303 U.S. 283 (1938), 274, Saint Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Company

Docket Nº:No. 274
Citation:303 U.S. 283, 58 S.Ct. 586, 82 L.Ed. 845
Party Name:Saint Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Company
Case Date:February 28, 1938
Court:United States Supreme Court

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303 U.S. 283 (1938)

58 S.Ct. 586, 82 L.Ed. 845

Saint Paul Mercury Indemnity Co.


Red Cab Company

No. 274

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 28, 1938

Submitted January 10, 1938




1. There is a strong presumption that the plaintiff in a state court has not claimed a large amount in order to confer jurisdiction by removal on a federal court, and that the parties have not colluded to that end. P. 290.

2. The status of the case as disclosed by the plaintiff's complaint is controlling in the case of a removal, since the defendant must file his petition before the time for answer, or forever lose his right to remove. P. 291.

3. Jurisdiction of the District Court acquired through removal is not lost by plaintiff's subsequent reduction of his claim to less than the jurisdictional amount. P. 292.

90 F.2d 229 reversed.

Certiorari, 302 U.S. 669, to review a judgment dismissing an appeal from a judgment recovered in an action on a contract of insurance. The action had been removed from a state court. The respondent here conceded that the ruling below was erroneous, and prayed that the cause be remanded for decision of the merits.

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ROBERTS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The decision under review is that, although at the time of removal of a cause from a state court, the complaint disclosed an amount in controversy requisite to the federal court's jurisdiction, a subsequent amendment, reducing the sum claimed to substantially less than that amount, necessitates remand to the state court. We granted the writ of certiorari because of alleged conflict with our decisions and with those of other federal courts.

The respondent, a corporation of Indiana, issued a summons out of the superior court of Marion county, Indiana, against the petitioner, a Minnesota corporation doing business in Indiana, and one Harlan as its agent. The complaint alleged that the respondent was subject to the provisions of the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act, and had entered into a contract of insurance with the petitioner, evidenced by a binder, whereby the petitioner insured the respondent against loss or expense by reason of claims for compensation for a period of thirty days from December 30, 1933, and agreed to act for the respondent in the filing of reports and notices under the Act; that, during the term of the insurance employees of the respondent had suffered injury in the course of employment and made claims therefor; that the petitioner had been notified of each injury and investigated it in connection with the claim for compensation; that, after the expiration of the contract, the petitioner notified the respondent that it would not recognize any of the claims, and denied liability under the binder; that, as a consequence, respondent was compelled to employ attorneys, investigators, and medical assistants to investigate and satisfy claims covered by the contract and to pay employees who had suffered injuries during the contract period, and

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to pay, or obligate itself to pay, for medical, hospital, or dental bills in connection with such injuries, to the damage of the respondent in the sum of $4,000. It was alleged that the petitioner had acted, in making the contract, through Harlan, its authorized agent and representative, and an order was prayed that Harlan retain all moneys due by him to the petitioner for the purpose of answering any judgment which might be recovered. The complaint concluded by demanding $4,000 and other appropriate relief. Upon the petitioner's timely application, the cause was removed to the United States District Court for Southern Indiana. The respondent thereafter filed an amended complaint, the substance of which is not now material, and later a "second amended complaint for breach of contract and for damages," in which the allegations of the original complaint were repeated and damages were claimed in the sum of $4,000. An exhibit was attached which gave the names of the employees and the amounts expended in connection with their asserted injuries totaling $1,380.89. The court dismissed Harlan as a defendant, transferred the cause to the law docket, and overruled a demurrer to the complaint as not stating facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. The answer denied the making of the contract. A jury trial was waived and the court made findings, stated its conclusions, and entered judgment for the respondent for $1,162.98. The petitioner appealed. The Circuit Court of Appeals refused to decide the merits on the ground that, as the record showed respondent's claim did not equal the amount necessary to give the [58 S.Ct. 589] District Court jurisdiction, the case should have been remanded to the State court.1

The question presented is one of statutory construction. The act defining the jurisdiction of district courts of the

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United States is § 24 of the Judicial Code.2 So far as here material, the Code confers jurisdiction of a suit of a civil nature, where the matter in controversy exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum or value of $3,000 and is between citizens of different states.

Authority for removal of certain causes from a state to a federal court was first given by § 12 of the Judiciary Act of 1789,3 which permitted removal of a civil suit instituted by a citizen of the state in which the suit was brought against a citizen of another state where the matter in dispute exceeded the sum or value of $500, exclusive of costs. Such removal could be had only at the instance of the nonresident defendant. The Act of July 27, 1866,4 enlarged the privilege of removal by providing that if, in such a civil suit, it was shown that a nonresident defendant was party to a separable controversy, which could be determined without the presence of other defendants, that defendant might remove the cause.

The Judiciary Act of 18755 altered preexisting law to permit suits involving a controversy between citizens of different states to be removed by either party. The Judiciary Acts of 1887-18886 increased the jurisdictional amount to more than $2,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and confined the right of removal to a nonresident defendant, and the Judicial Code increased the limit to over $3,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and also restricted the privilege to nonresident defendants.7 The

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statute governing dismissal or remand for want of jurisdiction is § 37 of the Judicial Code:8

If, in any suit commenced in a district court, or removed from a State court to a district court of the United States, it shall appear to the satisfaction of the said district court at any time after such suit has been brought or removed thereto that such suit does not really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy properly within the jurisdiction of said district court, or that the parties to said suit have been improperly or collusively made or joined, either as plaintiffs or defendants, for the purpose of creating a case cognizable or removable under this chapter, the said district court shall proceed no further therein, but shall dismiss the suit or remand it to the court from which it was removed, as justice may require, and shall make such order as to costs as shall be just.

This provision first appeared as § 59 of the Act of March 3, 1875 (supra), and, save for the elision of a concluding clause, and the substitution of "district court" for "circuit court", is identical with that section. It was included in the Judiciary Acts of 1887, 1888, supra, and has been continuously in force since 1875. It altered the practice by requiring the court to dismiss or remand of its own motion in a proper case although want of jurisdiction was not raised by appropriate motion or by plea or answer,10 but did [58 S.Ct. 590] not change the substantial basis for

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the court's action. The principles governing dismissal of a cause initiated in the federal court or the remand of one begun in a state court have remained as they were before the section was adopted.

The intent of Congress drastically to restrict federal jurisdiction in controversies between citizens of different states has always been rigorously enforced by the courts. The rule governing dismissal for want of jurisdiction in cases brought in the federal court is that, unless the law gives a different rule, the sum claimed by the plaintiff controls11 if the claim is apparently made in good faith.12

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It must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.13 The inability of plaintiff to recover an amount adequate to give the court jurisdiction does not show his bad faith or oust the jurisdiction.14 Nor does the fact that the complaint discloses the existence of a valid defense to the claim.15 But if, from the face of the pleadings, it is apparent to a legal certainty that the plaintiff cannot recover the amount claimed or if, from the proofs, the court is satisfied to a like certainty that the plaintiff never was entitled to recover that amount, and that his claim was therefore colorable for the purpose of conferring jurisdiction, the suit will be dismissed.16 Events occurring

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subsequent [58 S.Ct. 591] to the institution of suit which reduce the amount recoverable below the statutory limit do not oust jurisdiction.17 What already has been said and circumstances later to be discussed lead to the conclusion that a dismissal would not have been justified had the suit been brought in the federal court. The principles which govern remand of a removed cause more urgently require that it should not have been remanded. In a cause instituted in the federal court, the plaintiff chooses his forum. He knows or should know whether his claim is within the...

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