Treinies v. Sunshine Mining Co, 4

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation60 S.Ct. 44,84 L.Ed. 85,308 U.S. 66
Docket NumberNo. 4,4
Decision Date06 November 1939

See 309 U.S. 693, 60 S.Ct. 464, 84 L.Ed. —-.

Mr. Thomas D. Aitken, of San Francisco, Cal., for petitioner.

Messrs. Cutler W. Halverson, of Yakima, Wash., and Richard S. Munter, of Spokane, Wash., for respondents.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This writ of certiorari was granted to review the action of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in affirming1 a decree of the District Court of Idaho2 upon a bill of interpleader filed by the Sunshine Mining Company, a Washington corporation, against Evelyn H. Treinies and other citizens of the State of Washington, Claimants to certain stock of the Sunshine Mining Company and the dividends therefrom, and Katherine Mason and T. R. Mason, her husband, and other citizens of the State of Idaho, adverse claimants to the same stock and dividends.

The occasion for the interpleader was the existence of inconsistent judgments as to the ownership of the Sunshine stock. The Superior Court of Spokane County, Washington, in administering the estate of Amelia Pelkes, adjudged that it was the property of John Pelkes, assignor of petitioner, Evelyn H. Treinies, and the District Court of Shoshone County, Idaho, adjudged that the same property belonged to respondent, Katherine Mason. They are the sole disputants. Other parties may be disregarded. On account of conflict between the judgments of the respective courts of sister states and the assertion of the failure to give full faith and credit to both in the interpleader action, we granted certiorari.

The alleged rights of the respective claimants arose as follows: Amelia Pelkes, the wife of John Pelkes, died testate in Spokane, Washington, in 1922, leaving her husband and one child, Katherine Mason, the offspring of a former marriage as the beneficiaries of her will. As a part of her community estate, there were 30,598 shares of Sunshine Mining stock. It was considered valueless and was not inventoried or appraised. The order of distribution assigned a three-fourths undivided interest in these shares to Pelkes and a one-fourth to Mrs. Mason, an omnibus clause covering unknown property. The estate of Mrs. Pelkes was not distributed according to the order of distribution. Instead Pelkes and his stepdaughter, Mrs. Mason, divided the inventoried property between themselves in accordance with their wishes.

It is the contention of Pelkes and his assignee that this partition of the property was in consideration of the release by Mrs. Mason to Pelkes of all of her interest in the shares of the stock of the Sunshine Mining Company. On the other hand, Mrs. Mason asserts that Pelkes was to hold one-half of the amount owned, 15,299 shares, in trust for her.

In August, 1934, Mrs. Mason instituted a suit in the District Court of Idaho for Shoshone County against Pelkes, Evelyn H. Treinies, the Sunshine Mining Company, and others not important here, alleging that she was the owner of 15,299 shares of the stock, that these had been acquired by Miss Treinies from Pelkes with knowledge of Mrs. Mason's rights, and praying that the trust be established and the stock and dividends be awarded to her, Mrs. Mason. It was finally decreed by the District Court on August 18, 1936, after an appeal to the Supreme Court of Idaho,3 that the stock and dividends belonged to Mrs. Mason. Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Idaho was refused by this Court. 4

Before the entry of the first decree of the District Court of Idaho, Katherine Mason filed a petition in the Superior Court of Spokane County, Washington, in the probate proceedings involving Amelia Pelkes' will, to remove the executor, John Pelkes, for failure to file his report of distribution and for dissipation of the Sunshine stock. Pelkes by cross-petition and petition claimed the stock. Thereupon Mrs. Mason applied to the Supreme Court of Washington for a writ of prohibition against further proceedings in the Superior Court on the ground of lack of jurisdiction in that court to determine the controversy over the stock. The writ was refused. On May 31, 1935, a judgment was entered in the Superior Court upholding in full the ownership of Pelkes.

