Attorney(s) appearing for the Case
Mr. H.J. Jaquith, with whom Mr. Thomas J. Barry was on the brief, for plaintiff in error.
Mr. Alfred W. Putnam, with whom Mr. William B. Sullivan was on the brief, for defendant in error.
Supreme Court of United States.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.
The plaintiff insists that the action of the police commissioners deprived him of property without due process of law. The answer to this contention is that the expectation called a right or property was of the board's creation and therefore subject to the limitations which the board imposed.
The plaintiff also insists that by the judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts he has been deprived of his property without the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. This proposition is without merit. Within the meaning of that amendment, the court, by its judgment, did not deprive the plaintiff of property without due process of law. He sought a decree adjudging that he was entitled to the money received by Ginzberg from O'Hearn. The court, proceeding entirely upon principles of general and local law, and giving all parties interested in the question an opportunity to be heard, decided that plaintiff had no right to that money. The decision of a state court, involving nothing more than the ownership of property, with all parties in interest before it, cannot be regarded by the unsuccessful party as a deprivation of property without due process of law, simply because its effect is to deny his claim to own such property. If we were of opinion, upon this record, that the money received by Ginzberg from O'Hearn really belonged to Tracy — upon which question we express no opinion — still it could not be affirmed that the latter had, within the meaning of the Constitution, and by reason of the judgment below, been deprived of his property without due process of law. Under the opposite view every judgment of a state court, involving merely the ownership of property, could be brought here for review — a result not to be thought of. The Fourteenth Amendment did not impair the authority of the States, by their judicial tribunals, and according to their settled usages and established modes of procedure, to determine finally, for the parties before it, controverted questions as to the ownership of property, which did not involve any right secured by the Federal Constitution, or by any valid act of Congress, or by any treaty. Within the meaning of that amendment, a deprivation of property without due process of law occurs when it results from the arbitrary exercise of power, inconsistent with "those settled usages and modes of proceeding existing in the common and statute law of England before the emigration of our ancestors, and which are shown not to have been unsuited to their civil and political condition by having been acted on by them after the settlement of this country." Bank of Columbia v. Okely, 4 Wheat. 235, 244; Murray's Lessee v. Hoboken &c., 18 How. 272. It cannot be said that the state court in this case, by its final judgment, departed from those usages or modes of proceeding.
The judgment is