« ForrigeFortsett »
Opinion of the Court.
The court, reciting that it appeared "both by the averments contained in the bill
and by the affida
that the suit was
vit of . commenced to enforce equitable liens upon, or claims to the title of personal property within this district, and that all of the defendants are not inhabitants thereof," entered an order on October 25, 1910, requiring the defendants on or before a date named to appear, plead, answer or demur to the bill, and that on or before a named date a certified copy of the order and of the bill should be served upon them wherever found. Presumably in consequence of such service having been made upon him at his residence in Germany, Emil Wetzlar, one of the defendants, appearing specially for the sole purpose of challenging the jurisdiction of the court, filed a plea verified by his attorney and moved the dismissal of the cause upon the ground "that no portion of the property of the estate of Gustave J. Wetzlar and no portion of the trust fund of said estate referred to in the bill therein, is now or has been for at least five years prior hereto, within the city, county or State of New York nor within the southern district of New York nor within the United States, but is and has been in Germany in the possession and control of the said Emil Wetzlar there residing." Argument was heard before Circuit Judge Lacombe upon the sufficiency of the plea. It was held to be "sufficient in law and form," and complainant was allowed to file a general replication thereto.
No proceeding for the examination of witnesses out of court having been taken by either party within thirty days after replication, the complainant set the cause down for hearing upon the pleadings, as authorized by court rule 109. The case was heard before Hazel, District Judge. The previous ruling of Judge Lacombe was followed. It was held that the plea was but a negative one, and that the burden was on the complainant to establish the exist
Opinion of the Court.
ence of the essential jurisdictional facts which the plea traversed, and that as no proof had been offered by the complainant, there was an absence of jurisdiction, and the bill was dismissed. This direct appeal was then taken, the assignments of error being as follows:
"First. That the court erred in sustaining the sufficiency of the plea to the bill in the above entitled cause. "Second. The court erred in dismissing the bill after hearing upon bill, plea and replication.
"Third. The court erred in refusing to maintain jurisdiction of the above entitled cause.
"Fourth. The court erred in dismissing the bill in the above entitled cause for lack of jurisdiction."
The court also filed a certificate to the effect that the bill had been dismissed for want of jurisdiction, and that an appeal was allowed solely to review such question.
At the threshold it is insisted that there is a want of authority to entertain this direct appeal because the bill was dismissed for lack of proof, and not because of the want of power of the Circuit Court as a Federal court. The contention is without merit. United States v. Congress Construction Co., 222 U. S. 199. As the defendants were without the territorial jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, its authority was dependent upon the property sought to be affected being within the district, as contemplated by $8 of the act of March 3, 1875, c. 137, 18 Stat. 470, 472, which authorizes the exertion of jurisdiction as to property of absent defendants. The ruling clearly, therefore, concerned the power of the court as a Federal court-that is, under the statute to entertain the case under the circumstances presented.
As, in order to dispose of the merits, it becomes essential to fix the meaning of § 8 of the act of 1875 above referred to, the section is excerpted in the margin.1
1 Section 8 of act of March 3, 1875, c. 137, 18 Stat. 472:
SEC. 8. That when in any suit, commenced in any circuit court of
Opinion of the Court.
All the errors pressed upon our attention will be disposed of by considering two questions, the correctness of the ruling of the court below as to the burden of proof, and whether, under the hypothesis that the court correctly held that the burden was on the complainant, the United States, to enforce any legal or equitable lien upon, or claim to, or to remove any incumbrance or lien or cloud upon the title to real or personal property within the district where such suit is brought, one or more of the defendants therein shall not be an inhabitant of, or found within, the said district, or shall not voluntarily appear thereto, it shall be lawful for the court to make an order directing such absent defendant or defendants to appear, plead, answer, or demur, by a day certain to be designated, which order shall be served on such absent defendant or defendants, if practicable, wherever found, and also upon the person or persons in possession or charge of said property, if any there be; or where such personal service upon such absent defendant or defendants is not practicable, such order shall be published in such manner as the court may direct, not less than once a week for six consecutive weeks; and in case such absent defendant shall not appear, plead, answer, or demur within the time so limited, or within some further time, to be allowed by the court, in its discretion, and upon proof of the service or publication of said order, and of the performance of the directions contained in the same, it shall be lawful for the court to entertain jurisdiction, and proceed to the hearing and adjudication of such suit in the same manner as if such absent defendant had been served with process within the said district; but said adjudication shall, as regards said absent defendant or defendants without appearance, affect only the property which shall have been the subject of the suit and under the jurisdiction of the court therein, within such district. And when a part of the said real or personal property against which such proceeding shall be taken shall be within another district, but within the same State, said suit may be brought in either district in said State: Provided, however, That any defendant or defendants not actually personally notified as above provided may, at any time. within one year after final judgment in any suit mentioned in this section, enter his appearance in said suit in said circuit court, and thereupon the said court shall make an order setting aside the judgment therein, and permitting said defendant or defendants to plead therein on payment by him or them of such costs as the court shall deem just; and thereupon said suit shall be proceeded with to final judgment according to law.
