313 U.S. 33 (1941), 558, Nye v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 558
Citation:313 U.S. 33, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172
Party Name:Nye v. United States
Case Date:April 14, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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313 U.S. 33 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172

Nye

v.

United States

No. 558

United States Supreme Court

April 14, 1941

Argued March 12, 1941

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. Seeking to terminate a suit for wrongful death which an administrator had brought in a federal district court, petitioners (strangers to the suit) induced the administrator, by undue influence, to file a final account and obtain his discharge as administrator, and to send letters to his attorney and the district judge asking dismissal of the suit. The misbehavior occurred more than 100 miles from the district court. Petitioners were adjudged guilty of contempt by the district judge; one was ordered to pay the costs of the contempt proceeding, including a sum to the administrator's attorney, and on both fines were imposed. A notice of appeal was filed.

Held:

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(1) The case was not one of civil, but of criminal, contempt. P. 42.

(a) A contempt is considered civil

when the punishment is wholly remedial, serves only the purposes of the complainant, and is not intended as a deterrent to offenses against the public.

P. 42.

(b) That the contempt proceeding was entitled in the administrator's suit and that the United States was not a party until the appeal are not conclusive as to the nature of the contempt. P. 42.

(c) Nor is the fact that one of the petitioners was ordered to pay the costs of the proceeding, including a sum to the administrator's attorney, decisive. P. 42.

(d) The punitive character of the judgment of contempt was dominant. P. 43.

(2) The appeal is not governed by the Criminal Appeals Rules. P. 43.

(a) In this case, there was no "plea of guilty," no "verdict of guilt by a jury," and no "finding of guilt by the trial court were a jury is waived." The quoted qualifying language of the Rules does not designate merely the state of the proceedings in criminal cases when the Rules become applicable, but describes the kinds of cases to which they are to be applied. P. 43.

(b) In the light of the history of the Act authorizing the Rules, and the amendatory Act, the categories embraced in the Rules may not be expanded by interpretation to include the present case.

(3) The appeal is governed by § 8(c) of the Act of February 13, 1925. P. 44.

(4) This Court being equally divided in opinion as to whether the Circuit Court of Appeals had power, in the absence of an application for allowance of the appeal, to decide the case on the merits, the action of that court in taking jurisdiction of the appeal is affirmed. P. 44.

(5) The conduct of petitioners did not constitute "misbehavior . . . so near" the presence of the court "as to obstruct the administration of justice" within the meaning of § 268 of the Judicial Code. P. 52.

So far as the crime of contempt is concerned, the fact that the district judge received the administrator's letter is inconsequential.

2. The words "so near thereto" is § 268 of the Judicial Code are to be construed as having a geographical, rather than a causal, connotation. P. 48.

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3. The phrase "so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice" likewise connotes that the misbehavior must have occurred in the vicinity of the court. P. 48.

4. The history of §§ 1 and 2 of the Act of March 2, 1831, and of § 135 of the Criminal Code, requires meticulous regard for the separate categories of offenses therein embraced, so that the instances where there is no right to a jury trial will be narrowly restricted. P. 49.

5. The phrase "so near thereto" must be restricted to acts in the vicinity of the court, and not be construed to apply to all acts which have a "reasonable tendency" to "obstruct the administration of justice." P. 49.

6. Toledo Newspaper Co. v. United States, 247 U.S. 402, overruled. P. 52.

113 F.2d 1006 reversed.

Certiorari, 313 U.S. 643, to review the affirmance of an order upon an adjudication of contempt.

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DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners were adjudged guilty of contempt under § 268 of the Judicial Code, 36 Stat. 1163, 28 U.S.C. § 385, for their efforts to obtain a dismissal of a suit brought by one Elmore in the federal District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Elmore, administrator of the estate of his son, brought that action, in forma pauperis, against one Council and Bernard, partners, trading as B. C. Remedy Co., and alleged that his son died as a result of the use of a medicine, known as B C and manufactured and sold by them. The court appointed William B. Guthrie to represent Elmore. Defendants filed an answer April 29, 1939. On April 19, 1939, Elmore notified the District Judge and his lawyer by letters that he desired to have the case dismissed. The substance of the episode involving the improper conduct of petitioners was found as follows:

Elmore is illiterate, and feeble in mind and body. Petitioners,1 through the use of liquor and persuasion, induced Elmore to seek a termination of the action. Nye directed his own lawyer to prepare the letters to the District Judge and to Guthrie and to prepare a final administration account to be filed in the local probate court. Nye took Elmore to the probate court, had him discharged as administrator, and paid the clerk a fee of $1.

