In re Reisenberg/Opinion of the Court

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United States Supreme Court

208 U.S. 90

In re Reisenberg

 Argued: December 9, 1907. --- Decided: January 13, 1908

The petitioners base their application for relief in this court upon the contention that the circuit court had no jurisdiction in the case brought by the Pennsylvania Steel Company, and others, against the New York City Railway Company, to appoint receivers, or to grant any relief asked for in the bill of complaint in that suit. And, as they have been denied leave to intervene therein, and they cannot appeal from the order denying such request (Ex parte Cutting, 94 U.S. 14, 24 L. ed. 49; Credits Commutation Co. v. United States, 177 U.S. 311, 44 L. ed. 782, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 636), they assert they are without any remedy, unless it be granted on this application. The basis of their contention, that the circuit court was without jurisdiction, rests upon the assertion that there was no controversy or dispute between the parties to that suit. The counsel for the parties favoring the jurisdiction insist that these petitioners are not entitled to the remedy sought by them in this court, either by mandamus or prohibition, because the case made by them is not such as to authorize the court to issue either writ, as prayed for.

Without going into the question of the right of this court to grant the remedy sought, we prefer to place our decision upon the ground that the circuit court had jurisdiction, and that its action in exercising it was, therefore, valid.

The statutes defining the jurisdiction of the circuit court (act March 3, 1875, chap. 137, § 1, 18 Stat. at L. 470; act March 3, 1887, chap. 373, § 1, 24 Stat. at L. 552; act August 13, 1888, chap. 866, § 1, 25 Stat. at L. 433, U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, pp. 507, 508) confer it, among other cases, where 'there shall be a controversy between citizens of different states in which the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum or value aforesaid' ($2,000).

Although the amount involved in the suit in the circuit court was sufficient, it is insisted now that there was no dispute or controversy in that case within the meaning of the statute, because the defendant admitted the indebtedness and the other allegations of the bill of complaint, and consented to and united in the application for the appointment of receivers. Notwithstanding this objection, we think there was such a controversy between these parties as is contemplated by the statute. In the bill filed there was the allegation that a demand of payment of a debt due each of complainants had been made and refused. This was not denied and has not been. There was therefore an unsatisfied demand made by complainants and refused by defendants at the time of the filing of the bill. We think that where there is a justiciable claim of some right made by a citizen of one state against citizen of another state, involving an amount equal to the amount named in the statute, which claim is not satisfied by the party against whom it is made, there is a controversy, or dispute, between the parties, within the meaning of the statute. It is not necessary that the defendant should controvert or dispute the claim. It is sufficient that he does not satisfy it. It might be that he could not truthfully dispute it, and yet, if from inability, or, mayhap, from indisposition, he fails to satisfy it, it cannot be that because the claim is not controverted the Federal court has no jurisdiction of an action brought to enforce it. Jurisdiction does not depend upon the fact that the defendant denies the existence of the claim made, or its amount or validity. If it were otherwise, then the circuit court would have no jurisdiction if the defendant simply admitted his liability and the amount thereof as claimed, although not paying or satisfying the debt. This would involve the contention that the Federal court might be without jurisdiction in many cases where, upon bill filed, it was taken pro confesso, or whenever a judgment was entered by default. These are propositions which, it seems to us, need only to be stated to be condemned. The cases are numerous in which judgments have been entered by consent or default where the other requisites to the jurisdiction of the Federal court existed. Hefner v. Northwestern Mut. L. Ins. Co. 123 U.S. 747-756, 31 L. ed. 309-313, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 337; Pacific R. Co. v. Ketchum, 101 U.S. 289-296, 25 L. ed. 982-935. In the latter case the proceeding was 'by the consent of all the parties to the suit, through their solicitors of record.' It was stated in the opinion by Chief Justice Waite that the defendant had filed an answer under its corporate seal, in which every material allegation of the bill was confessed, and it was stated that the bonds sued for were, in all respects, valid obligations of the company, and the mortgage a subsisting lien. No doubt was expressed as to the jurisdiction of the court, because of the admission of the facts by the defendant and its consent to the judgment. We do not doubt the jurisdiction of the circuit court although the facts were admitted, and the defendant joined with the complainants in a request that receivers should be appointed.

It is, however, argued, that although there may be jurisdiction in the case of railroads engaged in interstate commerce, yet they are exceptions, because in such a case they arise under the Constitution, although there may not have been an actual controversy between the parties. Such cases, it is said, cannot properly be regarded as precedents for claiming jurisdiction in the case of railroads wholly within the state, and doing no interstate business.

A case under the Constitution or laws of the United States does not arise against a railroad engaged in interstate commerce from that mere fact. It only arises under the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States when it substantially involves a controversy as to the effect or construction of the Constitution, or on the determination of which the result depends. Defiance Water Co. v. Defiance, 191 U.S. 184, 48 L. ed. 140, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 63; Newburyport buryport Water Co. v. Newburyport, 193 U.S. 561, 48 L. ed. 795, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 553; Bonin v. Gulf Co. 198 U.S. 115, 49 L. ed. 970, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 608; Devine v. Los Angeles, 202 U.S. 313, 50 L. ed. 1046, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 652. The appointment of a receiver in the case of a railroad engaged in interstate commerce does not necessarily involve any such controversy. Jurisdiction to appoint a receiver by a circuit court of the United States in cases of railroads engaged in interstate commerce has existed by reason of diversity of citizenship in the various cases between the parties to the litigation, and not because the railroads were engaged in interstate commerce. The necessary diversity of citizenship is alleged to exist in the case before the circuit court, and there is no suspicion as to the truth of the averment.

