MORRIS v. GILMER

No. 1150.

129 U.S. 315 (1889)

MORRIS v. GILMER.

Supreme Court of United States.

Decided January 28, 1889.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Henry C. Tompkins, Mr. Alexander T. London, Mr. Samuel F. Rice and Mr. Daniel S. Troy for appellant.

Mr. Henry C. Semple and Mr. W.A. Gunter for appellee.


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

It is unnecessary to decide whether the Circuit Court erred in overruling the plea of former adjudication, or in rendering the decree appealed from; for we are of opinion that the motion to dismiss the suit, as one not really involving a controversy within its jurisdiction, should have been sustained. It is provided by the fifth section of the act of March 3, 1875, (18 Stat. 472,) determining the jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts of the United States, that if in any suit commenced in one of such courts "it shall appear to the satisfaction of said Circuit Court, at any time after such suit has been brought or removed thereto, that such suit does not really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy properly within the jurisdiction of said Circuit Court, or that the parties to said suit have been improperly or collusively made or joined, either as plaintiffs or defendants, for the purpose of creating a case cognizable or removable under this act, the said Circuit Court shall proceed no further therein, but shall dismiss the suit or remand it to the court from which it was removed, as justice may require, and shall make such order as to costs as shall be just."

The case presents no question of a Federal nature, and the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court was invoked solely upon the ground that the plaintiff was a citizen of Tennessee, and the defendants citizens of Alabama. But if the plaintiff, who was a citizen of Alabama when the suit in the state court was determined, had not become, in fact, a citizen of Tennessee when the present suit was instituted, then, clearly, the controversy between him and the defendants was not one of which the Circuit Court could properly take cognizance; in which case, it became the duty of that court to dismiss it. It is true that, by the words of the statute, this duty arose only when it appeared to the satisfaction of the court that the suit was not one within its jurisdiction. But if the record discloses a controversy of which the court cannot properly take cognizance, its duty is to proceed no further and to dismiss the suit; and its failure or refusal to do what, under the law applicable to the facts proved, it ought to do, is an error which this court, upon its own motion, will correct, when the case is brought here for review. The rule is inflexible and without exception, as was said, upon full consideration, in Mansfield, Coldwater &c. Railway v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 382, "which requires this court, of its own motion, to deny its own jurisdiction, and, in the exercise of its appellate power, that of all other courts of the United States, in all cases where such jurisdiction does not affirmatively appear in the record on which, in the exercise of that power, it is called to act. On every writ of error or appeal, the first and fundamental question is that of jurisdiction, first, of this court, and then of the court from which the record comes. This question the court is bound to ask and answer for itself, even when not otherwise suggested, and without respect to the relations of the parties to it." To the same effect are King Bridge Co. v. Otoe County, 120 U.S. 225; Grace v. American Central Insurance Co., 109 U.S. 278, 283; Blacklock v. Small, 127 U.S. 96, 105, and other cases. These were cases in which the record did not affirmatively show the citizenship of the parties, the Circuit Court being without jurisdiction in either of them unless the parties were citizens of different States. But the above rule is equally applicable in a case in which the averment as to citizenship is sufficient, and such averment is shown, in some appropriate mode, to be untrue. While under the judiciary act of 1789, an issue as to the fact of citizenship could only be made by a plea in abatement, when the pleadings properly averred the citizenship of the parties, the act of 1875 imposes upon the Circuit Court the duty of dismissing a suit, if it appears at any time after it is brought and before it is finally disposed of, that it does not really and substantially involve a controversy of which it may properly take cognizance. Williams v. Nottawa, 104 U.S. 209, 211; Farmington v. Pillsbury, 114 U.S. 138, 143; Little v. Giles, 118 U.S. 596, 602. And the statute does not prescribe any particular mode in which such fact may be brought to the attention of the court. It may be done by affidavits, or the depositions taken in the cause may be used for that purpose. However done, it should be upon due notice to the parties to be affected by the dismissal.

It is contended that the defendant precluded himself from raising the question of jurisdiction, by inviting the action of the court upon his plea of former adjudication, and by waiting until the court had ruled that plea to be insufficient in law. In support of this position Hartog v. Memory, 116 U.S. 588, is cited. We have already seen that this court must, upon its own motion, guard against any invasion of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of the United States as defined by law, where the want of jurisdiction appears from the record brought here on appeal or writ of error. At the present term it was held that whether the Circuit Court has or has not jurisdiction is a question which this court must examine and determine, even if the parties forbear to make it or consent that the case be considered upon its merits. Metcalf v. Watertown, 128 U.S. 586.