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He then took Elmore to the post office, registered the letters, and paid the postage. Elmore, however, was not promised or paid anything. These events took place more than 100 miles from Durham, North Carolina, where the District Court was located.

On September 30, 1939, Guthrie filed a motion2 asking for an order requiring Nye [61 S.Ct. 812] to show cause "why he should not be attached and held as for contempt of this Court."3 The court issued a show cause order to Nye and Mayers, who filed their answers. There was a hearing. Evidence was introduced, and argument was heard on motions to dismiss. The court found that the writing of the letters and the filing of the final account were procured

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by Nye

for the express and definite purpose of preventing the prosecution of the civil action in the federal court, and with intent to obstruct and to prevent the trial of the case on its merits;

and that the conduct of Nye and Mayers

did obstruct and impede the due administration of justice in this cause; that the conduct has caused a long delay, several hearings, and enormous expense.

It accordingly held that their conduct was "misbehavior so near to the presence of the court as to obstruct the administration of justice," and adjudged each guilty of contempt. It ordered Nye to pay the costs of the contempt proceedings, including $500 to Guthrie, and a fine of $500; and it ordered Mayers to pay a fine of $250. The District Court filed its finding of facts and judgment on February 8, 1940. On March 15, 1940, petitioners filed a notice of appeal from the judgment.4 The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment.5 113 F.2d 1006. We granted the petition for certiorari because the interpretation of the power of the federal courts under § 268 of the Judicial Code to punish contempts raised matters of grave importance.

We are met at the threshold with a question as to the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of Appeals over the appeal. The government concedes that, if this was a case of civil contempt, the notice of appeal was effective under Rule 73 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. It argues, however, that the contempt was criminal -- in which case the appeal was not timely if the Criminal Appeals Rules

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govern,6 and not made in the proper form if § 8(c) of the Act of February 13, 1925, 43 Stat. 936, 940, 45 Stat. 54, 28 U.S.C. § 230, is applicable.7

We do not think this was a case of civil contempt. We recently stated, in McCrone v. United States, 307 U.S. 61, 64,

[61 S.Ct. 813]

While particular acts do not always readily lend themselves to classification as civil or criminal contempts, a contempt is considered civil when the punishment is wholly remedial, serves only the purpose of the complainant, and is not intended as a deterrent to offenses against the public.

The facts of this case do not meet that standard. While the proceedings in the District Court were entitled in Elmore's action and the United States was not a party until the appeal, those circumstances, though relevant (Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 445-446) are not conclusive as to the nature of the contempt. The fact that Nye was ordered to pay the costs of the proceeding, including $500 to Guthrie, is also not decisive. As Mr. Justice Brandeis stated in Union Tool Co. v. Wilson, 259 U.S. 107, 110,

Where a fine is imposed partly as compensation to the complainant and partly as punishment, the criminal feature of the order is dominant, and fixes

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its character for purposes of review.

The order imposes unconditional fines payable to the United States. It awards no relief to a private suitor. The prayer for relief8 and the acts charged9 carry the criminal hallmark. Cf. Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Co., supra, p. 449. They clearly do not reveal any purpose to punish for contempt "in aid of the adjudication sought in the principal suit." Lamb v. Cramer, 285 U.S. 217, 220. When there is added the "significant" fact (Bessette v. W. B. Conkey Co., 194 U.S. 324, 329) that Nye and Mayers were strangers, not parties, to Elmore's action, there can be no reasonable doubt that the punitive character of the order was dominant.

We come, then, to the question of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of Appeals. We disagree with the government in its contention that the appeal in this case was governed by the Criminal Appeals Rules. Those rules were promulgated pursuant to the provisions of the Act of March 8, 1934, 48 Stat. 399, 18 U.S.C. § 688, which provided, inter alia,...

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