Foltz v. St. Louis & S.F. Ry. Co.

Citation60 F. 316
Decision Date12 February 1894
Docket Number293.
PartiesFOLTZ et al. v. ST. LOUIS & S. F. RY. CO.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)

This is an appeal from a decree enjoining the appellant, Many A Foltz, who is a married woman, from prosecuting an action of ejectment against the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway Company, the appellee, to recover possession of certain lands in Ft. Smith, Ark., occupied by it for railroad purposes. The above-named appellant, Mary A. Foltz, died during the pendency of the appeal in this court, and by consent an order was entered in this court reviving the cause, as to her heirs at law, in the name of the above appellants. Section 11, art 12, of the constitution of Arkansas, declares that no foreign corporation shall have power to condemn or appropriate private property. Section 5530 of Mansfield's Digest of the Laws of Arkansas provides that a foreign railroad corporation may, under certain circumstances, purchase or lease the property and franchise of any railroad company organized under the laws of that state, and that such lease or purchase 'shall carry with it the right of eminent domain, held and acquired by said company at the time of such lease or sale.' The appellee is a corporation foreign to the state of Arkansas, but in 1882, in accordance with the provisions of section 5530, supra, it had purchased all the property and franchises of a railroad corporation organized under the laws of Arkansas, including its right of eminent domain. In May, 1883, the appellee presented its petition to the circuit court of Sebastian county, Ark., for the condemnation of the lands in question, after having served due notice of its intended application on the appellant, and she appeared in the proceeding. This proceeding was removed at the May term 1883, on the petition of the appellee, to the circuit court of the United States, on the ground that the appellee was a corporation of the state of Missouri, and the appellant a citizen of Arkansas. At the November term, 1883, a contested trial by jury was had in that court to determine the amount of damages sustained by the appellant through the appropriation of the land by the appellee for railroad purposes, and a verdict was rendered, fixing the amount at $4,180.84. March 28, 1884, a judgment was rendered that the appellant should recover this amount of the appellee, and that, upon the payment thereof, the right of way--the use and possession of the land in question--should vest in the appellee forever. On the same day the appellee paid, and the defendant received, the amount of this judgment. The land condemned by this judgment comprised 31 7-100 acres. On August 20, 1890, the appellant brought an action in ejectment against the appellee in the circuit court of Sebastian county, Ark., for 24 7-100 acres of this land. November 15, 1890, that action was removed to the court below. December 31, 1891, the appellee brought its bill in equity in that court to enjoin the prosecution of the action at law, and to quiet its title to the land in dispute. The appellant answered. The case was heard on bill and answer, and a decree rendered in favor of the appellee for the relief prayed in its bill. The appeal is from this decree.

Britton H. Tabor, for appellants.

Edward D. Kenna (B. R. Davidson and H. S. Abbott, on the brief), for appellee.

Before CALDWELL and SANBORN, Circuit Judges, and THAYER, District Judge.

SANBORN Circuit Judge (after stating the facts).

The power of eminent domain--the right to take the property of the citizen for public use--is an attribute of sovereignty. It lies dormant in the state until the right to exercise it is granted by the state to some public or quasi public corporation, or until it is exercised by the state itself. It follows that no corporation has the right to exercise this power unless the state has granted to it that right; and it is conceded that, under the constitution of the state of Arkansas, a foreign corporation, as such, cannot have this right. Holbert v. Railroad Co., 45 Iowa, 23, 26; State v. Scott (Neb.) 36 N.W. 121, 127; Trester v. Railway Co., Id. 502, 505. The questions presented by this case, and pressed upon our attention in the brief and argument of counsel, are: First. Is the judgment of condemnation of March 28, 1884, void,--a nullity,--so that it may be disregarded on a collateral attack? Second. Did the appellee, though unauthorized, as a foreign corporation, to exercise the power of eminent domain, obtain the right, under the constitution and laws of Arkansas, to exercise that power, by its purchase of the property and franchise of the domestic railroad corporation of that state which had that right? Third. Is the appellant, who has been a married woman during all these proceedings, estopped to recover this land by her acceptance of the money awarded her for it by the judgment of condemnation?

