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United States Supreme Court

96 U.S. 369

Ex Parte Schollenberger


This is a petition for a writ of mandamus, requiring the judges of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to hear and determine certain suits brought in that court in favor of the relators against a number of insurance companies incorporated by the laws of other States, but doing business in that State under a license granted pursuant to a statute regulating that subject. The Circuit Court declines to entertain jurisdiction of the causes, for the reason, as is alleged, that the defendant companies were not 'at the commencement of the respective suits, or at any time, inhabitants of or found in the said district.' This presents the only question in the case, as it is conceded that the citizenship of the parties is such as to give the court jurisdiction, if the several defendants can be sued in the district without their consent.

A statute of Pennsylvania provides that 'no insurance company not of this State, nor its agents, shall do business in this State until he has filed with the insurance commissioner of this State a written stipulation, duly authenticated by the company, agreeing that any legal process affecting the company served on the insurance commissioner, or the party designated by him, or the agent specified by said company to receive service of process for the said company, shall have the same effect as if served personally on the company within this State; and, if such company should cease to maintain such agent in this State, so designated, such process may thereafter be served on the insurance commissioner; but, so long as any liability of the stipulating company to any resident of this State continues, such stipulation cannot be revoked or modified, except that a new one may be substituted, so as to require or dispense with the service at the office of said company within this State, and that such service of process according to this stipulation shall be sufficient personal service on the company. The term 'process' includes any writ of summons, subpoena, or order whereby any action, suit, or proceedings shall be commenced, or which shall be issued in or upon any action, suit, or proceedings brought in any court of this Commonwealth having jurisdiction of the subject-matter.' Laws of Penn., 1873, p. 27, sect. 13.

The return to the rule to show cause admits that all the defendant companies were doing business in the State under this statute, and that their designated agents were duly served with process in each of the suits. For the purposes of this hearing, the fact of due service upon the agents must be considered as established. If in reality it is not so, the court below will not be precluded by any thing in this proceeding from inquiring into the truth, and acting upon the facts as they are found to exist.

The act of 1875, determining the jurisdiction of the circuit courts (18 Stat. 470), and which in this particular is substantially a re-enactment of the act of 1789 (1 Stat. 79, sect. 11), provides that 'no civil suit shall be brought before either of said courts against any person by any original process or proceeding in any other district than that whereof he is an inhab itant, or in which he shall be found at the time of serving such process or commencing such proceedings, except,' &c.

It is unnecessary to inquire whether these several companies were inhabitants of the district. The requirements of the law, for all the purposes of this case, are satisfied if they were found there at the time of the commencement of the suits; and that question, we think, was settled in Railroad Company v. Harris, 12 Wall. 65. In that case, it appears that, when the suit was commenced, the statutes defining the jurisdiction of the courts of the District of Columbia provided that 'no action or suit shall be brought . . . by any original process against any person who shall not be an inhabitant of or found within the District at the time of serving the writ.' 2 Stat. 106, sect. 6. Afterwards, in 1867, the law was changed in respect to foreign corporations doing business in the District, and service allowed upon the agent (14 Stat. 404, sect. 11); but when the suit was begun and the process served the old law was in force. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, a Maryland corporation, was authorized by Congress to construct and extend its railroad into the District of Columbia. Harris, having been injured while travelling as a passenger upon the railroad outside of the District, sued the company in the Supreme Court of the District, and caused the writ to be served upon the president of the company within the District. The company objected to the jurisdiction of the court, and insisted that it was neither an inhabitant of nor found within the District. In ruling upon this objection, we held that, although the company was a foreign corporation, it was suable in the District, because it had in effect consented to be sued there, in consideration of its being permitted by Congress to exercise therein its corporate powers and privileges. The language of the court, speaking through Mr. Justice Swayne, is: 'It (a corporation) cannot migrate, but may exercise its authority in a foreign territory upon such conditions as may be prescribed by he law of the place. One of these conditions may be that it shall consent to be sued there. If it do business there, it will be presumed to have assented, and will be bound accordingly.' Then, after an examination of the statute granting the right to extend the road, it was said (p. 84): 'We entertain no doubt that it made the company liable to suit where this suit was brought, in all respects as if it had been an independent corporation of the same locality.' This language was cited with approbation, and adopted as a correct exposition of the law by Mr. Justice Field, speaking for the court, in Railway Company v. Whitton, 13 Wall. 270.

