White v. Berry , 171 U.S. 366 ( 1898 )

  • 171 U.S. 366 (1898)


    No. 539.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued March 21, 22, 1898.
    Decided May 31, 1898.

    *375 Mr. Assistant Attorney General Boyd and Mr. Joseph H. Gaines for appellants.

    Mr. Charles J. Faulkner for appellee.

    MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

    In the opinion delivered by the learned District Judge, who heard this and other cases involving the same questions as those now presented, it was held: 1. That the act known as the "Civil Service Act" was constitutional. 2. That Congress has not delegated to the President and the Commission legislative powers. 3. That by rule 3, section 1, the internal revenue service has been placed under the Civil Service Act and rules made in pursuance of it. 4. That the plaintiffs in these actions are officers of the Government in the internal revenue service. 5. That they cannot be removed from their positions except for causes other than political, in which event their removal must be made under the terms and provisions of the Civil Service Act and the rules promulgated under it, *376 which, under the act of Congress, became a part of the law. 6. That the attempt to change the position and rank of the officers in these cases was in violation of law. 7. That a court of equity has jurisdiction to restrain the appointing power from removing the officers from their positions if such removals are in violation of the Civil Service Act. 83 Fed. Rep. 578.

    On behalf of the Government it is insisted that the Circuit Court of the United States, sitting in equity, was without jurisdiction to entertain this suit and to grant the relief asked in the bill. If this position be well taken, it will be unnecessary to consider the other questions discussed in the able and elaborate opinion of the District Judge.

    In Sawyer's case, 124 U.S. 200, 223, Chief Justice Waite, in a dissenting opinion, said that he was not prepared to hold that an officer of a municipal government could not, under any circumstances, apply to a court of chancery to restrain the municipal authorities from proceeding to remove him from his office without authority of law; that there might be cases when the tardy remedies of quo warranto, certiorari and other like writs would be entirely inadequate. In that view of the jurisdiction of equity the writer of this opinion concurred at the time the court disposed of that case.

    But the court in its opinion in that case observed that under the Constitution and laws of the United States the distinction between common law and equity, as existing in England at the time of the separation of the two countries, had been maintained, although both jurisdictions were vested in the same courts, and held that a court of equity had no jurisdiction over the appointment and removal of public officers, and that to sustain a bill in equity to restrain or relieve against proceedings for the removal of public officers would invade the domain of the courts of common law, or of the executive and administrative departments of the government.

    After referring to numerous authorities, American and English, in support of the general proposition that a court of chancery had no power to restrain criminal proceedings, unless they had been instituted by a party to a suit already *377 pending before it, and to try the same right that was in issue there, the court proceeded: "It is equally well settled that a court of equity has no jurisdiction over the appointment and removal of public officers, whether the power of removal is vested, as well as that of appointment, in executive or administrative boards or officers, or is entrusted to a judicial tribunal. The jurisdiction to determine the title to a public office belongs exclusively to the courts of law, and is exercised either by certiorari, error or appeal, or by mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto or information in the nature of a writ of quo warranto, according to the circumstances of the case, and the mode of procedure established by common law or by statute. No English case has been found of a bill for an injunction to restrain the appointment or removal of a municipal officer. But an information in the Court of Chancery for the regulation of Harrow School within its undoubted jurisdiction over public charities was dismissed so far as it sought a removal of governors unlawfully elected, Sir William Grant saying: `This court, I apprehend, has no jurisdiction with regard either to the election or a motion of corporators of any description.' Attorney General v. Clarendon, 17 Ves. 488, 491. In the courts of the several States the power of a court of equity to restrain by injunction the removal of a municipal officer has been denied in many well-considered cases," — citing Tappan v. Gray, 3 Edw. Ch. 450, reversed by Chancellor Walworth on appeal, 9 Paige, 507, 509, 512, whose decree was affirmed by the Court of Errors, 7 Hill, 259; Hagner v. Heyberger, 7 Watts & Serg. 104; Updegraff v. Crans, 47 Penn. St. 103; Cochran v. McCleary, 22 Iowa, 75; Delahanty v. Warner, 75 Illinois, 185; Sheridan v. Colvin, 78 Illinois, 237; Beebe v. Robinson, 52 Alabama, 66; and Moulton v. Reid, 54 Alabama, 320.

    The rule established in Sawyer's case was applied in Morgan v. Nunn, 84 Fed. Rep. 551, in which Judge Lurton said that "a court of equity will not, by injunction, restrain an executive officer from making a wrongful removal of a subordinate appointee, nor restrain the appointment of another." Similar decisions have been made in other Circuit Courts of *378 the United States; by Judges Pardee and Newman, in Couper v. Smyth, Northern District of Georgia, 84 Fed. Rep. 757; by Judge Kirkpatrick, in Page v. Moffett, District of New Jersey, 85 Fed. Rep. 38; by Judge Jenkins, Northern District of Illinois, in Carr v. Gordon, 82 Fed. Rep. 373, 379, and by Judge Baker, District of Indiana, in Taylor v. Kercheval, 82 Fed. Rep. 497, 499.

    If the assignment of some one to duty as gauger at the Hannis distillery, in the place of the plaintiff, did not work his removal from office, a court of equity ought not to assume to control the discretion which under existing statutes the Executive Department has in all such matters. Interference by the judicial department in such cases would lead to the utmost confusion in the management of executive affairs.

    But the plaintiff contends that the assignment of some one to duty in his place at the Hannis distillery is, in effect, a removal of him from his office in violation of law, and that the object of the proceedings against him was to bring about that result. But, under the authorities cited, such proceedings cannot be restrained by a court of the United States, sitting in equity, and therefore the court below erred in passing the final decree which has been brought here for review.

    Without expressing any opinion upon other questions so fully discussed by counsel, we hold that the Circuit Court, sitting in equity, was without jurisdiction to grant the relief asked.

    The decree below is reversed, and the cause is remanded with direction to dismiss the bill.

    MR. JUSTICE McKENNA took no part in the decision of this case.