Sullivan v. Paul Felix

Decision Date13 April 1914
Docket NumberNo. 249,249
Citation58 L.Ed. 980,34 S.Ct. 596,233 U.S. 318
PartiesE. A. O'SULLIVAN, Plff. in Err., v. PAUL FELIX and William W. Stiles
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. W. S. Parkerson and E. A. O'sullivan for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. Charles S. Rice and R. B. Montgomery for defendants in error.

Mr. Justice McKenna delivered the opinion of the court:

Action for damages for personal assault upon plaintiff in error, herein called plaintiff, by defendants in error, referred to as defendants, in the sum of $60,000.

The petition alleges that defendants and others were indicted for violating § 5508 of the Revised Statutes of the United States (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3712). The indictment is set out in the petition, and charges, with the usual verbosity of such instruments that an election was held in the parish of Jefferson, state of Louisiana, on November 3, 1908, for presidential electors, members of Congress, and certain municipal officers, under and in accordance with the laws and Constitution of the United States; that certain named persons were, as defendants well knew, qualified to vote at such election, that such persons were at the polling places with the intention and for the purpose of voting, and, knowing this, the defendants feloniously conspired and confederated with each other and other persons to intimidate and prevent, and did prevent, by the use of deadly weapons, such persons from voting.

It is alleged that the indictment further charged in a second count, a violation of § 5509 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3712), in that the defendants, with other named persons, conspiring to intimidate the voters named in the first count from voting at the election named, 'did then and there, with force and arms, armed with dangerous weapons, to wit: pistols, guns, scissors, wilfully, maliciously, unlawfully, and feloniously and upon' the defendant commit an assault, and with the purpose and in the disposition described, 'with a dangerous weapon, to wit: a pair of scissors, inflict a wound less than mayhem.'

That the defendants herein were convicted on both counts and sentenced to fine and imprisonment, and upon appeal to the circuit court of appeals the conviction, sentemcs, and fine were affirmed.

That the defendants conspired to prevent and did prevent the voters named in the indictment from voting, and that in furtherance of the conspiracy plaintiff was maliciously and without cause or provocation 'cut, bruised, beaten, his face and eye blackened, his beard cut, he knocked down senseless, and other indignities were heaped upon him' by the defendants, for which he has suffered damages in the sum of $60,000.

The plaintiff is sixty-five years of age, has practised law and held positions of honor and trust in the state, having been district attorney, state senator, and city attorney for the city of New Orleans.

The petition recites the injuries plaintiff received in defending himself from the assault upon him, and that he 'was forced to appear in public, in performing his duties, carrying on his person the signs of the degradation and humiliation placed upon him.'

The items of damages are set out as follows: For the wounding less than mayhem, $25,000; for humiliation, degradation, and public ridicule and pain of mind, $25,000; punitive and exemplary damages, $10,000. Judgment was prayed for $60,000, the sum of these items.

Exception was filed to the petition on the ground that the damages having, as it is alleged, been inflicted November 3, 1908, more than two years and five months before the filing of the petition, the action is barred 'by the prescription of one year from and after the day on which such damages were sustained, under the provisions of Articles 3536 and 3537 of the Civil Code of the state of Louisiana. Dismissal of the suit was prayed. The plea of prescription was sustained and the sole question pressed by counsel, and which we are called upon to decide, is the application of the state statute to the conceded cause of action. The court, in passing upon the application of the statute of limitations, said that plaintiff conceded that if the action was to be governed by the state statute it was prescribed, but he contended that it was an action for a penalty, and governed by the prescription of five years, established by § 1047 of the Revised Statutes of the United States (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 727). The court was of opinion that the action was for 'remedial damages, and not for a penalty,' and maintained the plea of prescription, citing Campbell v. Haverhill, 155 U. S. 610, 39 L. ed. 280, 15 Sup. Ct. Rcp. 217; Brady v. Daly, 175 U. S. 148, 44 L. ed. 109, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 62, and dismissed the action with costs.

Judgment of the circuit court was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. The court decided that the action was one for damages, and not for a penalty, and the limitations of five years against penalties or forfeitures (§ 1047, Rev. Stat.) was not applicable. It followed, the court said, that the state statute, which prescribes the action in one year, must be applied, citing §§ 3536 and 3537 of the Civil Code of Louisiana. 114 C. C. A. 166, 194 Fed. 88.

The opinions of the lower courts exhibit the contentions in the case, and the short question presented is whether the action is for damages or for a penalty. If for a penalty, § 1047 of the Revised Statutes applies, which provides: 'No suit or prosecution for any penalty or forfeiture, pecuniary or otherwise, accruing under the laws of the United States, shall be maintained . . . unless the same is commenced within five years from the time when the penalty or forfeiture accrued.' If for damages, the provisions of the Louisiana Code are applicable. They are as follows: Article 3536. 'The following actions are prescribed in one year:

'Those for injurious words, whether verbal or written, and those for damages caused by animals, or...

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    • October 18, 1971
    ...brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or § 1985 (1964) is that of the state in which the cause of action arose. O'Sullivan v. Felix, 233 U.S. 318 34 S.Ct. 596, 58 L.Ed. 980 (1914); Hileman v. Knable, 391 F.2d 596 (3 Cir. 1968); Jones v. Bombeck, 375 F.2d 737 (3 Cir. 1967). * * *" Butler, wit......
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    ...466, 37 L.Ed. 316 (1893); Pufahl v. Parks, 299 U.S. 217, 225, 57 S.Ct. 151, 156, 81 L.Ed. 133, 139 (1936); O'Sullivan v. Felix, 233 U.S. 318, 34 S.Ct. 596, 58 L.Ed. 980 (1914).4 Later cases have made it clear, however, that the state statute would not be applied where it discriminates again......
  • United States v. Williams
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    ...to the issues now before us was decided. United States v. Mason, 213 U.S. 115, 29 S.Ct. 480, 53 L.Ed. 725; O'Sullivan v. Felix, 233 U.S. 318, 34 S.Ct. 596, 58 L.Ed. 980; Pennsylvania System Federation v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 267 U.S. 203, 45 S.Ct. 307, 69 L.Ed. 574. 8 It is worth noting tha......
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    ...this Court has rejected arguments that a particular federal statute of limitations applied, O'Sullivan v. Felix, 233 U.S. 318, 324-325, 34 S.Ct. 596, 598-599, 58 L.Ed. 980 (1914) (rejecting federal statute of limitations for suits for a penalty, because civil actions under Civil Rights Act ......
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    • University of Nebraska - Lincoln Nebraska Law Review No. 84, 2021
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