Smith v. Indiana , 191 U.S. 138 ( 1903 )

  • 191 U.S. 138 (1903)


    No. 81.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued October 22, 23, 1903.
    Decided November 16, 1903.

    *139 Mr. Horace E. Smith, with whom Mr. Roscoe O. Hawkins was on the brief, for plaintiff in error.

    Mr. Cassius C. Hadley, with whom Mr. Charles W. Miller, Attorney General of the State of Indiana, Mr. L.G. Rothschild and Mr. William C. Geake, were on the brief, for defendant in error.

    *148 MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

    The constitutionality of the exemption law of Indiana was apparently the only question raised by the parties. It was argued elaborately, both in the Circuit and Supreme Court of the State, and was finally affirmed by a majority of the latter court. The power of the county auditor, who is charged by law with the duty of making the assessment, to refuse to allow the relators their exemption upon the ground of the unconstitutionality of the act, does not appear to have been raised in the state courts, and is not noticed in either opinion of the Supreme Court. In fact, the celerity of the proceedings and the admissions of counsel indicate that the suit was begun and carried on for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of the law, and that the litigation was at least not an unfriendly one.

    We have no doubt of the power of state courts to assume jurisdiction of the case if they choose to do so, although there are many authorities to the effect that a ministerial officer, charged by law with the duty of enforcing a certain statute, cannot refuse to perform his plain duty thereunder upon the ground that in his opinion it is repugnant to the Constitution.

    It is but just to say, however, that the power of a public officer to question the constitutionality of a statute as an excuse for refusing to enforce it has often been assumed, and sometimes directly decided, to exist. In any event, it is a purely local question, and seems to have been so treated by this court in Huntington v. Worthen, 120 U.S. 97, 101.

    Different considerations, however, apply to the jurisdiction of this court, which we have recently held can only be invoked by a party having a personal interest in the litigation. It follows that he cannot sue out a writ of error in behalf of third persons. Tyler v. Judges of Court of Registration, 179 U.S. 405; Clark v. Kansas City, 176 U.S. 114; Turpin v. Lemon, 187 U.S. 51; Lampasas v. Bell, 180 U.S. 276; Ludeling v. Chaffe, 143 U.S. 301; Giles v. Little, 134 U.S. 645. These authorities *149 control the present case. It is evident that the auditor had no personal interest in the litigation. He had certain duties as a public officer to perform. The performance of those duties was of no personal benefit to him. Their non-performance was equally so. He neither gained nor lost anything by invoking the advice of the Supreme Court as to the proper action he should take. He was testing the constitutionality of the law purely in the interest of third persons, viz., the taxpayers, and in this particular the case is analogous to that of Caffrey v. Oklahoma, 177 U.S. 346. We think the interest of an appellant in this court should be a personal and not an official interest, and that the defendant, having sought the advice of the courts of his own State in his official capacity, should be content to abide by their decision.

    It is true there seems to have been a personal judgment in form against the defendant for costs, the amount of which, however, has never been taxed, and when taxed and paid would probably be reimbursed to him. It was formerly held, under the practice which disqualified interested witnesses, that a liability for costs was sufficient to render a witness incompetent. 1 Greenl. Ev. secs. 401, 402. But it seems to be well settled that even if the fact that costs are awarded against a party, gives him an appealable interest, of which there appears to be considerable doubt, Travis v. Waters, 12 Johns. 500; Reid v. Vanderheyden, 5 Cow. 719, 736, it does not give him an appealable interest in the judgment upon the merits, but limits him to the mere question of costs. Studabaker v. Markley, 7 Ind. App. 368; Hone v. Schaick, 7 Paige, 221; Card v. Bird, 10 Paige, 426; Cuyler v. Moreland, 6 Paige, 273. If plaintiff in error objected to this judgment for costs he might have moved to modify it in that particular. Not having done so, his appeal is presumptively from the judgment on the merits, American Ins. Co. v. Gibson, 104 Indiana, 336, 342, and as his individual rights were not affected by such judgment, he is not entitled to an appeal.

    The fact that the various statutes fixing the jurisdiction of *150 the Circuit Courts of the United States, and of this court, which from the original Judiciary Act of 1789 have, where the amount involved was made the test of jurisdiction, uniformly used the words "exclusive of costs," would indicate, so far as the Federal courts are concerned, that a mere judgment for costs could not ordinarily be made the basis of an appeal to this court.

    For the reasons above given, the appellant did not have the requisite interest to maintain this appeal, and it is therefore


    MR. JUSTICE HARLAN and MR. JUSTICE WHITE are of opinion that the plaintiff in error was entitled to prosecute the present writ, and that the court should determine the case upon its merits.

Document Info

DocketNumber: 81

Citation Numbers: 191 U.S. 138, 24 S. Ct. 51, 48 L. Ed. 125, 1903 U.S. LEXIS 1471

Judges: Brown, After Making the Foregoing Statement

Filed Date: 11/16/1903

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 4/15/2017

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