346 U.S. 379 (1953), 16, Bankers Life & Cas. Co. v. Holland

Docket Nº:No. 16
Citation:346 U.S. 379, 74 S.Ct. 145, 98 L.Ed. 106
Party Name:Bankers Life & Cas. Co. v. Holland
Case Date:November 30, 1953
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 379

346 U.S. 379 (1953)

74 S.Ct. 145, 98 L.Ed. 106

Bankers Life & Cas. Co.



No. 16

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 30, 1953

Argued October 12-13, 1953




In the circumstances of this case, mandamus against a federal district judge was not an appropriate remedy to vacate a severance and transfer order entered by him under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) on the ground of improper venue. Pp. 379-385.

(a) The supplementary review power conferred on federal courts by the All Writs Act is meant to be used only in exceptional cases where there is a clear abuse of discretion or usurpation of judicial power, and this is not such a case. Pp. 382-383.

(b) Use of the writ of mandamus was not appropriate in this case to prevent alleged inconvenience and hardship occasioned by an appeal's being delayed until after final judgment. Pp. 383-384.

(c) Petitioner has not met the burden of showing that its right to issuance of the writ is "clear and indisputable." P. 384.

199 F.2d 593 affirmed.

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question here is whether mandamus is an appropriate remedy to vacate a severance and transfer order entered by a district judge, on the ground of improper venue, under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).1

Page 380

This case arises out of a treble damage action brought by petitioner, an Illinois insurance corporation, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging a conspiracy to injure petitioner's business, in violation of the Sherman and Clayton Acts. The complaint named as defendants the insurance commissioners of Georgia and Florida, one other individual, and four insurance companies residing and transacting business in the Southern District of Florida. The Georgia insurance commissioner, Cravey, was personally served in the Northern District of Florida, and, without entering his appearance or waiving venue, moved to quash the summons and return of service and dismiss him from the action for improper venue.

The applicable venue statute for private treble damage actions brought under the antitrust laws, 15 U.S.C. § 15, allows suit "in any district court of the United States in the district in which the defendant resides or is found or has an agent. . . ." It is admitted that Commissioner Cravey was not a resident of the Southern District of Florida, but petitioner contends that the Commissioner

was a member of a conspiracy whose other members were residing and carrying on the illegal business of the conspiracy in the Southern District of Florida, . . . that a conspiracy is a partnership, and that co-conspirators are each other's agents . . . ,

and that the Commissioner therefore was "found," and had "agents," in the district within the meaning of the statute. In furtherance of its theory that the Commissioner was "found" in [74 S.Ct. 147] the district, petitioner alleged overt acts committed by the Commissioner, as well as his codefendants, in the district where the suit was filed. The respondent judge held that the court had jurisdiction of the action and of the Commissioner, under Rule 4(f) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, service of process having been had on him in the Northern District of Florida. The judge held, however, that venue was

Page 381

not properly laid and, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), ordered the action as to Cravey severed, and transferred to the Northern District of Georgia, where Cravey resided. Petitioner then sought a writ of mandamus from the Court of Appeals to compel the respondent to vacate and set aside the order of severance and transfer. The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for mandamus on the ground that it was not an appropriate remedy. 199 F.2d 593. Because of the importance of the question in the effective administration of federal law, we granted certiorari. 345 U.S. 933.

At the outset, it appears to be agreed that the District Court had jurisdiction over Commissioner Cravey under the process served on him in the Northern District of Florida.2 However, petitioner contends that the respondent judge had "power" to order the severance and transfer only if venue was improperly laid, and that, when venue is proper, that "power" does not exist. Petitioner insists that venue was proper on the theory aforesaid; that the Commissioner was "found" or had "agents" in the district; that the severance and transfer order was therefore void, but, being interlocutory, no appeal would lie; and that the only effective remedy is mandamus. While it admits that the order eventually may be reviewed on appeal from final judgment in the case, petitioner contends that insurmountable procedural difficulties requiring appeals from, and reversals of, the final judgments in both the Florida action and the severed action in Georgia render that remedy speculative, ineffective, and

Page 382

inadequate in preventing needless expense, hardship and judicial inconvenience. Wherefore, it says, the extraordinary writ of mandamus is appropriate.

We are of the opinion that, in the circumstances of this case, the writ was inappropriate.

The All Writs Act grants to the federal courts the power to issue "all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law." 2 8 U.S.C. § 1651(a). As was pointed out in Roche v. Evaporated Milk Assn., 319 U.S. 21, 26 (1943), the

traditional use of the writ in aid of appellate jurisdiction, both at common law and in the federal courts, has been to confine an inferior court to a lawful exercise of its prescribed jurisdiction or to compel it to exercise its authority when it is its duty to do so.

Here, however, petitioner admits that the court had jurisdiction both of the subject matter of the suit and of the person of Commissioner Cravey, and that it was necessary, in the due course of the litigation, for the respondent judge to rule on the motion. The contention is that, in acting on the motion and ordering transfer, he exceeded his legal powers, and this error ousted him of jurisdiction. But jurisdiction need not run the gauntlet of reversible errors. The ruling on a question of law decisive of the issue presented by Cravey's motion and the replication [74 S.Ct. 148] of the petitioner was made in the course of the exercise of the court's jurisdiction to decide issues properly brought before it. Ex parte American Steel Barrel Co., 230 U.S. 35, 45-46 (1913); Ex parte Roe, 234 U.S. 70, 73 (1914). Its decision against petitioner, even if erroneous -- which we do not pass upon -- involved no abuse of judicial power, Roche v. Evaporated Milk Assn., supra, and is reviewable upon appeal after final judgment.3 If we applied the reasoning advanced by

Page 383

the petitioner, then every interlocutory order which is wrong might be reviewed under the All Writs Act. The office of a writ of mandamus would be enlarged to actually control the decision of the trial court, rather than used in its traditional function of confining a court to its prescribed jurisdiction. In strictly circumscribing piecemeal appeal,4 Congress must have realized that, in the course of judicial decision, some interlocutory orders might be erroneous. The supplementary review power conferred on the courts by Congress in the All Writs Act is meant to be used only in the exceptional case where there is clear abuse of discretion or "usurpation of judicial power" of the sort held to justify the writ in De Beers Consolidated Mines v. United States, 325 U.S. 212, 217 (1945). This is not such a case.

It is urged, however, that the use of the writ of mandamus is appropriate here to prevent "judicial inconvenience and hardship" occasioned by appeal being delayed until after final judgment. But it is established that the extraordinary writs cannot be used as substitutes for appeals, Ex parte Fahey, 332 U.S. 258, 259-260 (1947), even though hardship may result from delay and perhaps unnecessary trial, United States Alkali Export Assn. v. United States, 325...

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