Nor does the case of Hartog v. Memory sustain the position taken by the defendant; for it was there said that "if, from any source, the court is led to suspect that its jurisdiction has been imposed upon by the collusion of the parties or in any other way, it may at once, of its own motion, cause the necessary inquiry to be made, either by having the proper issue joined and tried, or by some other appropriate form of proceeding, and act as justice may require for its own protection against fraud or imposition." In that case, the citizenship of the parties was properly set out in the pleadings, and the case was submitted to the jury without any question being raised as to want of jurisdiction, and without the attention of the court being drawn to certain statements incidentally made in the deposition of the defendant against whom the verdict was rendered. After verdict, the latter moved for a new trial, raising upon that motion, for the first time, the question of jurisdiction. The court summarily dismissed the action, upon the ground, solely, of want of jurisdiction, without affording the plaintiff any opportunity whatever to rebut or control the evidence upon the question of jurisdiction. The failure, under the peculiar circumstances disclosed in that case, to give such opportunity, was, itself, sufficient to justify a reversal of the order dismissing the action, and what was said that was irrelevant to the determination of that question was unnecessary to the decision, and cannot be regarded as authoritative. The court certainly did not intend in that case to modify or relax the rule announced in previous well-considered cases. In the case before us the question was formally raised, during the progress of the cause, by written motion, of which the plaintiff had due notice, and to which he appeared and objected. So that there can be no question as to any want of opportunity for him to be heard, and to produce evidence in opposition to the motion to dismiss.

We are thus brought to the question whether the plaintiff was entitled to sue in the Circuit Court. Was he, at the commencement of this suit, a citizen of Tennessee? It is true, as contended by the defendant, that a citizen of the United States can instantly transfer his citizenship from one State to another, Cooper v. Galbraith, 3 Wash. C.C. 546, 554, and that his right to sue in the courts of the United States is none the less because his change of domicil was induced by the purpose, whether avowed or not, of invoking, for the protection of his rights, the jurisdiction of a Federal court. As said by Mr. Justice Story, in Briggs v. French, 2 Sumner, 251, 256, "if the new citizenship is really and truly acquired, his right to sue is a legitimate, constitutional and legal consequence, not to be impeached by the motive of his removal." Manhattan Ins. Co. v. Broughton, 109 U.S. 121, 125; Jones v. League, 18 How. 76, 81. There must be an actual, not pretended, change of domicil; in other words, the removal must be "a real one, animo manendi, and not merely ostensible." Case v. Clarke, 5 Mason, 70. The intention and the act must concur in order to effect such a change of domicil as constitutes a change of citizenship. In Ennis v. Smith, 14 How. 400, 423, it was said that "a removal which does not contemplate an absence from the former domicil for an indefinite and uncertain time is not a change of it," and that while it was difficult to lay down any rule under which every instance of residence could be brought which may make a domicil of choice, "there must be, to constitute it, actual residence in the place, with the intention that it is to be a principal and permanent residence."

Upon the evidence in this record, we cannot resist the conviction that the plaintiff had no purpose to acquire a domicil or settled home in Tennessee, and that his sole object in removing to that State was to place himself in a situation to invoke the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of the United States. He went to Tennessee without any present intention to remain there permanently or for an indefinite time, but with a present intention to return to Alabama as soon as he could do so without defeating the jurisdiction of the Federal court to determine his new suit. He was, therefore, a mere sojourner in the former State when this suit was brought. He returned to Alabama almost immediately after giving his deposition. The case comes within the principle announced in Butler v. Farnsworth, 4 Wash. C.C. 101, 103, where Mr. Justice Washington said: "If the removal be for the purpose of committing a fraud upon the law, and to enable the party to avail himself of the jurisdiction of the Federal courts, and that fact be made out by his acts, the court must pronounce that his removal was not with a bona fide intention of changing his domicil, however frequent and public his declarations to the contrary may have been."

The decree is reversed, with costs to the appellant in this court, and the cause remanded, with a direction to dismiss the suit without costs in the court below.


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