Nye v. United States, No. 558

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDOUGLAS
Citation61 S.Ct. 810,313 U.S. 33,85 L.Ed. 1172
Decision Date14 April 1941
Docket NumberNo. 558
PartiesNYE et al. v. UNITED STATES et al

313 U.S. 33
61 S.Ct. 810
85 L.Ed. 1172
NYE et al.

v.

UNITED STATES et al.

No. 558.
Argued March 12, 1941.
Decided April 14, 1941.

[Syllabus from pages 33-35 intentionally omitted]

Page 35

Mr. Lycurgus R. Varser, of Lumberton, N.C., for petitioners.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 35-37 intentionally omitted]

Page 37

Mr. Herbert Wechsler, of Washington, D.C., for respondents.

[Argument of Counsel from Pages 37-38 intentionally omitted]

Page 39

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners were adjudged guilty of contempt under § 268 of the Judicial Code, 36 Stat. 1163, 28 U.S.C. § 385, 28 U.S.C.A. § 385, for their efforts to obtain a dismissal of a suit brought by one Elmore in the federal District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Elmore, administrator of the estate of his son, brought that action, in forma pauperis, against one Council and Bernard, partners, trading as B. C. Remedy Co., and alleged that his son died as a result of the use of a medicine, known as B C and manufactured and sold by them. The court appointed William B. Guthrie to represent Elmore. Defendants filed an answer April 29, 1939. On April 19, 1939, Elmore notified the District Judge and his lawyer by letters that he desired to have the case dismissed. The substance of the episode involving the improper conduct of petitioners was found as follows:

Elmore is illiterate, and feeble in mind and body. Petitioners,1 through the use of liquor and persuasion, induced Elmore to seek a termination of the action. Nye directed his own lawyer to prepare the letters to the District Judge and to Guthrie and to prepare a final administration account to be filed in the local probate court. Nye took Elmore to the probate court, had him discharged as administrator, and paid the clerk a fee of $1.

Page 40

He then took Elmore to the postoffice, registered the letters and paid the postage. Elmore, however, was not promised or paid anything. These events took place more than 100 miles from Durham, North Carolina, where the District Court was located.

On September 30, 1939, Guthrie filed a motion2 asking for an order requiring Nye to show cause 'why he shold not be attached and held as for contempt of this Court'.3 The court issued a show cause order to Nye and Mayers who filed their answers. There was a hearing. Evidence was introduced and argument was heard on motions to dismiss. The court found that the writing of the letters and the filing of the final account were pro-

Page 41

cured by Nye 'for the express and definite purpose of preventing the prosecution of the civil action in the federal court and with intent to obstruct and to prevent the trial of the case on its merits'; and that the conduct of Nye and Mayers 'did obstruct and impede the due administration of justice in this cause; that the conduct has caused a long delay, several hearings and enormous expense.' It accordingly held that their conduct was 'misbehavior so near to the presence of the court as to obstruct the administration of justice' and adjudged each guilty of contempt. It ordered Nye to pay the costs of the contempt proceedings, including $500 to Guthrie, and a fine of $500; and it ordered Mayers to pay a fine of $250. The District Court filed its finding of facts and judgment on February 8, 1940. On March 15, 1940, petitioners filed a notice of appeal from the judgment.4 The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment.5 4 Cir., 113 F.2d 1006. We granted the petition for certiorari because the interpretation of the power of the federal courts under § 268 of the Judicial Code to punish contempts raised matters of grave importance.

We are met at the threshold with a question as to the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of Appeals over the appeal. The government concedes that if this was a case of civil contempt, the notice of appeal was effective under Rule 73 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. following section 723c. It argues, however, that the contempt was criminal—in which case the appeal was not timely if the Criminal Appeals Rules

Page 42

govern,6 and not made in the proper form if § 8(c) of the Act of February 13, 1925, 43 Stat. 936, 940, 45 Stat. 54, 28 U.S.C. § 230, 28 U.S.C.A. § 230, is applicable.7

