Edward Bessette v. Conkey Company

Decision Date16 May 1904
Docket NumberNo. 142,142
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

This case is before us on questions certified by the circuit court of appeals for the seventh circuit. The facts as stated are that on August 24, 1901, the W. B. Conkey Company filed its bill of complaint in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Indiana against several parties, praying an injunction, provisional and perpetual, restraining the defendants, their confederates, agents, and servants, from interfering with the operation of its printing and publishing house. A temporary restraining order was issued, and on December 3, 1901, a perpetual injunction was ordered against all the defendants appearing or served with process. On September 13, 1901, the complainant filed its verified petition, informing the court that various persons, among them Edward E. Bessette (who was not named as a party defendant in the bill), with knowledge of the restraining order, had violated it, describing fully the manner of the violation. Upon the filing of that petition Bessette was ordered to appear before the court and show cause why he should not be punished for contempt in violating the restraining order. He appeared and filed his answer to the charges, and upon a hearing the court found him guilty of contempt, and imposed a fine of $250. From this order or judgment Bessette prayed an appeal to the circuit court of appeals, which was allowed, and the record filed in that court. Upon these facts the circuit court of appeals certified the following questions:

'First. Whether the circuit court of appeals has jurisdiction to review an order or judgment of the circuit court of the United States, finding a person guilty of contempt for violation of an order of that court, and imposing a fine for the contempt.

'Second. Whether the 'Act to Establish Circuit Courts of Appeals, and to Define and Regulate in Certain Cases Jurisdiction of the Courts of the United States, and for Other Purposes,' approved March 3, 1891 (26 Stat. at L. 826, chap. 517, U. S. Comn. Stat. 1901, p. 547), authorizes a review by a circuit court of appeals of a judgment or order of a circuit court of the United States, finding a person, not a party to the suit, guilty of contempt for violation of an order of that court, made in such suit, and imposing a fine for such contempt.

'Third. Whether, if such review be sanctioned by law, a person so adjudged in contempt, and fined therefor, who is not a party to the suit, can bring the matter to the circuit court of appeals by appeal.

'Fourth. Whether, if such review be sanctioned by law, a person so adjudged in contempt, and fined therefor, who is not a party to the suit, can bring the matter to the circuit court of appeals by writ of error.'

Mr. William Velpeau Rooker for Bessette.

Messrs. Jacob Newman, Salmon O. Levinson, and Benjamin V. Becker for W. B. Conkey Co.

Mr. Justice Brewer delivered the opinion of the court:

The primary question is whether the circuit court of appeals can review an order of a district or circuit court in contempt proceedings. A secondary question is, How, if there be a right of review, can it be exercised?

A contempt proceeding is sui generis. It is criminal in its nature, in that the party is charged with doing something forbidden, and, if found guilty, is punished. Yet it may be resorted to in civil as well as criminal actions, and also independently of any civil or criminal action.

The power to punish for contempt is inherent in all courts. It is true Congress, by statute (1 Stat. at L. 83, chap. 20), declared that the courts of the United States 'shall have power . . . to punish by fine or imprisonment, at the discretion of said courts, all contempts of authority in any cause or hearing before the same.' And this general power was limited by the act of March 2, 1831 (4 Stat. at L. 487, chap. 99, Rev. Stat. § 725, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 583), the limitation being——

'That such power to punish contempts shall not be construed to extend to any cases except the misbehavior of any person in their presence, or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice, the misbehavior of any of the officers of said courts in their official transactions, and the disobedience or resistance by any such officer, or by any party, juror, witness, or other person, to any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command of the said courts.'

But in respect to this it was held in Ex parte Robinson, 19 Wall. 505, 510, 22 L. ed. 205, 208:

'The power to punish for contempts is inherent in all courts; its existence is essential to the preservation of order in judicial proceedings, and to the enforcement of the judgments, orders, and writs of the courts, and, consequently to the due administration of justice. The moment the courts of the United States were called into existence and invested with jurisdiction over any subject, they became possessed of this power. But the power has been limited and defined by the act of Congress of March 2, 1831. The act, in terms, applies to all courts; whether it can be held to limit the authority of the Supreme Court, which derives its existence and powers from the Constitution, may, perhaps, be a matter of doubt. But that it applies to the circuit and district courts there can be no question. These courts were created by acts of Congress. Their powers and duties depend upon the act calling them into existence, or subsequent acts extending or limiting their jurisdiction. The act of 1831 is, therefore, to them the law specifying the cases in which summary punishment for contempts may be inflicted.'