Applying these principles to the present case, there cannot be any doubt, as it seems to us, of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court over these defendant companies. They have in express terms, in consideration of a grant of the privilege of doing business within the State, agreed that they may be sued there; that is to say, that they may be found there for the purposes of the service of process issued 'by any court of the Commonwealth having jurisdiction of the subject-matter.' This was a condition imposed by the State upon the privilege granted, and it was not unreasonable. Lafayette Insurance Co. v. French, 18 How. 404. It was insisted in argument that the statute confines the right of suit to the courts of the State; but we cannot so construe it. There is nothing to manifest such an intention; and, as the object of the legislature evidently was to relieve the citizens of Pennsylvania from the necessity of going outside of the State to seek judicial redress upon their contracts made with foreign insurance companies, it is but reasonable to suppose that they were entirely at liberty to select the court in the State having jurisdiction of the subject-matter, which, in their judgment, was the most convenient and desirable. As the company, if sued in a State court, could remove the cause to the Circuit Court, and thus compel a citizen of the State to submit to that jurisdiction, we see no reason why the citizen may not, if he desires it, bring the company into the same jurisdiction at the outset. While the Circuit Court may not be technically a court of the Commonwealth, it is a court within it; and that, as we think, is all the legislature intended to provide for.

States cannot by their legislation confer jurisdiction upon the courts of the United States, neither can consent of parties give jurisdiction when the facts do not; but both State legislation and consent of parties may bring about a state of facts which will authorize the courts of the United States to take cognizance of a case. Ex parte McNeil, 13 Wall. 236. Thus, if the parties to a suit, both plaintiff and defendant, are in fact citizens of the same State, an agreement upon the record that they are citizens of different States will not give jurisdiction. But if the two agree that one shall move into and become a citizen of another State, in order that jurisdiction may be given, and he actually does so in good faith, the court cannot refuse to entertain the suit. So, as in this case, if the legislature of a State requires a foreign corporation to consent to be 'found' within its territory, for the purpose of the service of process in a suit, as a condition to doing business in the State, and the corporation does so consent, the fact that it is found gives the jurisdiction, notwithstanding the finding was procured by consent. The essential fact is the finding, beyond which the court will not ordinarily look.

A corporation cannot change its residence or its citizenship. It can have its legal home only at the place where it is located by or under the authority of its charter; but it may by its agents transact business anywhere, unless prohibited by its charter or excluded by local laws. Under such circumstances, it seems clear that it may, for the purpose of securing business, consent to be 'found' away from home, for the purposes of suit as to matters growing out of its transactions. The act of Congress prescribing the place where a person may be sued is not one affecting the general jurisdiction of the courts. It is rather in the nature of a personal exemption in favor of a defendant, and it is one which he may waive. If the citizenship of the parties is sufficient, a defendant may consent to be sued anywhere he pleases, and certainly jurisdiction will not be ousted because he has consented. Here, the defendant companies have provided that they can be found in a district other than that in which they reside, if a particular mode of proceeding is adopted, and they have been so found. In our opinion, therefore, the Circuit Court has jurisdiction of the causes, and should proceed to hear and decide them.

We are aware that the practice in the circuit courts generally has been to decline jurisdiction in this class of suits. Upon an examination of the reported cases in which this question has been decided, we find that in almost every instance the ruling was made upon the authority of the late Mr. Justice Nelson, in Day v. The Newark India-rubber Manufacturing Co., 1 Blatchf. 628, and Pomeroy v. The New York & New Haven Railroad Co., 4 id. 120. These cases were decided by that learned justice, the one in 1850 and the other in 1857, long before our decision in Railroad Company v. Harris (supra), which was not until 1870, and are, as we think, in conflict with the rule we there established. It may also be remarked, that Mr. Justice Nelson, as a member of this court, concurred in that decision.

Judge Woods, of the fifth circuit, has already decided in favor of the jurisdiction in Knott v. The Southern Life Insurance Co. (2 Woods, 479), and Judge Dillon, of the eighth circuit, declined to take it, only because he felt himself foreclosed by the rulings of other judges, and especially of Mr. Justice Nelson. Stillwell v. The Empire Fire Insurance Co., 4 Cent. Law Jour. 463.

Writ of mandamus granted.

NotesEdit

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).