No. 202.

178 U.S. 239 (1900)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 21, 1900.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. John F. Dillon for appellant. Mr. Rush Taggart and Mr. George H. Fearons were on his brief.

No appearance for appellee.

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

The Western Union Telegraph Company might have instituted its suit in the Circuit Court, but it sought the state tribunals as it had the right to do, and the defendant could not remove the case on the ground of diverse citizenship, although that fact existed, because it was itself a resident of the State. Defendant's application to remove, therefore, was based on the averment that the suit arose "under the Constitution and laws of the United States." Whether it did so arise depended on complainant's statement of its own case. Tennessee v. Bank, 152 U.S. 454. And the sixth and seventh paragraphs of the bill contain all that defendant could have relied on as bringing the case within that category. These paragraphs were to the effect that complainant had accepted the provisions of the act of Congress of July 24, 1866, and that, independent of the contract, it had "a right to maintain its telegraph line on what was formerly said Frankfort and South Eastern Railroad under the provisions of the statute of the United States."

The bill was in legal effect a bill for the specific performance of the contract set up in the pleadings, and the prayer was for injunction against interference with complainant's alleged rights, and that defendant allow complainant to reconnect its said wires, and use them in the same way as before they were disturbed by defendant, "and that defendant be required to carry out said contract in good faith," and for general relief.

It was not argued by counsel for the telegraph company that the telegraph company had any right under the statute, and independently of the contract, to maintain and operate this telegraph line over the railroad company's property; and it has been long settled that that statute did not confer on telegraph companies the right to enter on private property without the consent of the owner, and erect the necessary structures for their business; "but it does provide, that, whenever the consent of the owner is obtained, no state legislation shall prevent the occupation of post roads for telegraph purposes by such corporations as are willing to avail themselves of its privileges." Pensacola Telegraph Company v. Western Union Telegraph Company, 96 U.S. 1. In that case Mr. Chief Justice Waite further said: "No question arises as to the authority of Congress to provide for the appropriation of private property to the uses of the telegraph, for no such attempt has been made. The use of public property alone is granted. If private property is required, it must, so far as the present legislation is concerned, be obtained by private arrangement with its owner. No compulsory proceedings are authorized."

When a suit does not really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy as to the effect or construction of the Constitution or laws of the United States, upon the determination of which the result depends, it is not a suit arising under the Constitution or laws. And it must appear on the record, by a statement in legal and logical form, such as is required in good pleading, that the suit is one which does really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy as to a right which depends on the construction of the Constitution or some law or treaty of the United States, before jurisdiction can be maintained on this ground. Gold Washing & Water Co. v. Keyes, 96 U.S. 199; Blackburn v. Portland Gold Mining Co., 175 U.S. 571.

We are unable to perceive that paragraphs sixth and seventh met this requirement, and it does not appear to us that they were intended to do so by the pleader. As we have said, it was not asserted in argument that the telegraph company had the right independently of the contract to maintain its line on the railroad company's property, and in view of the settled construction of the statute, we could not permit such a contention to be recognized as the basis of jurisdiction. But it was argued that by virtue of the statute the telegraph company was possessed of a public character and was discharging public duties, and that although the interest it acquired by its contract was subject to the prior mortgage, it could not be absolutely deprived thereof by foreclosure, but that the Circuit Court should have so framed its decree as to preserve the occupancy of the telegraph company, subject to making compensation to the railroad company, the value of the alleged easement to be ascertained by the court. It is sufficient to say that the bill was not framed in that aspect, and though there was a prayer for general relief, relief cannot be awarded under that prayer unless it is such relief as is agreeable to the case made by the bill. And it is entirely clear that there were no averments in the bill in respect of this contention which would bring the case within the category of cases arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States so that jurisdiction could be held to have rested on that ground.

The result is that the decrees of the Circuit Court of Appeals and of the Circuit Court must be reversed, and the cause be remanded to the latter court with a direction to remand it to the state court, and it is so ordered.


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