We do not think this was a case of civil contempt. We recently stated in McCrone v. United States, 307 U.S. 61, 64, 59 S.Ct. 685, 686, 83 L.Ed. 1108, 'While particular acts do not always readily lend themselves to classification as civil or criminal contempts, a contempt is considered civil when the punishment is wholly remedial, serves only the purpose of the complainant, and is not intended as a deterrent to offenses against the public.' The facts of this case do not meet that standard. While the proceedings in the District Court were entitled in Elmore's action and the United States was not a party until the appeal, those circumstances though relevant (Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 445, 446, 31 S.Ct. 492, 499, 500, 55 L.Ed. 797, 34 L.R.A.,N.S., 874) are not conclusive as to the nature of the contempt. The fact that Nye was ordered to pay the costs of the proceeding, including $500 to Guthrie, is also not decisive. As Mr. Justice Brandeis stated in Union Tool Co. v. Wilson, 259 U.S. 107, 110, 42 S.Ct. 427, 428, 66 L.Ed. 848, 'Where a fine is imposed, partly as compensation to the complainant and partly as punishment, the criminal feature of the order is dominant and fixes

Page 43

its character for purposes of review.' The order imposes unconditional fines payable to the United States. It awards no relief to a private suitor. The prayer for relief8 and the acts charged9 carry the criminal hallmark. Cf. Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Co., supra, 221 U.S. at page 449, 31 S.Ct. at page 501, 55 L.Ed. 797, 34 L.R.A., N.S., 374. They clearly do not reveal any purpose to punish for contempt 'in aid of the adjudication sought in the principal suit'. Lamb v. Cramer, 285 U.S. 217, 220, 52 S.Ct. 315, 316, 76 L.Ed. 715. When there is added the 'significant' fact (Bessette v. W. B. Conkey Co., 194 U.S. 324, 329, 24 S.Ct. 665, 667, 48 L.Ed. 997) that Nye and Mayers were strangers, not parties, to Elmore's action, there can be no reasonable doubt that the punitive character of the order was dominant.

We come then to the question of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of Appeals. We disagree with the government in its contention that the appeal in this case was governed by the Criminal Appeals Rules. Those rules were promulgated pursuant to the provisions of the Act of March 8, 1934, 48 Stat. 399, 18 U.S.C. § 688, 18 U.S.C.A. § 688, which provided, inter alia, that this Court should have 'the power to prescribe, from time to time, rules of practice and procedure with respect to any or all proceedings after verdict, or finding of guilt by the court if a jury has been waived, or plea of guilty, in criminal cases.' The rules were adopted 'as the Rules of Practice and Procedure in all proceedings after plea of guilty, verdict of guilt by a jury or finding of guilt by the trial court where a jury is waived, in criminal cases.' 292 U.S. 661, 54 S.Ct. xxxvii. In this case there was no plea of guilty, there was

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no verdict of guilt by a jury, and there was no finding of guilt by the court where a jury was waived. To be sure, the rules and the Act are applicable 'in criminal cases'. But we do not agree with the government that the qualifying language of the rules designates merely the stage of the proceedings 'in criminal cases' when the rules become applicable. It is our view that the rules describe the inds of cases to which they are to be applied. The Act of March 8, 1934 amended the Act of February 24, 1933, 47 Stat. 904, which gave this Court rule-making power 'with respect to any or all proceedings after verdict in criminal cases.' The legislative history makes it abundantly clear that the amendment in 1934, so far as material here, was made because 'it would not seem to be desirable that there should be different times and manner of procedure in cases of appeal where there is a verdict of a jury as distinguished from cases in which there is a finding of guilt by the court on the waiver of a jury.' H. Rep. No. 858, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., p. 1; S. Rep. No. 257, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., p. 1. In light of this history and the language of the order promulgating the rules we conclude that the categories of cases embraced in the rules cannot be expanded by interpretation to include this type of case.

That conclusion means that this appeal was governed by § 8(c) of the Act of February 13, 1925. The court is equally divided in opinion as to whether the Circuit Court of Appeals, in absence of an application for allowance of the appeal, had the power to decide the case on the merits. Hence the action of that court in taking jurisdiction over the appeal is affirmed.

We come then to the merits.

