Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company v. Benjamin Jones

Decision Date09 April 1900
Docket NumberNo. 210,210
Citation20 S.Ct. 690,44 L.Ed. 842,177 U.S. 449
PartiesGREAT SOUTHERN FIRE PROOF HOTEL COMPANY, Petitioner , v. BENJAMIN F. JONES et al. and Sosman & Landis
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. John E. Sater and D. F. Pugh for petitioner.

Messrs. T. P. Linn, L. G. Addison, George K. Nash, John D. McKennan, and Outhwaite, Linn, & Thurman for respondents.

Mr. Justice Harlan delivered the opinion of the court:

The bill in this suit, commenced in the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of Ohio, eastern division, describes the plaintiffs Benjamin F. Jones, George M. Laughlins, Henry A. Laughlins, Jr., and Benjamin F. Jones, Jr., as 'members of the limited partnership association doing business under the firm name and style of Jones & Laughlins, Limited, which said association is a limited partnership association organized under an act of the general assembly of Pennsylvania, approved June 23d [2d], 1874, entitled 'An Act Authorizing the Formation of Partnership Associations in Which the Capital Subscribed Shall Alone be Responsible for the Debts of the Association, except under Certain Circumstances," and who 'Have Their Office and Principal Place of Business in the City of Pittsburgh,' and which association is 'a Citizen of the State of Pennsylvania.' Pa. Laws 1874, p. 271.

The defendant first named in the bill is the Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company, a corporation of the state Ohio; and some of the defendants are corporations and citizens of states other than the state of Pennsylvania.

The remaining defendants are thus described in the bill:

'Taylor, Beall, & Company is a partnership doing business in the city of Columbus and state of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being William D. Taylor, James P. Beall, and William J. Keever.'

'Sturgeon, Ford, & Company is a partnership doing business in the city of Columbus and state of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being unknown to your orators.'

'Meacham & Wright is a partnership doing business in the city of Columbus and state of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being Floras D. Meacham and Frank S. Wright.'

'Sosman & Landis is a partnership of Chicago, Illinois, doing business in the state of Ohio, the names of the individual partners thereof being unknown to your orators.'

'Dundon & Bergin is a partnership doing business in the city of Columbus, state of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being Thomas J. Dundon and Matthew J. Bergin.'

'H. C. Johnson & Company is a partnership doing business in the state of Ohio, the names of the individual partners thereof being unknown to your orators.'

'Schoedinger, Fearn, & Company is a partnership doing business in the state of Ohio, the individual partners thereof being F. O. Schoedinger, W. A. Fearn, and J. R. Dickson.'

'L. Hiltgartner & Sons is a partnership doing business in the city of Columbus, state of Ohio, the names of the individual partners thereof being unknown to your orators.'

The nature of the case made by the bill is as follows:

By written agreement between Jones & Laughlins, Limited, and W. J. McClain, dated December 13, 1894, the former agreed, upon certain terms, to furnish structural steel for use in the erection of the Great Southern Hotel at Columbus, for the construction of which McClain had previously contracted with the Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company. Under the above contract Jones & Laughlins, Limited, shipped and furnished to McClain structural steel of the value of $43,296.74. All of that sum was paid by McClain except $11,410.02, which was due to the plaintiffs with interest from January 28, 1896.

On the 11th day of August, 1896, McClain executed a deed of assignment for the benefit of his creditors. And on the 21st day of April, 1896, within four months after the above mate- rials were delivered to McClain, Jones & Laughlins, Limited, filed with the recorder of Franklin county, Ohio, an affidavit containing an itemized statement of the amount and value of such materials. The object of the filing was to conform to the provisions of §§ 3184 (as amended April 13th, 1894, 91 Ohio Laws, 135), and 3185 of the Revised Statutes of Ohio, both sections relating to mechanic's liens, and thereby obtain, in behalf of Jones & Laughlins, Limited, for the amount due them, a lien upon the hotel and the opera house connected with it, as well as upon the land on which they stood.

After stating that the defendants each claim to have some interest in the property in question as lienholders or otherwise, the exact nature and extent of which was unknown to the plaintiff, the relief asked was: 1. That the defendants be required to answer and fully set forth their respective interests in the property, and failing to do so that they be barred from asserting any claim thereto. 2. That a receiver be appointed to collect rents. 3. That the plaintiff's demand be declared a valid and subsisting lien on the property. 4. That all the liens be marshalled, the premises sold, and the proceeds distributed.

