Powers v. Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company/Opinion of the Court

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Powers v. Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company by Horace Gray
Opinion of the Court
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

169 U.S. 92

POWERS  v.  CHESAPEAKE & OHIO RAILWAY COMPANY


In the circuit court of the United States, the plaintiff contended that that court had no jurisdiction to entertain the case, and to render the final judgment complained of, because the case had not been duly removed into that court from the state court in which it had been commenced.

The question thus presented was not, as in Smith v. McKay, 161 U.S. 355, 16 Sup. Ct. 490, whether a suit of which the circuit court of the United States was admitted to have jurisdiction was cognizable on the common law or on the equity side of the court, but the question was whether the circuit court of the United States had any jurisdiction whatever of the case. The jurisdiction of the circuit court of the United States was thus in issue, and, the question of its jurisdiction having been duly certified, the case was rightly brought from the circuit court of the United States directly to this court, under the act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, § 5 (26 Stat. 827), upon the question of jurisdiction only.

The action was brought against a railroad company and several of its servants to recover for an injury alleged to have been caused to the plaintiff by the negligence of all the defendants. It is well settled that an action of tort, which might have been brought against many persons or against any one or more of them, and which is brought in a state court against all jointly, contains no separate controversy which will authorize its removal by some of the defendants into the circuit court of the United States, even if they file separate answers and set up different defenses from the other defendants, and allege that they are not jointly liable with them, and that their own controversy with the plaintiff is a separate one; for, as this court has often said: 'A defendant has no right to say that an action shall be several which the plaintiff seeks to make joint. A separate defense may defeat a joint recovery, but it cannot deprive a plaintiff of his right to prosecute his suit to final decision in his own way. The cause of action is the subject-matter of the controversy, and that is, for all the purposes of the suit, whatever the plaintiff declares it to be in his pleadings.' Pirie v. Tvedt, 115 U.S. 41, 43, 5 Sup. Ct. 1034, 1161; Sloane v. Anderson, 117 U.S. 275, 6 Sup. Ct. 730; Little v. Giles, 118 U.S. 596, 600, 601, 7 Sup. Ct. 32; Railroad Co. v. Wangelin, 132 U.S. 599, 10 Sup. Ct. 203; Torrence v. Shedd, 144 U.S. 5 7, 530, 12 Sup. Ct. 726; Connell v. Smiley, 156 U.S. 335, 340, 15 Sup. Ct. 353. Applying this rule, the circuit court of the United States, when this case was first removed into that court, ordered it to be remanded. 65 Fed. 129, 130.

It is true that the same court, in similar cases between other parties, has since decided otherwise, and, upon a review of conflicting authorities, and referring to the distinction taken under the old system of special pleading between trespass and trespass on the case, has held that a master and servant cannot be joined in an action for a tort, and therefore the controversy between each of them and the plaintiff is a separate controversy. Warax v. Railway Co., 72 Fed. 637; Hukill v. Railroad Co., Id. 745.

But is is unnecessary now to consider which of the views of the circuit court upon this question is the correct one, because that court, by its order remanding this case, distinctly and finally adjudged, as between these parties, and for the purposes of this case, that at the time of the filing of the first petition for removal the case was not removable, because, as it then stood, some of the defendants were citizens of the same state with the plaintiff, and there was no separate controversy between the plaintiff and the railway company, a citizen of a different state from himself. That order is not reviewable by this court. Gurnee v. Patrick Co., 137 U.S. 141, 11 Sup. Ct. 34; In re Pennsylvania Co., 137 U.S. 451, 11 Sup. Ct. 141; Birdseye v. Schaeffer, 140 U.S. 117, 11 Sup. Ct. 885; Railway Co. v. Fitzgerald, 160 U.S. 556, 16 Sup. Ct. 389.

After the case had been so remanded, and when it was called for trial in the state court, the plaintiff discontinued his action against all the individual defendants, leaving it an action between citizens of different states; and the case then for the first time became one in its nature removable, and the single remaining defendant thereupon immediately filed a second petition for removal, which was denied by the state court, but was granted, and an amendment thereof allowed, by the circuit court of the United States. 65 Fed. 129.

