Powhatan Coal & Coke Co. v. Ritz

Decision Date30 October 1906
Citation56 S.E. 257,60 W.Va. 395
PartiesPOWHATAN COAL & COKE CO. v. RITZ, Judge, et al.
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court

Submitted September 11, 1906.

Syllabus by the Court.

Mandatory injunctions are seldom allowed before final hearing, but, in cases of necessity and extreme hardship, they may be awarded at the inception of the suit and without notice.

The function of a preliminary injunction, whether it be prohibitory or mandatory, is to preserve the status quo until, upon final hearing, the court may grant full relief.

In awarding such an injunction, the court must determine provisionally, what the status quo is, and an erroneous conclusion as to it, resulting in the awarding of an injunction, not warranted by the allegations of the bill, but within the power of the court to award upon sufficient allegations, is judicial error, but not usurpation, or abuse of judicial power.

The power of a court to decide erroneously, respecting matters within its jurisdiction, is as clear and undoubted as its power to decide correctly.

If, in the progress of a pending cause over which a court has jurisdiction, as to both subject-matter and parties, or at the inception thereof, an order, judgment, or decree is entered which, for any reason, the court has no power to enter, the entry thereof is an act in excess of the jurisdiction of the court.

A preliminary injunction which deprives a party to the suit in which it is awarded of his possession of property, real or personal, under good title, or a bona fide claim of title without a hearing, is null and void, the awarding thereof being an act in excess of the jurisdiction of the court.

Invalidity of a judgment, order, or decree, or proceeding, on the ground of want of jurisdiction in the court, may often be ascertained and declared, without showing that it works a breach, or violation, of any constitutional guaranty. Ordinarily the subject of inquiry in such cases is the limit of the power of the court rather than the nature and extent of the injury done.

Disobedience of an injunction, void for want of jurisdiction in the court or judge awarding it, is not a contempt.

Contempt proceedings, based upon disobedience of a void injunction may be prevented by the writ of prohibition.

A court cannot hear and determine, as a criminal charge, a matter that would not constitute an offense, if charged in such form as would be good and sufficient pleading, if it were punishable. Such action may be prevented by prohibition.

Refusal to obey an injunction, awarded in vacation, may be punished as a contempt, in the vacation of the court, by the judge in whose court the injunction is pending.

Prohibition is not available as a remedy on the ground of the lack of a right of review of the action of the court sought to be prohibited. If it has jurisdiction and the law makes its decision final, no power to interfere by prohibition exists. If it has not jurisdiction, prohibition is the special, peculiar, and appropriate remedy for preventing action, and, if it is not prevented, the order, judgment, or decree will be void and may be disregarded.

The granting of a preliminary injunction, without notice, merely restraining the use of the property of a party, and not depriving him of its possession, on a bill setting up colorable ground therefor, is not beyond the power of a court of equity, however erroneous the act of awarding it may be.

An order of a judge, indorsed on a petition for an appeal from, and supersedeas to, an order refusing to dissolve an injunction, the prayer of which is "that an appeal and supersedeas may be allowed" the petitioner ""staying said injunction," reading as follows: "Appeal and supersedeas allowed as prayed for in the foregoing petition," does not, upon a proper construction thereof, purport to be an order staying the injunction. Its legal purport is merely the granting of an appeal and supersedeas.

The perfecting of an appeal from an order refusing to dissolve an injunction, together with a supersedeas, does not stay the operation of the injunction, nor deprive the court below of power to punish a party for his contempt in refusing to obey it.

Petition by the Powhatan Coal & Coke Company for writ of prohibition to Harold A. Ritz, judge of the circuit court, and others. Writ awarded partially restraining proceedings.

Vinson & Thompson and Rucker, Anderson, Strother & Hughes, for petitioner.

Holt & Duncan, Wyndham Stokes, and Wm. A. Glasgow, Jr., for respondents.