Opinion of the Court.
nevertheless error was committed in dismissing the bill in view of the averments therein contained and the admissions made by the plea.
First. As to the burden of proof.
On this subject the contention is that although the averment of the bill that the property sought to be affected was within the district was traversed by the plea, nevertheless the defendant was bound to prove the allegations of his plea and hence it was error, in the absence of proof, to dismiss the bill on the assumption that the burden was on the complainant to prove that the case was within the jurisdiction of the court. The theory as to the burden of proof being on the defendant, on which this proposition proceeds, it is insisted, is sanctioned by the following decisions of this court: Sheppard v. Graves (1852), 14 How. 505; De Sobry v. Nicholson (1865), 3 Wall. 420; Wetmore v. Rymer (1898), 169 U. S. 115, and Hunt v. New York Cotton Exchange (1907), 205 U. S. 322. And a decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Hill v. Walker, 167 Fed. Rep. 241, is also referred to as containing a full summary of the decided cases on the subject. None of the cases relied upon, however, involved a question of jurisdiction under § 8 of the act of 1875. On the contrary, they all concerned merely the sufficiency or verity of allegations as to the citizenship of parties or the value of the matter in dispute. The cases rested, therefore, upon the proposition that averments concerning such matters were prima facie to be taken as true, and hence the burden of proof was cast upon the one assailing the sufficiency or want of verity of such averments. We do not deem it necessary to now consider the conflict of opinion which has sometimes arisen concerning whether the doctrine of the cases relied upon and the fundamental conception upon which those cases rested entirely harmonizes with the provision of the act of 1875 requiring a Federal court of its own motion to dismiss a pending suit
Opinion of the Court.
when it is found not to be really within its jurisdictionsee Roberts v. Lewis, 144 U. S. 653, and the cases cited in the dissenting opinion in Hill v. Walker, supra-because we think in any view the doctrine is here inapplicable. We say this because while questions concerning the sufficiency or verity of averments as to citizenship or amount in dispute assail the jurisdiction of the court they do not address themselves to the want of all foundation for judicial action because of an entire absence of elements which are essential to the existence of any jurisdiction whatever-that is, the presence of persons or property within the jurisdiction of the court over which its authority may be exerted. The character of the questions involved in the cases relied on and the nature of the rule as to prima facie presumption as to the adequacy of averments concerning such subjects, and the resultant burden of proof is at once demonstrated by the well-settled rule that questions of that character do not go to the power of the court to make a binding decree. Cutler v. Huston, 158 U. S. 423, 430; Riverdale Cotton Mills v. Alabama & G. Mfg. Co., 198 U. S. 188, 198.
On the other hand, in a case like the one at bar, the existence of the property within the jurisdiction is essentially necessary to the exertion of the power of the court to render a binding decree. The statute does not leave this to implication, since it expressly provides that the decree to be rendered shall be limited to the property within the jurisdiction which, therefore, forms the sole basis of the power to judicially act. The prerequisite and absolute limitation on power which arises from these considerations is aptly illustrated by the rule enunciated in Thompson v. Whitman, 18 Wall. 457, and Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U. S. 714, and the numerous cases which have enforced the doctrine there laid down. And this wide distinction, in the very nature of things, precludes the possibility of the application here of the prima facie pre