The existence of diverse citizenship, or other equivalent condition of jurisdiction, is fundamental. The want of it will be taken notice of by the court of its own motion, and cannot be waived by either party. Rallway Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 4 Sup. Ct. 510. But the time of filing a petition for removal is not essential to the jurisdiction. The provision on that subject is, in the words of Mr. Justice Bradley, 'but modal and formal,' and a failure to comply with it may be the subject of waiver or estoppel. Ayers v. Watson, 113 U.S. 594, 597-599, 5 Sup. Ct. 641; Railroad Co. v. Austin, 135 U.S. 315, 318, 10 Sup. Ct. 758; Martin's Adm'r v. Railroad Co., 151 U.S. 673, 688-691, 14 Sup. Ct. 533; Connell v. Smiley, 156 U.S. 335, 15 Sup. Ct. 353.

Undoubtedly, when the case, as stated in the plaintiff's declaration, is a removable one, the defendant should file his petition for removal at or before the time when he is required by the law or practice of the state to make any defense whetever in its courts. Edrington v. Jefferson, 111 U.S. 770, 4 Sup. Ct. 683; Railroad Co. v. Burns, 124 U.S. 165, 8 Sup. Ct. 421; Railroad Co. v. Daughtry, 138 U.S. 298, 11 Sup. Ct. 306; Martin's Adm'r v. Railroad Co., 151 U.S. 673, 686, 687, 14 Sup. Ct. 533.

But it by no measn follows, when the case does not become in its nature a removable one until after the time mentioned in the act has expired, that it cannot be removed at all.

In Railroad Co. v. Austin, 135 U.S. 315, 10 Sup. Ct. 758, where a plaintiff suing in an inferior court of a state had laid his damages at less than the sum necessary to authorize a removal into the circuit court of the United States, and was permitted at the trial to increase the ad damnum above that sum, and judgment of the district court was affirmed by the highest court of the state, a writ of error to that court was dismissed by this court solely because no application for removal had been made after the allowance of the amendment; and the chief justice, in delivering the opinion, said: 'If the application had been made, the question would then have arisen whether it came too late under the circumstances. The defendant was not entitled to remove the suit, as originally brought, 'before or at the term at which such cause could be first tried, and before the trial thereof.' But the objection to removal, depending upon the absence of the jurisdictional amount, was obviated by the amendment. As the time within which a removal must be applied for is not jurisdictional, but modal and formal (Ayers v. Watson, 113 U.S. 594, 598, 5 Sup. Ct. 641), it may, though obligatory to a certain extent, be waived; and as, where a removal is effected, the party who obtains it is estopped upon the question of the time, so, if the conduct of the plaintiff in a given case were merely a device to prevent a removal, it might be that the objection as to the time could not be raised by him.' 135 U.S. 318, 10 Sup. Ct. 759.

The question whether a defendant may file, in the state court in which the suit was commenced, a petition for removal, after the time mentioned in the act of congress has elapsed, in a case which was not removable when that time expired, is now directly presented for adjudication; and the answer to this question depends upon the terms and effect of the act in force when these proceedings took place.

In order to warrant a removal from a court of a state into a circuit court of the United States, according to the terms of that act, the necessary diverse citizenship or other foundation of the jurisdiction of the circuit court of the United States must exist. It is only when that does exist that 'any party entitled to remove any suit' 'may make and file a petition in such suit in such state court at the time, or at any time before the defendant is required by the laws of the state, or the rule of the state court in which such suit is brought, to answer or plead to the declaration or complaint of the plaintiff, for the removal of such suit into the circuit court to be held in the district where such suit is pending,' and to give bond to file a copy of the record in that court 'on the first day of its then next session.' Act March 3, 1887, c. 373, as corrected by Act Aug. 13, 1888, c. 866 (25 Stat. 435).

This provision clearly manifests the intention of congress that the petition for removal should be filed at the earliest possible opportunity. But, so long as there does not appear of record to be any removable controversy, no party can be entitled to remove it, and the provision of the act of congress that 'any party entitled to remove any suit' 'may make and file a petition for removal' at or before the time when he is required to make answer to the suit, cannot be literally applied. To construe that provision as restricting, to the time prescribed for answering the declaration, the removal of a case which is not a removable one at that time, would not only be inconsistent with the words of the statute, but it would utterly defeat all right of removal in many cases; as, for instance, whenever citizens of the same state as the plaintiff were joined as defendants through an honest mistake, not discovered by the plaintiff until after the time prescribed for answering, or whenever a personal injury was supposed, at the time of bringing an action therefor, to be a comparatively trifling one, which might be fully compensated by a sum much less than $2,000, and was afterwards discovered to be so much graver, that there could be no doubt of the power and the duty of the court to allow an amendment increasing the ad damnum.

