Lester v. McFaddon, 12875.
|United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
|415 F.2d 1101
|James L. LESTER, Administrator of the Estate of Flossie Mae Garner Brown, Deceased, Appellee, v. Heyward McFADDON and Cameron Lumber Company, Appellants.
|15 September 1969
Lawrence M. Gressette, Jr., St. Matthews, S. C. (Gressette & Gressette, St. Matthews, S. C., on brief), for appellants.
Joseph Rogers, Manning, S. C. (Rogers & Riggs, Manning, S. C., on brief) for appellee.
Before HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge, and BOREMAN and BUTZNER, Circuit Judges.
The defendant in this wrongful death action questions the District Court's findings of fact and the admission of certain evidence. We think the receipt of the challenged evidence in a case being tried to the Court without a jury was not erroneous and the findings of fact not clearly so within the meaning of Rule 52 of F.R.Civ.P. Sua sponte, however, this court raised a substantial jurisdictional question which merits our attention. We conclude that maintenance of the action in the District Court was barred by 28 U.S.C.A. § 1359, but equitable considerations impel us to apply our ruling only prospectively.
In a rural section of South Carolina one foggy evening not very long after sunset, Flossie Mae Garner Brown, with her seven year old daughter, was walking along the shoulder of a highway returning to her own home from her mother's. They were struck by a truck owned by a local lumber company and driven by a local man. The mother was killed; the daughter injured.
The young girl's action for personal injury was tried before a jury in the state court. The jury found for the defendant, evidently disbelieving the plaintiff's theory that the truck left the main portion of the highway to strike mother and child on the shoulder.1 The lawyers for the child and the mother's statutory beneficiaries then procured the appointment of James L. Lester, an attorney of Augusta, Georgia, as administrator of the estate for the purpose of bringing an action for wrongful death in the federal court's diversity jurisdiction.
By procuring the appointment as administrator of a citizen of Georgia this local controversy between citizens of South Carolina2 was superficially converted into a dispute between citizens of different states. The conversion was purely superficial, of course, because the administrator has done little more than lend the use of his name. Nevertheless, there was no objection to the jurisdiction of the District Court on the basis of 28 U.S.C.A. § 1359 which withdraws jurisdiction when "any party has been improperly or collusively made or joined to invoke the jurisdiction of such court."
The absence of objection was apparently the product of the prevalence of an emasculating interpretation of the statute exemplified by such cases as Corabi v. Auto Racing, Inc., 3 Cir., 264 F.2d 784. By the time the case reached this court, however, Corabi had been overruled by McSparran v. Weist, 3 Cir., 402 F.2d 867, and we were prompted to raise the question. We requested and received supplemental briefs and held the case pending action by the Supreme Court upon a petition for certiorari in McSparran, which was denied on May 19, 1969,3 and its decision in Kramer v. Caribbean Mills, Inc., 394 U.S. 823, 89 S.Ct. 1487, 23 L.Ed.2d 9, decided on May 5, 1969.
In the circumstances of this case the administrator has no stake in the litigation. In South Carolina an action for wrongful death may be maintained only by an executor or administrator of the decedent's estate.4 The cause of action inheres in the personal representative, and the statutory beneficiaries cannot proceed in their own names. Any amount recovered, however, does not go into the decedent's general estate but is payable, upon receipt by the personal representative, directly to the statutory beneficiaries, here the decedent's numerous children.5 Had there been assets in the general estate of the decedent, the administrator would have been required to administer them,6 but there were no such assets here so that this administrator has as yet had no duties to perform.
