Honeyman v. Hanan

Decision Date01 February 1937
Docket NumberNo. 370,370
Citation300 U.S. 14,57 S.Ct. 350,81 L.Ed. 476
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Appeal from the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

Mr. Robert B. Honeyman, of New York City, for appellant.

Mr. James S. Brown, Jr., of Brooklyn, N.Y., for appellee.

Mr. John F. X. McGohey, of New York City, for the State of New York, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

Upon the filing of the jurisdictional statement, the appellee moved to dismiss the appeal upon the ground that the decision of the federal question now raised was not necessary to the determination of the cause. Rule 12 par. 3, 28 U.S.C.A. following section 354. Further consideration of the motion was postponed to the hearing upon the merits.

The record is brief. The suit was brought against the executor of the estate of Herbert W. Hanan, deceased, to recover a deficiency judgment upon a bond secured by a mortgage which had been foreclosed in an earlier suit in which the mortgaged property had been sold and an application for a deficiency judgment had been refused. The judgment in the present suit dismissed the amended complaint upon the ground that it did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action.

The amended complaint alleged that in 1907 the John H. Hanan Realty Company, with John H. Hanan, had executed a bond for $118,000, and as collateral security the John H. Hanan Realty Company had made a mortgage covering certain premises in the city of New York; that later the bond and mortgage were assigned to John H. Hanan; that in 1920 John H. Hanan, together with Herbert W. Hanan (defendant's testator) and Addison G. Hanan, had executed their joint and several bond to the guardians of the estates of certain infants in the sum of $60,000 and as collateral security therefor John H. Hanan had assigned to the obligees the bond and mortgage first mentioned; and that thereafter the bond of John H. Hanan, Herbert W. Hanan, and Addison G. Hanan had been assigned, together with the bond and mortgage first mentioned, to the plaintiff.

A copy of the bond in suit was annexed. It recited that it was executed as additional security for the payment of the first mentioned bond and mortgage, upon which the principal sum of $60,000 remained unpaid, and that the time for payment had been extended as provided in a contemporaneous agreement. The condition of the obligation was the payment of that sum with interest as the same should become due and payable according to the terms and conditions of the bond and mortgage first mentioned and the extension agreement.

The amended complaint further alleged that the John H. Hanan Realty Company had failed to comply with the terms of the bond and mortgage first mentioned and had failed to pay the taxes on the mortgaged premises or the interest on the bond; that thereupon, in September, 1933, the plaintiff had brought an action to foreclose the mortgage and that the defendant herein was a party to that action; that pursuant to judgment therein the mortgaged premises were sold and the proceeds were applied on account of the indebtedness due the plaintiff; that the referee's report of sale was confirmed; that thereafter a motion was 'duly made for a deficiency judgment' which was denied and the foreclosure action was discontinued as to the defendant herein by the filing of a stipulation; that the deficiency due the plaintiff was $58,523.35 upon which $554.01 had been received by the plaintiff from the receiver in the foreclosure action, leaving due $57,969.34 which the decedent, Herbert W. Hanan, became bound to pay.

The amended complaint and the motion to dismiss for the insufficiency of its allegations contained no mention of a federal question. The trial court granted the motion with the mere statement that, 'The mortgage moratorium laws apply to the facts alleged in the said complaint.' The judgment of dismissal was affirmed by the Appellate Division without opinion. 246 App.Div. 781, 285 N.Y.S. 527. The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal and in May, 1936, affirmed the judgment, also without opinion. 271 N.Y. 564, 3 N.E.(2d) 186. In the entire progress of the cause to this point of determination by the highest court of the State, the record discloses no reference to a federal question.

In June, 1936, upon motion, the Court of Appeals amended its remittitur by adding the following: 'A question under the Federal Constitution was presented and necessarily passed upon by this court. The plaintiff contended that chapter 794 of the Laws of the State of New York, enacted in 1933, Ex.Sess., as amended (sections 1083-a and 1083-b of Civil Practice Act), impair the obligations of contracts, and thus violate article 1, section 10, of the Constitution of the United States. This court held that such laws do not violate said provision of article 1, section 10, of the Constitution of the United States.' 271 N.Y. 662, 3 N.E.(2d) 473, 474.