The Great Southern Fire Proof Hotel Company demurred generally to the bill as insufficient.

The defendants Sosman & Landis filed their answer and cross bill, claiming a lien upon the property for a balance due under a contract made between them and McClain pursuant to which they furnished scenery, stage work, and fixtures for the improvements contemplated by the contract between McClain and the hotel company. To that cross bill a demurrer was also filed.

The cause was heard in the circuit court upon the demurrers, the only question argued being the constitutionality of the Ohio statute of April 13, 1894. That court sustained the demurrers, and dismissed the bill and cross bill upon the ground that the provisions of the mechanic's lien law of Ohio, under which the plaintiffs and cross plaintiffs proceeded, were unconstitutional. 79 Fed. Rep. 477.

Upon appeal to the circuit court of appeals the decree of the circuit court was reversed—the former court holding that the statute of Ohio in question was not void. 58 U. S. App. 397, 86 Fed. Rep. 370, 30 C. C. A. 108. The hotel company then applied for and obtained this writ of certiorari.

The bill rests the jurisdiction of the circuit court upon the ground of the diverse citizenship of the parties. But was the case as presented by the record one of which the circuit court of the United States could take cognizance by reason of diversity of citizenship? When this question was suggested at the argument counsel responded that no objection had been urged to the jurisdiction of that court. But the failure of parties to urge objections of that character cannot relieve this court from the duty of ascertaining from the record whether the circuit court could properly take jurisdiction of this suit. In Mansfield, C. & L. M. R. Co. v. Swan, 111 U. S. 379, 382, 28 L. ed. 462, 463, 4 Sup. Ct. Rep. 510, 511, the court, after observing that the jurisdiction of a circuit court fails, unless the necessary citizenship affirmatively appears in the pleadings or elsewhere in the record (Grace v. American Cent. Ins. Co. 109 U. S. 278, 283, 27 L. ed. 932, 934, 3 Sup. Ct. Rep. 207; Robertson v. Cease, 97 U. S. 646, 24 L. ed. 1057), said: 'The rule, springing from the nature and limits of the judicial power of the United States, is inflexible and without exception, which requires this court, of its own motion, to deny its own jurisdiction, and, in the exercise of its appellate power, that of all /Ormsby, 141 U. S. 81, 83, 35 L. ed. 654, 655, 11 cases where such jurisdiction does not affirmatively appear in the record on which, in the exercise of that power, it is called to act. On every writ of error or appeal, the first and fundamental question is that of jurisdiction, first, of this court, and then of the court from which the record comes. This question the court is bound to ask and answer for itself, even when not otherwise suggested, and without respect to the relation of the parties to it. This rule was adopted in Capron v. Van Noorden, 2 Cranch, 126, 2 L. ed. 229, decided in 1804, where a judgment was reversed, on the application of the party against whom it had been rendered in the circuit court, for want of the allegation of his own citizenship, which he ought to have made to establish the jurisdiction which he invoked. This case was cited with approval by Chief Justice Marshall in Brown v. Keene, 8 Pet. 112, 8 L. ed. 885.' These rules have been recognized and applied in numerous cases.

We are of opinion that the plaintiff as a limited partnership association was not entitled to invoke the jurisdiction of the circuit court. It was not alleged to be, nor could it have alleged that it was, a corporation in virtue of the statute of Pennsylvania under which, according to the averments of the bill, it was organized. In Lafayette Ins. Co. v. French, 18 How. 404, 405, 15 L. ed. 451, 452, which was an action brought by citizens of Ohio in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Indiana, the declaration described the defendant as the 'Lafayette Insurance Company, a citizen of the state of Indiana.' This court said: 'This averment is not sufficient to show jurisdiction. It does not appear from it that the Lafayette Insurance Company is a corporation; or if it be such, by the law of what state it was created. The averment that the company is a citizen of the state of Indiana can have no sensible meaning attached to it. This court does not hold that either a voluntary association of persons, or an association into a body politic, created by law, is a citizen of a state within the meaning of the Constitution. And, therefore, if the defective averment in the declaration had not been otherwise supplied, the suit must have been dismissed.' The case of Chapman v. Barney, 129 U. S. 677, 682, 32 L. ed. 800, 801, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 426, 428, is decisive of the present question. That was an action in the circuit...

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