Unless there is a recovery of some damages in the wrongful death action, the administrator here would never have anything to do; if there is a recovery, his duty is limited to receipt of the funds and their disbursement to a guardian of the statutory beneficiaries. He, of course, has a fiduciary duty to see that the litigation is pressed to a conclusion as long as there is any reasonable expectation of a recovery, but when the foreign administrator is procured by the lawyers handling the litigation he can hardly be expected to ride herd upon them or exercise any effective supervision of their conduct of the litigation. Except that he acquired his authority from the South Carolina Probate Court, he has no greater standing than the next friend of a minor or incompetent or a guardian ad litem whose residence has not been thought to be controlling of the question of diversity.7
Such a person is indeed a "straw party" as the McSparran court characterized the administrator there. We think his appointment for the purpose of creating apparent diversity of citizenship was an improper manufacture of jurisdiction within the meaning of § 1359. Any other interpretation would render a portion of the statute impotent8 because it was clearly intended for the statute to apply to manufactured situations created by other means than assignments. We need not give the statute a reading which would frustrate the congressional intention to exclude from the diversity jurisdiction purely local controversies with no more than a contrived interstate appearance.
It is unnecessary here to review the history of the problem or the general reasons which lead us to our conclusion for they are fully developed in McSparran. We adopt the reasoning of the majority opinion of the en banc court in that case.
Our conclusion, however, is reinforced by the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in Kramer v. Caribbean Mills, Inc., 394 U.S. 823, 89 S.Ct. 1487. Since the Supreme Court in Kramer reserved this question, it substantially eliminated the effect of earlier dicta.
The decisions of the Supreme Court in Black & White Taxicab & Transfer Co. v. Brown & Yellow Taxicab & Transfer Co., 276 U.S. 518, 48 S.Ct. 404, 72 L.Ed. 681, and Mecom v. Fitzsimmons Co., 284 U.S. 183, 52 S.Ct. 84, 76 L.Ed. 233, have no direct bearing upon the problem, though both opinions contain dicta which substantially influenced the lower courts to give to § 1359 a very restrictive reading. In the former case, a Kentucky corporation had been reincorporated in Tennessee in an attempt to create diversity of citizenship between it and the defendant, a Kentucky corporation. Earlier the Supreme Court had held purely pretensive incorporations insufficient to create diversity of citizenship,9 but the reincorporation of Black & White Taxicab was real. At the time the action was commenced there was no longer a Kentucky corporation. All of the assets of the former Kentucky corporation were vested in the Tennessee corporation, and the Tennessee corporation, the plaintiff, was the one entitled to enjoy the fruits of the litigation. In Mecom the Court held there was no diversity jurisdiction in an action for wrongful death when, for the purpose of defeating federal jurisdiction the action was brought by an administrator having the same citizenship as the defendant. Section 1359, of course, does not apply to the Mecom situation since it attempts only to limit federal jurisdiction and not to protect it.
In both Black & White Taxicab and Mecom, however, the Court used language indicating that it is enough if the action be brought by the real party in interest and that the courts should not inquire into the motives underlying their creation or appointment. It is that language which largely influenced the course of decision in the lower courts until McSparran.
In Kramer v. Caribbean Mills, Inc., 394 U.S. 823, 89 S.Ct. 1487, the Supreme Court held that an assignment of a claim for the purpose of creating diversity jurisdiction was improper or collusive within the meaning of the statute. It reserved the question "whether in cases in which suit is required to be brought by an administrator or guardian, a motive to create diversity jurisdiction renders the appointment of an out-of-state representative `improper' or `collusive'" within the meaning of § 1359. It pointed out certain differences in the situations, stating that in cases involving personal representatives someone must be appointed before suit can be brought and he owes his appointment and his authority to a decree of a state court, and that, depending on the kind of guardian or administrator he is, his powers and his authority may vary over a considerable range.
These differences, of course, are obvious, but the fact that the beneficiaries of the action may not proceed in their own name, hardly amounts to a distinction when they or their legal advisers procure the appointment of an out-of-state administrator who had no former connections with the decedent solely for the purpose of creating diversity of citizenship. The act is as voluntary and deliberate as is that of an assignor in the Kramer v. Caribbean Mills situation. Nor does it seem to us to matter in the least that the administrator owes his appointment to the decree of a probate court in South Carolina. That decree is not under attack. The appointment may be assumed to be valid in every respect and the administrator perfectly free to prosecute the action in the state court. The question here is simply whether from the circumstances of his appointment after consideration of his authority and his duties, the statute proscribes his proceeding in the federal courts rather than in the state courts. That seems clearly a federal question, the answer to which need not be influenced by the...
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