It is solely upon this statement in the amended remittitur that we are asked to review the judgment and to pass upon the constitutionality of the state statute. We are not aided by any discussion by the state court of the question thus described, or by its explication or construction of the statute cited, or by a statement of the particular application of the statute to which the paragraph in the amended remittitur is addressed.

Before we may undertake to review a decision of the court of a State it must appear affirmatively from the record, not only that the federal question was presented for decision to the highest court of the State having jurisdiction but that its decision of the federal question was necessary to the determination of the cause. Lynch v. New York, 293 U.S. 52, 54, 55 S.Ct. 16, 17, 79 L.Ed. 191, and cases there cited. Whether these requirements have been met is itself a federal question. As this Court must decide whether it has jurisdiction in a particular case, this Court must determine whether the federal question was necessarily passed upon by the state court. That determination must rest upon an examination of the record. A certificate or statement by the state court1 that a fed- eral question has been presented to it and necessarily passed upon is not controlling. While such a certificate or statement may aid this Court in the examination of the record, it cannot avail to foreclose the inquiry which it is our duty to make or to import into the record a federal question which otherwise the record wholly fails to present.

In Commercial Bank of Cincinnati v. Buckingham's Executors, 5 How. 317, 12 L.Ed. 169, this Court was asked to decide a question which was said to be presented under the contract clause with respect to the validity of a statute of Ohio. The Supreme Court of that State entered upon its record an elaborate certificate stating that the validity of the statute was drawn in question upon the ground that as applied to the charter of the plaintiffs in error it 'impaired the obligations thereof, and was repugnant to the constitution of the United States, and that the decision of this court (the Ohio court) was in favor of the validity of the said act of the legislature as so applied.' Notwithstanding the certificate, the case was dismissed for want of jurisdiction. Id., 5 How. 317 at page 343, 12 L.Ed. 169. The Court said: 'It is not enough, that the record shows that 'the plaintiff in error contended and claimed' that the judgment of the court impaired the obligation of a contract, and violated the provisions of the constitution of the United States, and 'that this claim was overruled by the court'; but it must appear, by clear and necessary intendment, that the question must have been raised, and must have been decided, in order to induce the judgment. Let us inquire, then, whether it appears on the face of this record, that the validity of a statute of Ohio, 'on the ground of its repugnancy to the constitution or laws of the United States,' was drawn in question in this case.' Id., 5 How. 317, at page 341, 12 L.Ed. 169.

Pursuing that essential inquiry, the Court found that the question decided by the state court was one of the construction of the statute and not of its validity.

In Lawler v. Walker, 14 How. 149, 14 L.Ed. 364, the Supreme Court of Ohio certified that the validity of statutes of the State had been drawn in question as being in violation of the Federal Constitution and that the court had held the statutes to be valid. The certificate in that case was found to be vague and indefinite but the Court also re-stated the above-quoted ruling of Commercial Bank of Cincinnati v. Buckingham's Executors, supra. While in Parmelee v. Lawrence, 11 Wall. 36, 39, 20 L.Ed. 48, the certificate was made by the presiding judge of the state court and not by the court itself, we took occasion to say: 'We will add, if this court should entertain jurisdiction upon a certificate alone in the absence of any evidence of the question in the record, then the Supreme Court of the State can give the jurisdiction in every case where the question is made by counsel in the argument. The office of the certificate, as it respects the Federal question, is to make more certain and specific what is too general and indefinite in the record, but is incompetent to originate the question within the true construction of the 25th section (of the Judiciary Act).' Id., 11 Wall. 36, at page 39, 20 L.Ed. 48.

This statement was quoted with approval in Powell v. Brunswick County, 150 U.S. 433, 439, 14 S.Ct. 166, 37 L.Ed. 1134.

The case of Brown v. Atwell, 92 U.S. 327, 23 L.Ed. 511, affords another illustration of the rule. The judgment was rendered in the Court of Appeals of New York and an entry was made in its record that on the argument of the appeal it was claimed by the appellant that the Act of Congress of 1836 (5 Stat. 117), known as the Patent Act, governed the effect of...

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