After the Supreme Court of Idaho had decided the Idaho suit against Pelkes and Miss Treinies, they filed in August, 1936, a suit in the Superior Court of Washington against Katherine Mason and others alleging that they were the owners of the stock, further alleging that the Idaho decree was invalid for lack of jurisdiction, and asking that their title to the stock be quieted and the Sunshine Mining Company, a party to this and the Idaho suit, be compelled to recognize their ownership. It was at this point in the litigation that the Sunshine Company filed the bill of interpleader now under consideration. Further proceedings in the suit to quiet title were enjoined by the District Court in this action.

Jurisdiction.—Before considering the questions raised by the petition for certiorari, the jurisdiction of the federal court under the Act of January 20, 1936,5 must be determined. As this issue affects the jurisdiction of this Court, it is raised on its own motion.6 By the Act of January 20, 1936, the district courts have jurisdiction of suits in equity, interpleading two or more adverse claimants, instituted by complainants who have property of the requisite value claimed by citizens of different states. The suit may be maintained 'although the titles or claims of the conflicting claimants do not have a common origin, or are not identical, but are adverse to and independent of one another.' Process may run at least throughout all the states.

As required by the Act this case was begun by the complainant, a corporation of the State of Washington, im- pleading one group of claimants who are citizens of that same state and another, the adverse group, who are citizens of Idaho. Under the interpleader act, this identity of citizenship is permissible since diversity only between claimants is required. The Interpleader Act is based upon the clause of Section Two, Article III, of the Constitution, U.S.C.A., which extends the judicial power of the United States to controversies 'between citizens of different States.' Is this grant of jurisdiction broad enough to cover the present situation?

The Judicial Code, Section 24, 28 U.S.C.A. § 41, provides for original jurisdiction of suits of a civil nature between citizens of different states in precisely the language of the Constitution. The present wording is practically the same as that of the Act of March 3, 1875,7 'the circuit courts * * * shall have original cognizance * * * of all suits * * * in which there shall be a controversy between citizens of different States,' and that of the original Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789,8 'the suit is between a citizen of the State where the suit is brought, and a citizen of another State.' Without ruling as to possible limitations of the constitutional grant, it is held by this Court that the statutory language of the respective judiciary acts forbids suits in the federal courts unless all the parties on one side are of citizenship diverse to those on the other side.9 For the determination of the validity of the Interpleader Act we need not decide whether the words of the Constitution, 'Controversies * * * between citizens of different States,' have a different meaning from that given by judicial construction to similar words in the Judiciary Act. Even though the constitutional language limits the judicial power to controversies wholly between citizens of different states, that requirement is satisfied here.10

This is for the reason that there is a real controversy between the adverse claimants. They are brought into the court by the complainant stakeholder who simultaneously deposits the money or property, due and involved in the dispute into the registry of the court. This was done in this case. The act provides that the 'court shall hear and determine the cause and shall discharge the complainant from further liability.' Such deposit and discharge effectually demonstrates the applicant's disinterestedness as between the claimants and as to the property in dispute,11 an essential in interpleaders.12 The complainant is a proper party for the determination of the controversy between the adverse claimants, citizens of different states. Their controversy could have been settled by litigation between them in the federal courts. Under similar circumstances as to parties, this Court ruled that a removal of separable controversies to the federal court was permissible even though a proper defendant was a citizen of the same state as the plaintiff.13 We so held as to a stakeholder in Salem Trust Co. v. Manufacturers' Co.14 There a suit was brought in a state court against the Manufacturers' Company, a Delaware cor- poration, and against a cocitizen of plaintiff, a Massachusetts corporation, the International Trust Company. The Manufacturers' Company removed and plaintiff sought a remand alleging its cocitizen was a necessary party. The suit was to determine rights to a fund in the cocitizen's hands 'and to have the same paid to' the plaintiff. The right of removal was upheld on the ground that the only obligation of the stakeholder was to pay over the money deposited with it. In Cramer v. Phoenix Mut. Life Ins. Co.15 the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, considering that the claimants were the real contestants, construed the Interpleader Act of May 8th, 1926, 16 to give jurisdiction to the federal court although the interpleader and certain claimants were citizens of the same state. The language as to citizenship is the same as that of the act here involved.17

Application of Interpleader Act.—The inclusion as defendants of the judge of the Superior Court of Washington, the...

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