326 U.S. 438 (1946), 234, Mississippi Publishing Corp. v. Murphree

Docket Nº:No. 234
Citation:326 U.S. 438, 66 S.Ct. 242, 90 L.Ed. 185
Party Name:Mississippi Publishing Corp. v. Murphree
Case Date:January 02, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 438

326 U.S. 438 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 242, 90 L.Ed. 185

Mississippi Publishing Corp.

v.

Murphree

No. 234

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 2, 1946

Argued December 12, 1945

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent, a resident of the northern district of Mississippi, brought suit in the federal district court for that district against petitioner, a Delaware corporation having an office and place of business in the southern district of Mississippi, to recover damages in an amount exceeding $3,000 for libel published in the southern district. The suit was begun by service of summons in the southern district by the United States marshal upon the agent designated by petitioner to receive service of process within the State.

Held:

1. The case being of a civil nature, the amount in controversy exceeding $3,000, and the parties being of diverse citizenship, the district court had jurisdiction of the subject matter. P. 440.

2. Since the sole ground of federal jurisdiction was diversity of citizenship and suit was brought in the district of the plaintiff's residence, there was no want of venue under § 51 of the Judicial Code. P. 441.

3. Petitioner was properly brought before the district court for the northern district and subjected to its judgment in the suit by service of summons on petitioner's agent in the southern district, since this was authorized by Rules 4(d)(3) and 4(f) of the Rules of Civil Procedure. P. 443.

4. As thus applied, Rule 4(f) of the Rules of Civil Procedure is in harmony with the Enabling Act under which it was promulgated, and with the statutes fixing venue and the jurisdiction of the district courts. P. 445.

5. By consenting to service of process upon its agent residing in the southern district, petitioner rendered itself "present" there for purposes of service. P. 442.

6. By appointing an agent to receive service, petitioner consented to suits within the State in courts which apply the law of the State, whether they be state or federal courts. P. 443.

7. The fact that this Court promulgated the Rules of Civil Procedure as formulated and recommended by the Advisory Committee does not foreclose consideration of their validity, meaning, or construction, but, in ascertaining their meaning, the construction given to them by the Committee is of weight. P. 444.

Page 439

8. Rule 4(f) was devised to permit service of process anywhere within a State in which the district court issuing the process is held, and where the State embraces two or more districts. P. 444.

9. It was adopted with particular reference to suits against a foreign corporation having an agent to receive service of process resident in a district within the State other than that in which the suit is brought. P. 444.

10. Rule 4(f) does not conflict with Rule 82 or the statutes fixing venue and jurisdiction of the district courts, since it does not enlarge or diminish the venue or jurisdiction of the district courts, but serves only to implement the jurisdiction over the subject matter which Congress has conferred, by providing a procedure by which the defendant may be brought into court at the place where Congress has declared that suit may be maintained. P. 444.

11. Rule 4(f) does not "abridge, enlarge, nor modify the substantive rights of any litigant," since it is a rule of procedure, and not of substantive right. P. 445.

12. The prohibition in the Enabling Act of any alteration of substantive rights of litigants obviously was not addressed to such incidental effects as necessarily attend the adoption of new rules of procedure upon the rights of litigants who, agreeably to rules of practice and procedure, have been brought before a court authorized to determine their rights. P. 445.

149 F.2d 138, affirmed.

CERTIORARI, post, p. 702, to review reversal of a judgment dismissing a suit on the ground that the venue was not properly laid.

STONE, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent, a resident of the northern district of Mississippi, brought this suit in the district court for that district against petitioner, a Delaware corporation having

Page 440

an office and place of business in the southern district of Mississippi, to recover damages for libel published in the southern district. The suit was begun by service of summons in the southern district by the United States marshal upon the agent designated by petitioner to receive service of process with the state. The questions for our decision are whether the venue was properly laid in the northern district and whether petitioner could be brought before the court and subjected to its judgment in the suit by service of summons on petitioner's agent in the southern district.

The district court granted petitioner's motion to dismiss the suit on the ground that the venue was not properly laid in the northern district. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, 149 F.2d 138, holding that as there was diversity of citizenship and as the amount in controversy exceeded $3,000, the district court for the northern district had jurisdiction, that the venue was properly laid there under the provisions of § 51 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 112, and that service of summons in the southern district was authorized by Rule 4(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We granted certiorari, 326 U.S. 702.1

The present case being of a civil nature, the amount in controversy exceeding $3,000, and the parties being of diverse citizenship, the district court had jurisdiction of

Page 441

the subject matter of the suit -- that is, of the class of cases of which the present is one. 28 U.S.C. § 41(1). The court had jurisdiction over the parties if the petitioner was properly brought before the court by the service of process within the southern district. And it could rightly exercise its jurisdiction, notwithstanding petitioner's motion, unless there was want of venue. Venue in the present case is controlled by § 51 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 112, which provides, with exceptions not now material, that,

where the jurisdiction is founded only on the fact that the action is between citizens of different States, suits shall be brought only in the district of the residence of either the plaintiff or the defendant. . . .

Since there was jurisdiction of the present suit on the sole ground of diversity of citizenship, and since the suit was brought in the district of the plaintiff's residence, as found by both courts below, there was, by § 51 of the Judicial Code, no want of venue, and the court was not warranted in dismissing the suit if the service of summons was effective to...

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