
Citation:268 U.S. 619, 45 S.Ct. 621, 69 L.Ed. 1119
Party Name:Robertson v. Railroad Labor Board
Case Date:June 08, 1925
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 619

268 U.S. 619 (1925)

45 S.Ct. 621, 69 L.Ed. 1119



Railroad Labor Board

No. 739

United States Supreme Court

June 8, 1925

Argued March 17, 18, 1925




1. Section 310, par. b, of the Transportation Act, 1920, which provides that the Railroad Labor Board, in case of failure to comply with its subpoena to testify, may invoke the aid of "any United States district court," and that such court may thereupon order the witness to comply with the subpoena, etc., is to be construed consistently with the general rule limiting jurisdiction of a district court in personam (as distinguished from venue) to the district of which the defendant is an inhabitant or in which he can be found. P. 622.

2. Hence, a district court, in a suit brought by the Board to compel attendance of a witness, does not acquire jurisdiction over his person by service of its process in another district even though that of the witness' residence. Id.

3 F.2d 488 reversed.

Page 620

Jurisdictional appeal from a decree of the district court overruling a motion to quash service of original process in a suit brought by the Railroad Labor Board to require the defendant to appear before it as a witness, and ordering him so to appear and to testify.

BRANDEIS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Transportation Act Feb. 28, 1920, c. 91, § 310, par. a, 41 Stat. 456, 472, authorizes the Railroad Labor Board, "for the efficient administration of the functions vested in" it, to require by subpoena

the attendance of any witness . . . from any place in the United States at any designated place of hearing, and the taking of a deposition before any designated person having power to administer oaths.

Paragraph b provides:

In case of failure to comply with any subpoena [to testify] or in case of the contumacy of any witness appearing before the Labor Board, the Board may invoke the aid of any United States district court. Such court may thereupon order the witness to comply with the requirements of such subpoena, or to give evidence touching the matter in question, as the case may be.

Pursuant to paragraph a, the Board issued a subpoena to Robertson, a citizen and inhabitant of Cleveland, Ohio, commanding him to appear at its offices in Chicago, Illinois, on a day named, to testify concerning a dispute then being inquired into. The subpoena was served upon

Page 621

Robertson at Cleveland by the United States Marshal for the Northern District of Ohio. Robertson did not personally attend as commanded. But, on the day named, he appeared specially by his attorney and, challenging the jurisdiction of the Board over him, declined to appear and testify. Thereupon this suit was begun by the Board in the Federal Court for Northern Illinois, Eastern division, pursuant to paragraph b.

The bill prayed that Robertson, the sole defendant, be ordered to appear before the Labor Board "at a time and place to be fixed by" it and make "full answer to any and all pertinent questions relating" to the matter under investigation, and for any other proper relief. The court issued, in the form customary in equity, a summons, directing the defendant to appear and answer. This summons was likewise served upon Robertson personally at Cleveland by the United States Marshal for the Northern district of Ohio. By his attorney, he again appeared specially and moved to quash the service on the ground that, being an inhabitant of Ohio and served there, he was not subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Court for Illinois. The motion was overruled; Robertson then moved to dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit; this motion was also overruled; Robertson declined to plead further, and a final decree was entered directing him

to appear before the Railroad Labor Board, upon due notice by said Board at a time and place to be designated therein, there to testify, to give evidence, and to give full, true, and complete answer and response to any and all pertinent and relevant questions then and there propounded to him

concerning the subject matter of the inquiry. 3 F.2d. 488. The case is here on appeal under § 238 of the Judicial Code, the questions of jurisdiction having been duly certified. Whether the court acquired jurisdiction over Robertson is the only question requiring decision.

Page 622

Robertson contends that, by the term "any United States district court" Congress meant any such court "of competent jurisdiction," and that, under the applicable law, no district court is of competent jurisdiction to...

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