Regarding the first question, the contention of counsel for appellant is that, since the appellee was a foreign corporation, and was not one of the parties to whom the right to exercise the power of eminent domain was granted by the state, the circuit court was without jurisdiction to render a judgment of condemnation in its favor, and that judgment is a nullity. Conceding, but not deciding, that the appellee had no right to condemn land for public use, let us examine this question. The appellant was properly served with the statutory notice in the condemnation proceedings, and she appeared and participated in the jury trial to determine the amount of compensation she should receive. In that proceeding a controversy arose between a citizen of Missouri and a citizen of Arkansas, and the amount in controversy was such as to give the circuit court jurisdiction. That court, therefore, had jurisdiction of the parties. It goes without saying that the circuit court had the right and the power to render a judgment of condemnation in a proper case in favor of a railroad corporation which had the right to exercise the power of eminent domain. Kohl v. U. S., 91 U.S. 367, 375; U.S. v. Oregon Ry. & Nav. Co., 9 Sawy. 61, 16 F. 524. The state of Arkansas had granted to many corporations the right to exercise this power, and, if the circuit court had rendered a judgment of condemnation in a proper case in favor of any one of these corporations, its judgment would unquestionably have been valid. The contention is that it is an absolute nullity in this case, because the court entered such a judgment in favor of a corporation which had not that right. Stripped of argument and verbiage, the position is that this judgment is void because the appellee had not legal capacity to sue for it, although there were many parties that had such capacity, in whose favor the circuit court had ample power to enter such a judgment. But the question of the legal capacity of the plaintiff to prosecute condemnation proceedings, like that of the necessity for the condemnation, and that of the public or private purpose of it, is a question that the trial court must necessarily hear and determine in every condemnation proceeding. Is every judgment in which the court committed an error in the decision of one of these questions, without the jurisdiction of the court, a nullity, and only those in which it has made no mistake valid? Jurisdiction of the subject-matter is the power to deal with the general abstract question, to hear the particular facts in any case relating to this question, and to determine whether or not they are sufficient to invoke the exercise of that power. It is not confined to cases in which the particular facts constitute a good cause of action, but it includes every issue within the scope of the general power vested in the court, by the law of its organization, to deal with the abstract question. Nor is this jurisdiction limited to making correct decisions. It empowers the court to determine every issue within the scope of its authority according to its own view of the law and the evidence, whether its decision is right or wrong, and every judgment or decision so rendered is final and conclusive upon the parties to it, unless reversed by writ of error or appeal, or impeached for fraud. Insley v. U. S., 14 S.Ct. 158; Cornett v. Williams, 20 Wall, 226; Des Moines Nav. & R. Co. v. Iowa Homestead Co., 123 U.S. 552, 8 S.Ct. 217; In re Sawyer, 124 U.S. 200, 221, 8 S.Ct. 482; Skillerns v. May's Ex'rs, 6 Cranch, 267; McCormick v. Sullivant, 10 Wheat, 192; Hunt v. Hunt, 72 N.Y. 217; Colton v. Beardsley, 38 Barb. 30, 52; Otis v. The Rio Grande, 1 Woods, 279, Fed. Cas. No. 10,613; Hamilton v.

Railroad Co., 1 Md. Ch. 107; Evans v. Haefner, 29 Mo. 141, 147; State v. Weatherby, 45 Mo. 17; Rosenheim v. Hartsock, 90 Mo. 357, 365, 2 S.W. 473; State v. Southern Ry. Co., 100 Mo. 59, 13 S.W. 398; Hope v. Blair, 105 Mo. 85, 93, 16 S.W. 595; Musick v. Railway Co., 114 Mo. 309, 315, 21 S.W. 491. Wherever the right and the duty of the court to exercise its jurisdiction depends upon the decision of a question it is invested with power to hear and determine, there its judgment, right or wrong, is impregnable to collateral attack, unless impeached for fraud. In Colton v. Beardsley, 38 Barb. 30, 51, 52, the New York court said:

'When the jurisdiction of an inferior tribunal depends upon a fact which such tribunal is required to ascertain and determine, such decision is final until reversed in a direct proceeding for that purpose. The test of jurisdiction in such case is whether the tribunal has power to enter upon the inquiry, and not whether its conclusion in the course of it is right or wrong.'

In Des Moines Nav. & R. Co. v. Iowa Homestead Co., supra, a judgment of the United States circuit court was collaterally attacked because it appeared on its face...

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