Mater v. Holley

Decision Date29 November 1952
Docket NumberNo. 14165.,14165.
Citation200 F.2d 123
PartiesMATER v. HOLLEY et al.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Glover McGhee and Warner S. Currie, Atlanta, Ga., for appellant.

Edward L. Savell, Atlanta, Ga., for appellees.

Before BORAH, STRUM and RIVES, Circuit Judges.

STRUM, Circuit Judge.

Alleging that she suffered personal injuries as a result of the negligence of appellees within the boundaries of Fort McPherson, Georgia, appellant brought suit in a federal district court to recover damages. The district judge dismissed the action for lack of federal jurisdiction. The correctness of that action is the sole question on appeal. There is no diversity of citizenship between the parties. If federal jurisdiction exists, it must rest upon some other ground.

It is conceded that Fort McPherson is within the provisions of Art. I, sec. 8, clause 17, of the United States Constitution which grants to the United States "exclusive legislation" over forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards and other needful buildings, when lands therefor are acquired with the consent of the legislature of the state of their situs. Exclusive "legislation" has been construed to mean exclusive "jurisdiction" in the sense of exclusive sovereignty. Surplus Trading Co. v. Cook, 281 U.S. 647, 652, 50 S.Ct. 455, 74 L.Ed. 1091, 1095.

The lands comprising Fort McPherson have been duly ceded to the United States by the State of Georgia, the State now retaining only concurrent jurisdiction for the service of state process and the regulation of public utilities thereon. Ga.Acts 1884-1885, No. 176, page 120; Ga.Laws 1952, Act No. 851, page 264, amending sec. 15-302, Ga.Code 1933.

The Supreme Court has held that an action for personal injuries suffered on a reservation under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, being transitory, may be maintained in a state court which has personal jurisdiction of the defendant. Ohio River Contract Co. v. Gordon, 244 U.S. 68, 37 S.Ct. 599, 61 L.Ed. 997. And in Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Ry. Co. v. McGlinn, 114 U.S. 542, 5 S.Ct. 1005, 29 L.Ed. 270, recovery in a state court for the wrongful killing of a cow on a federal military reservation was sustained. See also James Stewart & Co. v. Sadrakula, 309 U.S. 94, 60 S.Ct. 431, 84 L.Ed. 596.

It remains to be determined, however, whether there is also federal jurisdiction of such an action as one which arises under the constitution or laws of the United States within 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331, on which appellant here relies. There is a striking diversity of opinion on the subject, to such an extent, in fact, that three eminent district judges within the same district were unable to agree. Two took the view that federal jurisdiction did not exist, while the other took the contrary view both before and after examining the opinions of his colleagues. Compare Coffman v. Cleveland Wrecking Co., D.C., 24 F.Supp. 581, and Jewell v. Cleveland Wrecking Co., D.C., 28 F.Supp. 366,1 decided by Judge Otis, with Jewell v. Cleveland Wrecking Co., D.C., 28 F.Supp. 364, decided by Judge Reeves, and Misner v. Cleveland Wrecking Co., D.C., 25 F.Supp. 763, decided by Judge Collet, all within the Western District of Missouri. The able district judge who disposed of this case below followed the reasoning of the Misner case, disclaiming federal jurisdiction.

In Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Ry. Co. v. McGlinn, 114 U.S. 542, 5 S.Ct. 1005, 29 L.Ed. 270, the Supreme Court declared the rule to be that when legislative power over territory is transferred from one sovereign to another, the then existing laws of the surrendering sovereign for the protection of private rights, so far as consistent with the laws of the new sovereign, continue in force until abrogated or altered by the new sovereign. This principle was there held applicable to the cession by a state to the United States of land for a military reservation such as is here involved. This assures that no area, however small, will be left without laws regulating private rights. And in James Stewart & Co. v. Sadrakula, 309 U.S. 94, 60 S.Ct. 431, 84 L.Ed. 596, it was held that a section of the New York Labor Law McK.Consol. Laws, c. 31, remained in effect "as federal law" on lands ceded to the United States for a postoffice site. See also 16 U.S.C.A. § 457, expressly adopting as federal law the local law of liability for...

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