In re Christensen Engineering Company/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

194 U.S. 458

In re Christensen Engineering Company

 Argued: April 25, 1904. --- Decided: May 31, 1904

The examination in Bessette v. W. B. Conkey Co. just decided (194 U.S. 324, ante, p. 665, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 665), of the right of review in contempt cases, precludes the necessity of extended discussion.

In that case Bessette was not a party to the suit, and the controversy had been settled by a final decree, from which, so far as appeared, no appeal had been taken. He was found guilty of contempt of court, and a fine of $250 imposed, payable to the United States, with costs.

In this case the Christensen Engineering Company was a party. The contempt was disobedience of preliminary injunction, and the judgment in contempt was intermediate the preliminary injunction and the decree making it permanent. The fine was payable, one half to the United States, and the other half to the complainant.

The distinction between a proceeding in which a fine is imposed by way of compensation to the party injured by the disobedience, and where it is by way of punishment for an act done in contempt of the power and authority of the court, is pointed out in Bessette's Case, and disclosed by some of the cases referred to in the opinion.

In New Orleans v. New York Mail S. S.C.o. 20 Wall. 387, 22 L. ed. 354, the act in contempt was by one not then a party to the suit. No order was entered against him until the final decree in the case, and then he was punished for the act of disobedience, purely as an act of a criminal nature, and without compensation to the plaintiff in whose favor the injunction was originally ordered. No review under the then-existing law was allowable. In Hayes v. Fischer, 102 U.S. 121, 26 L. ed. 95, the contempt proceeding was remedial and compensatory, and the entire amount of the fine was ordered paid to the plaintiff in reimbursement. It was held that, if the remedial feature was alone to be considered, and the proceeding regarded as a part of the suit, it could not be brought to this court by writ of error, but could only be corrected on appeal from the final decree; if to be regarded as a criminal action, then it was one of which this court had no jurisdiction, either by writ of error or appeal. In Ex parte Debs, 159 U.S. 251, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1039, there was nothing of a remedial or compensatory nature. No fine was imposed, but only a sentence of imprisonment. This court had no jurisdiction of a writ of error in such a case. And see O'Neal v. United States, 190 U.S. 36, 47 L. ed. 945, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 776. In Worden v. Searls, 121 U.S. 14, 30 L. ed. 853, 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 814, the proceeding was remedial and compensatory, in that for violations of a preliminary injunction the defendants were ordered to pay the plaintiff $250 'as a fine for said violation,' by one order, and, by another order, to pay a fine of $1,182 to the clerk, to be paid over by him to the plaintiff for 'damages and costs,' the $1,182 being made up of $682 profits made by the infringement, and $500 expenses of plaintiff in the contempt proceedings. These interlocutory orders were reviewed by this court on appeal from the final decree, and as that decree was reversed, the orders were also set aside, this being done 'without prejudice to the power and right of the circuit court to punish the contempt referred to in those orders, by a proper proceeding.' It was also said 'that, though the proceedings were nominally those of contempt, they were really proceedings to award damages to the plaintiff, and to reimburse to him his expenses.'

These authorities show that when an order imposing a fine for violation of an injunction is substantially one to reimburse the party injured by the disobedience, although called one in a contempt proceeding, it is to be regarded as merely an interlocutory order, and to be reviewed only on appeal from the final decree.

In the present case, however, the fine payable to the United States was clearly punitive and in vindication of the authority of the court, and, we think, as such, it dominates the proceeding, and fixes its character. Considered in that aspect, the writ of error was justified, and the Circuit Court of Appeals should have taken jurisdiction.

Petitioner entitled to mandamus.

Notes Edit

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).

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