The purpose of contempt proceedings is to uphold the power of the court, and also to secure to suitors therein the rights by it awarded. As said in Re Chiles, 22 Wall. 157, 168, sub nom. Texas v. White, 22 L. ed. 819, 823:

'The exercise of this power has a two-fold aspect, namely: first, the proper punishment of the guilty party for his disrespect to the court or its order, and second, to compel his performance of some act or duty required of him by the court, which he refuses to perform.'

In Re Nevitt, 54 C. C. A. 622-632, 117 Fed. 448, 458, Judge Sanborn, of the court of appeals for the eighth circuit considered the nature of contempt proceedings at some length. We quote the following from his opinion:

'Proceedings for contempts are of two classes,—those prosecuted to preserve the power, and vindicate the dignity, of the courts, and to punish for disobedience of their orders, and those instituted to preserve and enforce the rights of private parties to suits, and to compel obedience to orders and decrees made to enforce the rights and administer the remedies to which the court has found them to be entitled. The former are criminal and punitive in their nature, and the government, the courts, and the people are interested in their prosecution. The latter are civil, remedial, and coercive in their nature, and the parties chiefly in interest in their conduct and prosecution are the individuals whose private rights and remedies they were instituted to protect or enforce. Thompson v. Pennsylvania R. Co. 48 N. J. Eq. 105, 108, 21 Atl. 182; Hendryx v. Fitzpatrick, 19 Fed. 810; Ex parte Culliford, 8 Barn. & C. 220; Rex v. Edwards, 9 Barn. & C. 652; People ex rel. Munsell v. Oyer & Terminer Ct. 101 N. Y. 245, 247, 54 Am. Rep. 691, 4 N. E. 259; Phillips v. Welch, 11 Nev. 187, 190; State v. Knight, 3 S. D. 509, 513, 44 Am. St. Rep. 809, 54 N. W. 412; People ex rel. Gaynor v. McKane, 78 Hun, 154, 160, 28 N. Y. Supp. 981; 4 Bl. Com. 285, 7 Am. & Eng. Enc. Law, p. 68. A criminal contempt involves no element of personal injury. It is directed against the power and dignity of the court, and private parties have little, if any, interest in the proceedings for its punishment. But if the contempt consists in the refusal of a party or a person to do an act which the court has ordered him to do for the benefit or the advantage of a party to a suit or action pending before it, and he is committed until he complies with the order, the commitment is in the nature of an execution to enforce the judgment of the court, and the party in whose favor that judgment was rendered is the real party in interest in the proceedings.' See also Rapalje, Contempts, § 21.

Doubtless the distinction referred to in this quotation is the cause of the difference in the rulings of various state courts as to the right of review. Manifestly, if one inside of a court room disturds the order of proceedings, or is guilty of personal misconduct in the presence of the court, such action may properly be regarded as a contempt of court; yet it is not misconduct in which any individual suitor is specially interested. It is more like an ordinary crime which affects the public at large, and the criminal nature of the act is the dominant feature. On the other hand, if, in the progress of a suit, a party is ordered by the court to abstain from some action which is injurious to the rights of the adverse party, and he disobeys that order, he may also be guilty of contempt, but the personal injury to the party in whose favor the court has made the order gives a remedial character to the contempt proceeding. The punishment is to secure to the adverse party the right which the court has awarded to him. He is the one primarily interested, and if it should turn out, on appeal from the final decree in the case, that the original order was erroneous, there would, in most cases, be great propriety in setting aside the punishment which was imposed for disobeying an order to which the adverse party was not entitled.

It may not be always easy to classify a particular act as belonging to either one of these two classes. It may partake of the characteristics of both. A significant and generally determinative feature is that the act is by one ...

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