Kilbourn v. Thompson

Decision Date01 October 1880
Citation26 L.Ed. 377,103 U.S. 168
PartiesKILBOURN v. THOMPSON
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 168-169 intentionally omitted] ERROR to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.

This is an action for false imprisonment brought by Hallet. Kilbourn against John G. Thompson, Michael C. Kerr, John M. Glover, Jeptha D. New, Burwell P. Lewis, and A. Herr Smith. The declaration charges that the defendants with force and arms took the plaintiff from his house, and without any reasonable or probable cause, and against his will, confined him in the common jail of the District of Columbia for the period of forty-five days. The defendant Kerr died before process was served upon him.

Thompson pleaded first the general issue, and secondly a special plea, wherein he set forth that the plaintiff ought not to have or maintain his action, because that long before and at the said time when the force and injuries complained of by him are alleged to have been inflicted, and during all the time in the said declaration mentioned, a congress of the United States was holden at the city of Washington, there duly authorized and required, and was then and there, and during all the time aforesaid, assembled and sitting; that long before and at the time when said force and injuries are alleged to have occurred, and during all the time mentioned, he, the said Thompson, was, and yet is, sergeant-at-arms of the House of Representatives, and by virtue of his office, and by the tenor and effect of the standing rules and orders ordained and established by said House for the determining of the rules of its proceedings, and by the force and effect of the laws and customs of said House and of said Congress, was then and there duly authorized an required, amongst other things, to execute the command of said House, from time to time, together with all such process issued by authority thereof as shall be directed to him by its speaker; that long before and at the time aforementioned one Michael C. Kerr was the speaker of said House, and by virtue of his office, and by the tenor, force, and effect of said standing rules, orders, laws, and customs, was, among other things, duly authorized and required to subscribe with his proper hand, and to seal with the seal of said House, all writs, warrants, and subpoenas issued by its order; that long before and during said time one George M. Adams was the clerk of said House, authorized and required to attest and subscribe with his proper hand all writs warrants, and subpoenas issued by order of said House; that it was among other things ordained, established, and practised by and under such standing rules, orders, laws, and customs, that all writs, warrants, subpoenas, and other process issued by order of said House shall be under the hand of the speaker and seal of said House, and attested by said clerk; and so being under said hand and seal, and so attested, shall be executed pursuant to the tenor and effect of the same by the sergeant-at-arms; that said Kerr being such speaker, and said Adams such clerk, and the defendant such sergeant-at-arms, and while said Congress was in session, the House of Representatives on the twenty-fourth day of January, 1876, adopted the following preamble and resolution:——

'Whereas the government of the United States is a creditor of the firm of Jay Cooke & Co., now in bankruptcy by order and decree of the District Court of the United States in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, resulting from the improvident deposits made by the Secretary of the Navy of the United States with the London branch of said house of Jay Cooke & Co. of the public moneys; and whereas a matter known as the real-estate pool was only partially inquired into by the late joint select committee to inquire into the affairs of the District of Columbia, in which Jay Cooke & Co. had a large and valuable interest; and whereas Edwin M. Lewis, trustee of the estate and effects of said firm of Jay Cooke & Co., has recently made a settlement of the interest of the estate of Jay Cooke & Co., with the associates of said firm of Jay Cooke & Co., to the disadvantage and loss, as it is alleged, of the numerous creditors of said estate, including the government of the United States; and whereas the courts are now powerless by reason of said settlement to afford adequate redress to said creditors:

'Resolved, that a special committee of five members of this House, to be selected by the speaker, be appointed to inquire into the matter and history of said real-estate pool and the character of said settlement, with the amount of property involved in which Jay Cooke & Co. were interested, and the amount paid or to be paid in said settlement, with power to send for persons and papers and report to this House.'

That in pursuance and by authority of said resolution said speaker appointed John M. Glover, Jeptha D. New, Burwell B. Lewis, A. Herr Smith, and Henry O. Pratt, who were members of the House of Representatives, to constitute said committee; and the said committee, so appointed, duly organized in the city of Washington, and proceeded to make the inquiry directed; that said committee, by the authority in them vested by said resolution, caused to be issued by the speaker, under his hand and the seal of the House of Representatives, and duly attested by the clerk, a subpoena to said Kilbourn, commanding him to appear before said committee to testify and be examined touching and in regard to the matter to be inquired into by said committee; that said Kilbourn was further commanded and ordered by said subpoena to bring with him certain designated and described records, papers, and maps relating to said inquiry; that subsequently to the issue of the subpoena and before the time when the force and injuries complained of are alleged to have been inflicted, Kilbourn, in obedience to the subpoena, appeared before the committee and was examined by it in relation to and in prosecution of said inquiry, and during his examination said Kilbourn was asked the following question: 'Will you state where each of the five members reside, and will you please state their names?' which question was pertinent and material to the question of inquiry before the committee, but he knowingly and wilfully refused to answer the same; that he, although ordered and commanded by the subpoena to bring with him and produce before the said committee certain records, papers, and maps relating to said inquiry, still when asked by the said committee, 'Mr. Kilbourn, are you now prepared to produce, in obedience to the subpoena duces tecum, the records which you have been required by the committee to produce?' knowingly and wilfully refused to produce them; that subsequently to these refusals, and before the time when the force and injuries complained of are alleged to have been inflicted, to wit, on the fourteenth day of March, 1876, the committee reported to the House, then sitting, the facts above stated, to wit, the resolution creating the committee, the appointment of the members on said committee by the speaker, the issuing of the subpoena duces tecum to said Kilbourn, his appearance before the committee, and his refusal to answer the questions, and his further refusal to produce said records, papers, and maps, and the committee further reported to said House as follows; 'The committee are of opinion and report that it is necessary for the efficient prosecution of the inquiry ordered by the House that the said Hallet Kilbourn should be required to respond to the subpoena duces tecum and answer the questions which he has refused to answer; and that there is no sufficient reason why the witness should not obey said subpoena duces tecum and answer the questions which he has refused to answer; and that his refusal as aforesaid is in contempt of this House,' as by the journal, record, and proceedings, and report in the said House remaining, reference being thereto had, will more fully appear; that on March 14, 1876, it was, in and by the said House, for good and sufficient cause to the same appearing, resolved and ordered that the speaker should forth with issue his warrant, directed to the sergeant-atarms, commanding him to take into custody the body of the said Kilbourn wherever to be found, and the same to have forthwith before the said House, at the bar thereof, to then and there answer why he should not be punished as guilty of contempt of the dignity and authority of the same, and in the mean time to keep the said Kilbourn in his custody to await the further order of the said House. Whereupon such speaker, on the fourteenth day of March, 1876, did duly make and issue his certain warrant under his hand and the seal of the House of Representatives, and duly attested, directed to the defendant, as such sergeant-at-arms, reciting that the House of Representatives had that day ordered the speaker to issue his warrant directed to the sergeant-at-arms, commanding him to take into custody the body of the said Kilbourn wherever to be found, and the same forthwith to have before the said House, at the bar thereof, then and there to answer why he should not be punished for contempt, and in the mean time to be kept in his, the said defendant's, custody to await the further order of the House; therefore it was required in and by said warrant that the defendant, as such sergeant-at-arms as aforesaid, should take into his custody the body of said Kilbourn, and then forthwith to bring him before said House, at the bar thereof, then and there to answer to the charges aforesaid, and to be dealt with by said House according to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and in the mean time to keep said Kilbourn in his custody to await the further order of said House; and the said Kerr, so being such speaker as aforesaid, then and there delivered said warrant to the defendant as sergeant-at-arms to be executed in due form of law; that by...

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