The reasonable construction of the act of congress, and the only one which will prevent the right of removal, to which the statute declares the party to be entitled, from being defeated by circumstances wholly beyond his control, is to hold that the incidental provision as t the time must, when necessary to carry out the purpose of the statute, yield to the principal enactment as to the right; and to consider the statute as, in intention and effect, permitting and requiring the defendant to file a petition for removal as soon as the action assumes the shape of a removable case in the court in which it was brought.

The result is that, when this plaintiff discontinued his action as against the individual defendants, the case for the first time became such a one as, by the express terms of the statute, the defendant railway company was entitled to remove; and therefore its petition for removal, filed immediately upon such discontinuance, was filed in due time.

A petition for removal, when presented to the state court, becomes part of the record of that court, and must doubtless show, taken in connection with the other matters on that record, the jurisdictional facts upon which the right of removal depends; because, if those facts are not made to appear upon the record of that court, it is not bound or authorized to surrender its jurisdiction; and, if it does, the circuit court of the United States cannot allow an amendment of the petition, but must remand the case. Crehore v. Railway way Co., 131 U.S. 240, 9 Sup. Ct. 692; Jackson v. Allen, 132 U.S. 27, 10 Sup. Ct. 9. But if, upon the face of the petition and of the whole record of the state court, sufficient grounds for removal are shown, the petition may be amended in the circuit court of the United States, by leave of that court, by stating more fully and distinctly the facts which support those grounds. Carson v. Dunham, 121 U.S. 421, 427, 7 Sup. Ct. 1030; Martin's Adm'r v. Railroad Co., 151 U.S. 673, 690, 691, 14 Sup. Ct. 533.

In the case at bar, the second petition for removal, as presented to the state court, alleged that the petitioner was a citizen of the states of Virginia and West Virginia only, that the plaintiff was a citizen of the state of Kentucky, that Evans and Hickey had been fraudulently and improperly joined as defendants for the purpose of defeating the petitioner's right of removal, that because of their joinder the case had been remanded to the state court, and that the action, having been discontinued against them, was now for the first time pending against the petitioner alone; and by the transcript, previously filed in the state court, of the record of the proceedings in the circuit court of the United States upon the first petition for removal, containing the opinion and order remanding the case, it appeared to have been admitted that the individual defendants were citizens of Kentucky.

It was thus made to appear, upon the record of the state court, that the case could not have been removed before, and that it had now become in its nature removable by reason of the diverse citizenship of the parties. Such being the case, it was rightly removed by the second petition for removal into the circuit court of the United States, and this petition was rightly permitted to be amended in that court.

The petition, as amended, distinctly alleged that Evans was a citizen of Virginia, that Boyer and Hickey were both citizens of Kentucky, and that by the discontinuance against them the action was for the first time pending against the railway company alone; and thus showed a case which the railway company was entitled to remove, independently of the allegations that these persons had been fraudulently joined as defendants to defeat the right of removal, and that the plaintiff was, therefore, estopped to deny that the second petition for removal was filed in time.

We do not find it necesssary to pass upon the points of fraudulent joinder and of estoppel, made by the railway company, and upon which the circuit court of the United States proceeded in retaining jurisdiction of the case, because, for the reasons before stated, we are of opinion that, upon the true construction of the act of congress, the petition, filed as soon as the case became a removable one, and efore the railway company took any new steps in defense of the action, was seasonably filed, and that it sufficiently stated grounds for removal, and was, therefore, rightly permitted to be amended.

It is hardly necessary to add that the railway company, by making defense in the state court after that court had declined to surrender jurisdiction of the case, did not lose or impair its right to insist that the case had been lawfully removed into the circuit court of the United States. The defendant, notwithstanding its objection, duly saved upon the record, to the jurisdiction of the state court, having been forced to a hearing in that court, is entitled to have the error in this respect corrected in any court having jurisdiction for the purpose. Removal Cases, 100 U.S. 457, 475; Edrington v. Jefferson, 111 U.S. 770, 774, 4 Sup. Ct. 683.

Judgment affirmed.

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).