On the 11th day of August, 1906, the Powhatan Coal & Coke Company, a corporation, obtained from a judge of this court, a rule in prohibition, requiring the judge of the circuit court of McDowell county and the Pocahontas Coke Company, a corporation, to appear on the first day of the next term of this court, thereafter to be held at Charlestown in Jefferson county, and show cause, if any they, or either of them, could, why a writ of prohibition should not be awarded, prohibiting the said judge from proceeding against the said Powhatan Coal & Coke Company upon a rule awarded by him, on the 31st day of July, 1906, requiring said petitioner to appear before him on the 4th day of August, 1906, and show cause, if any it could, why it should not be fined and otherwise punished for its contempt, in violating and disregarding an injunction awarded by said judge on the 2d day of July, 1906. At said term of this court, both respondents appeared by their attorneys and filed their joint demurrer to the petition and moved to quash the rule, and the matters of law arising thereon were argued and submitted to the court. Petitioner, admitting its disobedience of the injunction, relies, for its protection and justification in so doing, upon want of jurisdiction and power in the judge to award the injunction. It also denied jurisdiction, power, and authority in said judge to proceed against it as for a contempt, because, prior to the awarding of the rule, a motion to dissolve the injunction had been made and overruled, and an appeal from the order overruling the motion, together with a supersedeas, had been obtained and perfected, whereby the petitioner insists that the injunction and all the proceedings relating thereto were transferred into this court, and passed out of the jurisdiction of said circuit judge and his court. It is further contended that the judge in vacation cannot punish for a contempt of this kind.

A statement of the terms of the injunction order, the purport of the bill upon which it was awarded, and some of the proceedings attending the awarding thereof, is necessary to a clear understanding of the ground upon which the petitioner attempts to justify its action in disobeying the order. The Powhatan Coal & Coke Company is engaged in the operation of coal mines and manufacture of coke. It, together with some 19 other corporations, engaged in the same business, procured the organization of another corporation known as the ""Pocahontas Coke Company," whose business is the sale of the coke manufactured by said 20 companies. The relations of the selling company to each of the others are created and defined by a written contract, the terms of which it is unnecessary to set out in detail. By these contracts it is made the common agent of the other corporations, for a period of three years, for the purpose of effecting sales of the coke produced by them. After it had acted as such agent for a considerable length of time, the Powhatan Coal & Coke Company, and some others, sustaining the same relation to the agent, became dissatisfied, revoked, or attempted to revoke, the powers of their common agent, refused to make further deliveries to it, and began to dispose of their coke in the market, either through other agencies or by direct sales to customers. Thereupon the Pocahontas Coke Company presented its bills against said companies to said judge in vacation and obtained from him an order of injunction on each of them. The order made on the bill against the Powhatan Coal & Coke Company restrained, inhibited, and enjoined it, until otherwise ordered, from selling, through any agent or agencies, other than the complainant, or in any other way, any of the coke covered by the terms of the contract, which the said complainant had theretofore sold or might thereafter sell before the expiration of the said contract in accordance with the terms thereof, and also from refusing to carry out said contract by withdrawing the coke from the complainant as its selling agent, and required the defendant to continue to ship its coke to the order of the complainant as its sole selling agent under said contract. On the 16th day of July, the Powhatan Company moved the judge in vacation to dissolve the injunction which he refused to do. It is hardly necessary to state that want of jurisdiction, in some respect, on the part of the court, judge, or tribunal against whom a writ of prohibition is asked is the only ground upon which it can ordinarily be obtained. As to what constitutes a want of jurisdiction, courts, judges, and lawyers sometimes differ, and there may be some conflict among the decisions, but all agree that it should never be used except to prevent acts which are not within the jurisdiction of the court, officer, or tribunal, sought to be restrained. There may be an entire want of jurisdiction, or the judge against whom the writ goes may have jurisdiction of the subject-matter of the controversy and of all the parties interested, and yet render a judgment, or make an order in the cause, in excess of his powers. In both cases there is a want of jurisdiction. The difference between the two cases is in respect to form and degree, rather than principle. As regards the cause of...

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