Swafford v. Templeton , 185 U.S. 487 ( 1902 )


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  • 185 U.S. 487 (1902)

    SWAFFORD
    v.
    TEMPLETON.

    No. 487.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Submitted April 14, 1902.
    Decided May 19, 1902.
    ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE.

    *490 Mr. Frederick Lee Mansfield for plaintiff in error.

    Mr. Jerome Templeton for defendants in error.

    *491 MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

    The sole question is, Did the Circuit Court err in dismissing the action, on the ground that it was not one within the jurisdiction of the court? An affirmative answer to this question is rendered necessary by the decision in Wiley v. Sinkler, 179 U.S. 58. In that case the action was brought in a Circuit Court of the United States against state election officers to recover damages in the sum of twenty-five hundred dollars for an alleged unlawful rejection of plaintiff's vote at a Federal election. A demurrer was filed to the complaint. One of the grounds of the demurrer was that the court had no jurisdiction of the action, because it did not affirmatively appear on the face of the complaint that a Federal question was involved. The demurrer, however, was sustained, not because of the want of jurisdiction, but solely upon the ground that the complaint did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. The cause was brought directly to this court, under that provision of the act of March 3, 1891, which confers power to review the judgment or decree of a Circuit Court, among others, in any case involving the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States. In this court the contention was renewed that the Circuit Court was without jurisdiction, and this contention involved necessarily also a denial of the power of this court to review, since the right directly to do so was sustainable alone upon the ground that the cause was one involving the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States. The argument advanced to sustain the asserted want of jurisdiction was this, that as the Constitution of the United States did not confer the right of suffrage upon any one, but the same was a privilege which the elector enjoyed under the constitution and laws of the State in which he was entitled to vote, therefore the denial of the right to vote at an election for a member of Congress did not and could not involve the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States. The court, however, decided otherwise, and, speaking through Mr. Justice Gray, said that the case "involved the construction *492 and application of the Constitution of the United States;" that "the right to vote for members of Congress of the United States .. . has its foundation in the Constitution of the United States;" that "the Circuit Court of the United States has jurisdiction, concurrent with the courts of the State, of any action under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States, in which the matter in dispute exceeds the sum or value of $200;" and that, the action being "brought against election officers to recover damages for their rejection of the plaintiff's vote for a member of the House of Representatives of the United States, the complaint, by alleging that the plaintiff was, at the time, under the constitution and laws of the State of South Carolina and the Constitution and laws of the United States, a duly qualified elector of the State, shows that the action is brought under the Constitution and laws of the United States." In concluding its examination of the question of jurisdiction, it was declared that "the Circuit Court, therefore, clearly had jurisdiction of this action." The conclusion thus expressed, by necessary implication, decided the power of this court to review, which would not have been obtained, unless jurisdiction of the Circuit Court had been found to rest on the constitutional right.

    It is manifest from the context of the opinion in the case just referred to that the conclusion that the cause was one arising under the Constitution of the United States was predicated on the conception that the action sought the vindication or protection of the right to vote for a member of Congress, a right, as declared in Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 655, 664, "fundamentally based upon the Constitution of the United States, which created the office of member of Congress, and declared that it should be elective, and pointed out the means of ascertaining who should be electors." That is to say, the ruling was that the case was equally one arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States, whether the illegal act complained of arose from a charged violation of some specific provision of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or from the violation of a state law which affected the exercise of the right to vote for a member of Congress, since the Constitution of the *493 United States had adopted, as the qualifications of electors for members of Congress, those prescribed by the State for electors of the most numerous branch of the legislature of the State.

    It results from what has just been said that the court erred in dismissing the action for want of jurisdiction, since the right which it was claimed had been unlawfully invaded was one in the very nature of things arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and that this inhered in the very substance of the claim. It is obvious from an inspection of the certificate that the court, in dismissing for want of jurisdiction, was controlled by what it deemed to be the want of merit in the averments which were made in the complaint as to the violation of the Federal right. But as the very nature of the controversy was Federal, and, therefore, jurisdiction existed, whilst the opinion of the court as to the want of merit in the cause of action might have furnished ground for dismissing for that reason, it afforded no sufficient ground for deciding that the action was not one arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States.

    True, it has been repeatedly held that, on error from a state court to this court, where the Federal question asserted to be contained in the record is manifestly lacking all color of merit, the writ of error should be dismissed. New Orleans Waterworks Co. v. Louisiana, ante, 336, and authorities cited. This doctrine, however, relates to questions arising on writs of error from state courts where, aside from the Federal status of the parties to the action or the inherent nature of the Federal right which is sought to be vindicated, jurisdiction is to be determined by ascertaining whether the record raises a bona fide Federal question. In that class of cases not only this court may, but it is its duty to, determine whether in truth and in fact a real Federal question arises on the record. And it is true, also, as observed in New Orleans Waterworks Co. v. Louisiana, supra, that a similar principle is applied in analogous cases originally brought in a court of the United States. McCain v. Des Moines, 174 U.S. 168; St. Joseph & Grand Island Railroad v. Steele, 167 U.S. 659. But the doctrine referred to has no application to a case brought in a Federal court where the *494 very subject-matter of the controversy is Federal, however much wanting in merit may be the averments which it is claimed establish the violation of the Federal right. The distinction between the cases referred to and the one at bar is that which must necessarily exist between controversies concerning rights which are created by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and which consequently are in their essence Federal and controversies concerning rights not conferred by the Constitution or laws of the United States, the contention respecting which may or may not involve a Federal question depending upon what is the real issue to be decided or the substantiality of the averments as to the existence of the rights which it is claimed are Federal in character. The distinction finds apt illustration in the decisions of this court holding that suits brought by or against corporations chartered by acts of Congress are cases per se of Federal cognizance. Osborn v. U.S. Bank, 9 Wheat. 817; Texas & Pacific R.R. v. Cody, 166 U.S. 606. It may not be doubted that if an action be brought in a Circuit Court of the United States by such a corporation, there would be jurisdiction to entertain it, although the averments set out to establish the wrong complained of or the defence interposed were unsubstantial in character. The distinction is also well illustrated by the case of Huntington v. Laidley, 176 U.S. 668, where, finding that jurisdiction obtained in a Circuit Court, this court held that it was error to dismiss the action for want of jurisdiction because it was deemed that the record established that the cause of action asserted was not well founded.

    It follows that the court below erred in dismissing the action for want of jurisdiction. Of course, in reaching this conclusion we must not be understood as expressing any opinion as to the sufficiency of the declaration.

    The Judgment of the Circuit Court is reversed and the action is remanded for further proceedings, in conformity with this opinion; and it is so ordered.

Document Info

DocketNumber: 487

Citation Numbers: 185 U.S. 487, 22 S. Ct. 783, 46 L. Ed. 1005, 1902 U.S. LEXIS 916

Judges: White, After Making the Foregoing Statement

Filed Date: 5/19/1902

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 4/15/2017

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