It is also objected that the circuit court had no jurisdiction because the complainants were not judgment creditors, but were simply creditors at large of the defendant railways. The objection was not taken before the circuit court by any of the parties to the suit, but was waived by the defendant consenting to the appointment of the receivers, and admitting all the facts averred in the bill. Hollins v. Brierfield Coal & I. Co. 150 U.S. 371-380, 37 L. ed. 1113-1115, 14 Sup. Ct. Rep. 127. That the complainant has not exhausted its remedy at law-for example, not having obtained any judgment or issued any execution thereon-is a defense in an equity suit which may be waived, as is stated in the opinion in the above case, and, when waived, the case stands as though the objection never existed.

In the case in the circuit court the consent of the defendant to the appointmemt of receivers, without setting up the defense that the complainants were not judgment creditors who had issued an execution which was returned unsatisfied, in whole or in part, amounted to a waiver of that defense. Brown, B. & Co. v. Lake Superior Iron Co. 134 U.S. 530, 33 L. ed. 1021, 10 Sup. Ct. Rep. 604; Mentz v. Cook, 108 N. Y. 504-508, 15 N. E. 541; Horn v. Pere Marquette R. Co. 151 Fed. 626-633.

It is asserted also, that there was collusion between the complainants and the street railway companies, on account of which the court had no jurisdiction to proceed, and therefore the suit should have been dismissed by the circuit court under § 5 of the act of 1875, already cited. By that section it must appear to the satisfaction of the circuit court that such suit does not really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy properly within the jurisdiction of that court, or that the parties to that suit have been improperly or collusively made or joined for the purpose of creating a case cognizable under that act, in which case the circuit court is directed to proceed no further therein, but to dismiss the suit on that ground. Whether the suit involved a substantial controversy we have already discussed, and the only question which is left under that act is as to collusion.

In this case we can find no evidence of collusion, and the circuit court found there was none. It does appear that the parties to the suit desired that the administration of the railway affairs should be taken in hand by the circuit court of the United States, and to that end, when the suit was brought, the defendant admitted the averments in the bill, and united in the request for the appointment of receivers. This fact is stated by the circuit judge; but there is no claim made that the averments in the bill were untrue, or that the debts named in the bill as owing to the complainants did not in fact exist; nor is there any question made as to the citizenship of the complainants, and there is not the slightest evidence of any fraud practised for the purpose of thereby creating a case to give jurisdiction to the Federal court. That the parties preferred to take the subject-matter of the litigation into the Federal courts, instead of proceeding in one of the courts of the state, is not wrongful. So long as no improper act was done by which the jurisdiction of the Federal court attached, the motive for bringing the suit there is unimportant. Dickerman v. Northern Trust Co. 176 U.S. 181-190, 44 L. ed. 423-430, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 311; South Dakota v. North Carolina, 192 U.S. 286, 311, 48 L. ed. 448, 457, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 269; Blair v. Chicago, 201 U.S. 400-448, 50 L. ed. 801-821, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 427; Smithers v. Smith, 204 U.S. 632, 644, 51 L. ed. 656, 661, 27 Sup. Ct. Rep. 297.

The objection to the order permitting the Metropolitan Railway Company to intervene, and making it a party defendant in the circuit court suit, is not of a jurisdictional nature, and the granting of the order was within the discretion of the court. United States v. Philips, 46 C. C. A. 660, 107 Fed. 824; Credits Commutation Co. v. United States, 177 U.S. 311, 44 L. ed. 782, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 636. Having jurisdiction over the New York City Railway Company, and receivers having been appointed for it, there was every reason for extending the receivership to the Metropolitan Railway Company. The facts showed that it was so tied up with the New York company that a receivership for the latter ought to be extended to the former. The circuit court judge so held, and we think very properly, upon the peculiar facts of the case. See Quincy, M. & P. R. Co. v. Humphreys, 145 U.S. 82-95, 36 L. ed. 632, 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 787; Krippendorf v. Hyde, 110 U.S. 276, 283, 284, 28 L. ed. 145, 148, 4 Sup. Ct. Rep. 27.

From this review of the various questions presented to us it appears that the circuit court had jurisdiction in the suit brought before it, and therefore the application of the petitioners for a mandamus or for a prohibition must be denied.

While so holding we are not unmindful of the fact that a court is a very unsatisfactory body to administer the affairs of a railroad as a going concern, and we feel that the possession of such property by the court through its receivers should not be unnecessarily prolonged. There are cases-and the one in question seems a very strong instance-where, in order to preserve the property for all interests, it is a necessity to resort to such a remedy. A refusal to appoint a receiver would have led in this instance almost inevitably to a very large and useless sacrifice in value of a great property, operated as one system through the various streets of a populous city, and such a refusal would also have led to endless confusion among the various creditors in their efforts to enforce their claims, and to very great inconvenience to the many thousands of people who necessarily use the road every day of their lives.

The orders appointing the receivers and giving them instructions are most conservative and well calculated to bring about the earliest possible resumption of normal conditions when those who may be the owners of the property shall be in possession of and operate it. We have no doubt, if unnecessary delays shall take place, the court would listen to an application by any creditor, upon due notice to the receivers, for orders requiring the closing of the trust as soon as might be reasonably proper, or else vacating the orders appointing the receivers.

The rules are discharged and the petitions dismissed.


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).