Covington Drawbridge Company v. Shepherd (61 U.S. 227)

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Covington Drawbridge Company v. Shepherd by Roger B. Taney
Syllabus
Court Documents
Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

61 U.S. 227

COVINGTON DRAWBRIDGE COMPANY  v.  SHEPHERD

THIS case was brought up, by writ of error, from the Circuit Court of the United States for the district of Indiana.

Shepherd and the other defendants in error, styling themselves citizens of Ohio, brought an action of trespass on the case against the Covington Drawbridge, Company, citizens of the State of Indiana, for injuries sustained by a steamboat belonging to the plaintiffs, in consequence of negligence in attending to the draw. The defendants pleaded not guilty, and the case was tried by a jury, who found a verdict for the plaintiffs, awarding $6,084.93. There were no prayers to the court or bills of exceptions. But the defendants sued out a writ of error, and brought the case up to this court, upon the ground that 'the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction of the cause. The averment of the citizenship of the defendants below, as stated in the declaration, is not sufficient to give jurisdiction to the court.'

It was argued by Mr. O. H. Smith for the plaintiffs in error, and submitted on printed argument by Mr. R. W. Thompson for defendants.

Mr. Smith contended that the declaration did not give jurisdiction to the court. The only part of the declaration that refers to the citizenship of the parties is in these words: 'Alexander O. Shepherd, James Davidson, Elijah F. Gillan, Samuel McClure, Samuel Peters, and George Willard, citizens of the State of Ohio, complain of the Covington Drawbridge Company, citizens of the State of Indiana, defendants in this suit, in a plea of trespass on the case.'

I refer to the following authorities, showing that the question is res adjudicata, in this court: Bingham v. Cabot, 1 Curtis, 267; Emory v. Greenough, ib., 265; Turner v. Enville, ib., 311; Abercombie v. Dupins, ib., 422; Wood v. Wagnon, ib., 427; Marshall v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, 16 How., 314; Lafayette Insurance Company v. Maynard French et al., November term, 1855, Supreme Court of the United States; this latter case decides the very question. Mr. Justice Curtis, in the opinion of the court, says: 'In the declaration, the plaintiffs are averred to be citizens of Ohio, and they complain of the Lafayette Insurance Company, a citizen of the State of Indiana.' 'This averment is not sufficient to show jurisdiction. It does not appear from it that the Lafayette Insurance Company is a corporation, or, if it be such, by the law of what State it was created. The averment that the Company is a citizen of the State of Indiana can have no sensible meaning attached to it. This court does not hold that either a voluntary association of persons, or an association into a body politic, created by law, is a citizen of a State within the meaning of the Constitution. And therefore, if the defective averment in the declaration had not been otherwise supplied, the suit must have been dismissed. But the plaintiff's replication alleges that the defendants are a corporation, created under the laws of the State of Indiana, having its principal place of business in that state. These allegations are confessed by the demurrer, and they bring the case within the decision of this court in Marshall v. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, 16 How., 314, and the previous decisions.' The italics are my own.

In this case, there was no replication to supply the defect in the declaration, and therefore I maintain that the judgment must be reversed, and the suit dismissed.

The first branch of Mr. Thompson's argument was to show that it was not necessary to aver that the defendants below were a corporation. The second branch was as follows:

It being then settled that the defendants in this case are to be taken to be a corporation, it remains to be considered whether it appears from the declaration that the corporators are citizens of the State of Indiana, or that the corporation is engaged in its legal and proper vocation in said State. We maintain that both propositions are true. No one will deny that the averment of the citizenship of the plaintiffs is well stated, and the allegation is the same with reference to the defendants. In the case of the Bank of the United States v. Deveraux et al., 5 Cranch, 61, the averment of the citizenship of the corporation plaintiffs was, 'and your petitioners aver that they are citizens of the State of Pennsylvania;' and Chief Justice Marshall, in delivering the opinion of the court upon the authority of a case in 12th Mod., said, 'the court was authorized to look to the character of the individuals who composed the corporation on a question of jurisdiction.'

'Being authorized to sue in their corporate name, they could make the averment, and it must apply to the plaintiffs as individuals, because it could not be true as applied to the corporation.'

Surely, the averment in that case was no stronger than this. The averment in the declaration in this case is equivalent to a statement that the Covington Drawbridge Company was a corporation, (for the name implies it,) and that all the members of that corporation are citizens of the State of Indiana; this last averment is the essential element of jurisdiction. This court held in the case of Louisville Railroad Company v. Letson, 2 How., that jurisdiction might be maintained against a corporation defendant in a State where it was incorporated and had its principal office of business, though all of the corporators did not reside in the State of the corporation; and the decision proceeds on the ground, that where the corporation is created and exercises its powers, that is its place of residence, and that, on the assumption that the individual corporators are said to be inhabitants there, within the purview of the statute.

The cases in this court, since the case of the Commercial Bank of Vicksburg v. Slocum, 14 Peters, in which the question of jurisdiction has been decided, have proceeded upon the ground that jurisdiction might attach, though all the corporators, defendants, did not reside in the State where the suit was brought, but certainly the court has not said that averments which were held sufficient in the cases of Strawbridge, Deveraux, & Slocum, when the utmost strictness was required, would be insufficient now. The modern cases proceed upon the assumption that the residence of the corporators is presumed to be where the company is incorporated and does business, and that the jurisdiction is founded, in fact, upon the citizenship of those corporators, and not upon the citizenship of the corporation itself. It is the citizenship of some living, tangible being, that gives the court jurisdiction. Could a negro or set of negroes, though incorporated, (which they undeniably may be,) sue in the Federal courts? And yet, if it is the corporation that is the person, the citizen, they could. It is evident that the jurisdiction must rest upon the citizenship of the corporators, and be made expressly to apply by positive averment, or to be implied from the place of transacting business and the granting the charter, in which last case the corporators are estopped 'from averring a different domicil.' (See Justice Grier's opinion in Marshall v. B. and O. R. R., 16 How.)

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).