Louisville Trust Co. v. Comingor , 184 U.S. 18 ( 1902 )

  • 184 U.S. 18 (1902)


    No. 309.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Submitted April 29, 1901.
    Decided January 27, 1902.

    *23 Mr. Augustus E. Willson for the Trust Company.

    *24 Mr. Alexander Pope Humphrey, Mr. Morris A. Sachs, Mr. D.A. Sachs, Mr. J.G. Sachs and Mr. W.M. Smith for Comingor.

    MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after making the above statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

    The Circuit Court of Appeals was called on to review the orders of the referee as confirmed by the District Judge, by which Comingor was required to pay over the sums of $3398.90 and $3200, respectively, and the recommendation that he be dealt with for not complying therewith.

    On the face of his responses, from first to last, it appeared that Comingor insisted that the $3200 had been paid by him to his counsel while they were acting for him, before the bankruptcy proceedings were commenced, for professional services rendered to him as assignee; and that he had retained and expended the $3398.90 as his commissions as assignee in reliance on the belief that he was entitled to that amount on final settlement. He thus asserted a claim to each of these sums adversely to the bankrupt, and as outstanding when the petition in bankruptcy was filed, and these claims were in fact passed upon by the referee and the District Judge as being adverse. This brought the controversy within the ruling in Bardes v. Bank, 178 U.S. 524, and the questions attempted to be litigated before the referee and in the District Court as to the allowance of the two amounts could only be raised in the District Court by consent, and then only by plenary suit. If the jurisdiction of the District Court was not consented to, then the state court, under the circumstances of this case, was the proper forum, and the matters in dispute were to be disposed of there.

    The District Court held that Comingor had voluntarily accepted its jurisdiction, and that he had also consented that the court might proceed against him summarily. As the Circuit Court of Appeals said, speaking through Severens, J., "It was upon the ground of the petitioner's implied consent to the mode adopted that the District Judge justified it."

    So far as this view rested on the contention that as Comingor *25 was joined with the bankrupts in the petition for adjudication, he therefore continued to be subject to the orders of the court without other process, we agree with the Circuit Court of Appeals that it cannot be sustained. As we understand the record, the petition in bankruptcy set up no cause of action and prayed no special relief against Comingor, and he was apparently made a defendant because adjudication would put an end to further action by him as assignee. Clearly, as the Circuit Court of Appeals points out, it would be inadmissible to permit creditors to deprive an assignee of his right to have his claims adjudicated by the proper court and in the customary mode of proceeding, by the device of making him a party to the petition for an adjudication and so attempting to bring him into the case for all purposes. Nor in this matter was any petition by the trustee, or by any other person, filed against Comingor to recover these sums, and the orders were entered by the referee on the record as it stood, so that there was no pretence whatever of a plenary suit in that court, in form or in substance.

    The proceeding was purely summary. The determination of the merits on the facts was not open to revision by appeal or writ of error under the bankrupt law. If Comingor had been entitled to a trial by jury, he could not have obtained it as of right. The collection of the amounts found due would be enforcible not by execution but by commitment.

    "We think that it could not have been the intention of Congress thus to deprive parties claiming property, of which they were in possession, of the usual processes of the law in defence of their rights." Marshall v. Knox, 16 Wall. 556; Smith v. Mason, 14 Wall. 419.

    The question is whether the District Court had jurisdiction to finally adjudicate the merits in this proceeding.

    We have just held in Mueller v. Nugent, ante, 1, that the District Court has power to ascertain whether in the particular instance the claim asserted is an adverse claim existing at the time the petition was filed. And according to the conclusion reached the court will retain jurisdiction or decline to adjudicate the merits. Jurisdiction as to the subject matter may be *26 limited in various ways, as to civil and criminal cases; cases at common law or in equity or in admiralty; probate cases, or cases under special statutes; to particular classes of persons; to proceedings in particular modes; and so on. In many cases jurisdiction may depend on the ascertainment of facts involving the merits, and in that sense the court exercises jurisdiction in disposing of the preliminary inquiry, although the result may be that it finds that it cannot go farther. And where in a case like that before us, the court erroneously retains jurisdiction to adjudicate the merits, its action can be corrected on review.

    We are of opinion that even if Comingor could have consented to be pursued in this manner, he did not so consent. He was ruled to show cause, and the cause he showed defeated jurisdiction over the subject matter, that is jurisdiction to proceed summarily. He did not come in voluntarily, but in obedience to peremptory orders, and although he participated in the proceedings before the referee, he had pleaded his claims in the outset, and he made his formal protest to the exercise of jurisdiction before the final order was entered. He had been restrained from settling his accounts in the state court in the action pending there, and the District Court, instead of dissolving the injunction, declining jurisdiction, and leaving the litigation to the state court, either in due course, or by plenary suit, adjudicated the merits and entered a peremptory order that he should pay over, disobedience of which order was punishable by commitment. We think that in this there was error, and that the Circuit Court of Appeals was right in its decree of reversal.

    Decree affirmed.

    MR. JUSTICE HARLAN dissented.