The question is whether the conduct of petitioners constituted 'misbehavior * * * so near' the presence of the court 'as to obstruct the administration of justice' within

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the meaning of § 268 of the Judicial Code.10 That section derives from the Act of March 2, 1831, 4 Stat. 487. The Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 83, provided that courts of the United States 'shall have power * * * to punish by fine or imprisonment, at the discretion of said courts, all contempts of authority in any cause or hearing before the same.' Abuses arose,11 culminating in impeachment proceedings against James H. Peck, a federal district judge, who had imprisoned and disbarred one Lawless for publishing a criticism of one of his opinions in a case which was on appeal. Judge Peck was acquitted.12 But the history of that episode makes abundantly clear that it served as the occasion for a drastic delimination by Congress of the broad undefined power of the inferior federal courts under the Act of...

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241 practice notes
  • F.T.C. v. Trudeau, No. 08-4249.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 27, 2009
    ...If any part of it winds up being punitive instead of remedial, then criminal proceedings are required to sustain it. Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 43-44, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172 (1941); see also Bagwell, 512 U.S. at 831, 114 S.Ct. 2552. We agree with Trudeau that the district court......
  • In re Brown, No. 23037.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • November 2, 1971
    ...re Michael, 326 U.S. 224, 227, 66 S.Ct. 78, 90 L.Ed. 30 (1945) (footnotes omitted). See also In re Michael, supra; Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 45-48, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172 10 In re McConnell, supra note 9, 370 U.S. at 234, 82 S.Ct. at 1291, quoting In re Michael, supra note 9, ......
  • Konvalinka v. Chattanooga-Hamil. Cty Hosp., No. E2006-00064-SC-R11-CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • February 13, 2008
    ...v. Galloway, 45 Tenn. (5 Cold.) 326, 331 (1868). At common law, the contempt power was broad and undefined. See Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 43-47, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172 (1941). Concerned about the potential abuse of this power, the Tennessee General Assembly, like its counterpa......
  • Connors v. Connors, No. 87-287
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 7, 1989
    ...460 U.S. 752, 103 S.Ct. 1548, 75 L.Ed.2d 521, reh'g denied 462 U.S. 1112, 103 S.Ct. 2466, 77 L.Ed.2d 1342 (1983); Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172 (1941); Fox v. Capital Co., 299 U.S. 105, 57 S.Ct. 57, 81 L.Ed. 67 (1936); Lamb v. Cramer, 285 U.S. 217, 52 S.Ct. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
241 cases
  • F.T.C. v. Trudeau, No. 08-4249.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 27, 2009
    ...If any part of it winds up being punitive instead of remedial, then criminal proceedings are required to sustain it. Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 43-44, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172 (1941); see also Bagwell, 512 U.S. at 831, 114 S.Ct. 2552. We agree with Trudeau that the district court......
  • In re Brown, No. 23037.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • November 2, 1971
    ...re Michael, 326 U.S. 224, 227, 66 S.Ct. 78, 90 L.Ed. 30 (1945) (footnotes omitted). See also In re Michael, supra; Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 45-48, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172 10 In re McConnell, supra note 9, 370 U.S. at 234, 82 S.Ct. at 1291, quoting In re Michael, supra note 9, ......
  • Konvalinka v. Chattanooga-Hamil. Cty Hosp., No. E2006-00064-SC-R11-CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • February 13, 2008
    ...v. Galloway, 45 Tenn. (5 Cold.) 326, 331 (1868). At common law, the contempt power was broad and undefined. See Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 43-47, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172 (1941). Concerned about the potential abuse of this power, the Tennessee General Assembly, like its counterpa......
  • Connors v. Connors, No. 87-287
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 7, 1989
    ...460 U.S. 752, 103 S.Ct. 1548, 75 L.Ed.2d 521, reh'g denied 462 U.S. 1112, 103 S.Ct. 2466, 77 L.Ed.2d 1342 (1983); Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33, 61 S.Ct. 810, 85 L.Ed. 1172 (1941); Fox v. Capital Co., 299 U.S. 105, 57 S.Ct. 57, 81 L.Ed. 67 (1936); Lamb v. Cramer, 285 U.S. 217, 52 S.Ct. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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