Tyler v. Judges of the Court of Registration/Dissent Fuller

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

179 U.S. 405

Tyler  v.  Judges of the Court of Registration

 Argued: October 25, 1900. --- Decided: December 17, 1900

Mr. Chief Justice Fuller, with whom concurred Mr. Justice Harlan, Mr. Justice Brewer and Mr. Justice Shiras, dissenting:

In order to give this court jurisdiction to review the judgment of a state court on the ground that the validity of a statute of, or an authority exercised under, any state, was drawn in question for repugnancy to the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that its validity was sustained, it is enough that a definite issue as to the validity of the statute is distinctly deductible from the record; that the state court entertained the suit; and that its judgment rested on the conclusion that the statute was valid.

The inquiry is whether the validity of the statute or authority has been drawn in question 'in a suit' in the state court and a 'final judgment' has been rendered in favor of its validity. If so, we have jurisdiction to review that judgment. Weston v. Charleston, 2 Pet. 449, 7 L. ed. 481; Wheeling & B. Bridge Co. v. Wheeling Bridge Co. 138 U.S. 287, 34 L. ed. 967, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 301; Luxton v. North River Bridge Co. 147 U.S. 337. 37 L. ed. 194, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 356; McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 1, 36 L. ed. 869, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 3.

Weston v. Charleston was an application to the state court for a writ of prohibition to restrain the levy of a tax under a city ordinance on the ground that it violated the Constitution, and went to judgment in the highest court of South Carolina sustaining the validity of the ordinance.

This court held that the writ of error was properly issued, and Mr. Chief Justice Marshall said:

'The question, therefore, which was decided by the constitutional court, is the very question on which the revising power of this tribunal is to be exercised, and the only inquiry is, whether it has been decided in a case described in the section which authorizes the writ of error that has been awarded. Is a writ of prohibition a suit?'

After answering this question in the affirmative the Chief Justice thus proceeded:

'We think also that it was a final judgment, in the sense in which that term is used in the 25th section of the judicial act. If it were applicable to those judgments and decrees only in which the right was finally decided, and could never again be litigated between the parties, the provisions of the section would be confined within much narrower limits than the words import, or than Congress could have intended.

'Judgments in actions of ejectment, and decrees in chancery dismissing a bill without prejudice, however deeply they might affect rights protected by the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, would not be subject to the revision of this court. A prohibition might issue, restraining a collector from collecting duties, and this court would not revise and correct the judgment. The word 'final' must be understood in the section under consideration, as applying to all judgments and decrees which determine the particular cause.'

Wheeling & B. Bridge Co. v. Wheeling Bridge Co. was a petition to condemn land, and it had been held by the supreme court of West Virginia that the right to condemn was to be determined before the amount of compensation to be made had been ascertained. The judgment of the inferior court sustained the proceedings to condemn and appointed commissioners, and the state supreme court entertained an appeal from that judgment, and affirmed it.

A writ of error from this court was brought, and a motion to dismiss it denied. Mr. Justice Field said:

'The judgment appears to have been considered by that court as so far final as to justify an appeal from it; and if the supreme court of a state holds a judgment of an inferior court of the state to be final, we can hardly consider it in any other light, in exercising our appellate jurisdiction.'

In Luxton v. North River Bridge Co., which was a proceeding to condemn in a circuit court of the United States, we held that an order appointing commissioners to assess damages was not a final judgment. The case of the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company was cited and distinguished by Mr. Justice Gray, who said:

'Jurisdiction of a writ of error to the supreme court of appeals of West Virginia, affirming an order appointing commissioners under a somewhat similar statute, was there entertained by this court, solely because that order had been held by the highest court of the state to be an adjudication of the right to condemn the land, and to be a final judgment, on which a writ of error would lie, and could, therefore, hardly be considered in any other light by this court in the exercise of its jurisdiction to review the decisions of the highest court of the state upon a Federal question. 138 U.S. 287, 290, 34 L. ed. 967, 968, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 301. To have held otherwise might have wholly defeated the appellate jurisdiction of this court under the Constitution and laws of the United States; for if the highest court of the state held the order appointing commissioners to be final and conclusive unless appealed from, and the validity of the condemnation not to be open on a subsequent appeal from the award of damages, it is difficult to see how this court could have reached the question of the validity of the condemnation, except by writ of error to the order appointing commissioners.'

It is true that it appeared in these cases that the interests of plaintiffs in error were directly affected, and it is held that such is not the case here. But that ruling in effect involves inquiry into the merits on a question of procedure, and it seems to me inadmissible for this court to deny, in a case like this, the competency of a party to invoke the jurisdiction of the state court, when that court has exercised it at his instance.

The supreme judicial court of Massachusetts held that prohibition was the appropriate remedy to avert the injury with which petitioner alleged he was threatened, and that petitioner was entitled to make the application for the writ; and thereupon passed upon the question of the validity of the statute, and rendered a final judgment sustaining its validity. The unconstitutionality of the act was the sole ground on which the application for prohibition rested, and the determination of that Federal question determined the cause.

We have then 'a suit' and a 'final judgment' sustaining the validity of a state statute drawn in question for repugnancy to the Constitution.

Every element requisite to the maintenance of our jurisdiction exists, and I submit that we cannot decline to exercise it because of any supposed error on the part of the state court in respect of entertaining the suit.

To repeat: The state court ruled that the petition was sufficient to raise the Federal question; that petitioner was competent to raise it; and that he was entitled to preventive relief if his contention was well founded. And these rulings should be accepted on the preliminary inquiry into our jurisdiction.

The objections of plaintiff in error to the proceedings of the land court were not for want of jurisdiction over him personally, but for want of jurisdiction over the subject-matter. In other words, that there was a total want of power on the part of the persons assuming to act as a court to proceed at all. Whether that was so or not is the question which the state court decided, and discussion of that question is discussion on the merits.

Plaintiff in error alleged that the integrity of his boundary line was threatened by these proceedings. The fact that he had actual knowledge of them did not validate them if the act was void. And the answer to the question whether, if he were deprived of some part of his real estate, or of the cost of litigation, such deprivation would be deprivation without due process of law, determines the constitutionality of the statute, by which that result was effected.

In my opinion the writ of error was providently issued, and I am authorized to state that Mr. Justice Harlan, Mr. Justice Brewer and Mr. Justice Shiras concur in that conclusion.

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).