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HANFORD v. DAVIES.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: May 18, 1896.

HANFORD
v.
DAVIES.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON.

Author: Harlan

[ 163 U.S. Page 278]

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

As it appears from the bill that the plaintiffs and the defendants are all citizens of the State of Washington, the Circuit Court was without jurisdiction unless the suit was one arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States.

The bill proceeds upon the ground that the orders of the probate court, resulting in the sale of the lands in controversy as the property of Lumley Franklin, and in the conveyance of 1888 to the defendant Davies, impaired the obligation of the alleged contract with the Territory as evidenced by the deed of 1878 to Thaddeus Hanford. But it was not alleged in the bill that the proceedings in the probate court were had under any statute that was repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, or which was enacted after the sale and conveyance of these lands by the Territory to Thaddeus Hanford. The prohibition upon the passage of state laws impairing the obligation of contracts has reference only to the laws, that is, to the constitutional provisions or to the legislative enactments, of a State, and not to judicial decisions or the acts of state tribunals or officers under statutes in force at the time of the making of the contract the obligation of which is alleged to have been impaired. Railroad Co. v. Rock, 4 Wall. 177; Lehigh Water Co. v. Easton, 121 U.S. 388; Wood v. Brady, 150 U.S. 18; Central Land Co. v. Laidley, 159 U.S. 103. Therefore, even if it be assumed that the plaintiff had a contract with the Territory, and even if it were

[ 163 U.S. Page 279]

     further assumed that the constitutional provision in question applied to the legislative enactments of a Territory, the court below was without jurisdiction, so far as it depended upon the application of the clause of the Constitution protecting the obligation of contracts against impairment by state laws.

But it is contended that the proceedings in the probate court did not constitute due process of law, and for that reason this suit is one arising under the Constitution of the United States. No such thought was intended to be expressed in the bill, and it is apparent that no such proposition was presented to the Circuit Court when it determined the question of jurisdiction. The suggestion of the want of due process of law in the proceedings in the probate court, first distinctly appears in the assignment of errors filed in the court below long after the final decree was entered.

It is true the bill alleges that the probate court in all of its proceedings acted "entirely without jurisdiction and without color of authority save as the agent and organ of said Territory." But this allegation of want of jurisdiction in the probate court is too general and indefinite to show that its proceedings were wanting in due process of law. If the purpose was to present a case under the clause of the Constitution relating to due process of law, the grounds upon which the Federal court could take cognizance of a suit of that character between citizens of the same State should have been clearly and distinctly stated in the bill. It is well settled that, as the jurisdiction of a Circuit Court of the United States is limited in the sense that it has no other jurisdiction than that conferred by the Constitution and laws of the United States, the presumption is that a cause is without its jurisdiction unless the contrary affirmatively appears; and that it is not sufficient that jurisdiction may be inferred argumentatively from averments in the pleadings, but the averments should be positive. Brown v. Keene, 8 Pet. 112; Grace v. American Central Ins. Co., 109 U.S. 278, 283, and authorities cited. These principles have been applied in cases where the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court was invoked upon the ground

[ 163 U.S. Page 280]

     of diverse citizenship. But they are equally applicable where its original jurisdiction of a suit between citizens of the same State is invoked upon the ground that the suit is one arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States. We are not required to say that it is essential to the maintenance of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of such a suit that the pleadings should refer, in words, to the particular clause of the Constitution relied on to sustain the claim of immunity in question, but only that the essential facts averred must show, not by inference or argumentatively, but clearly and distinctly, that the suit is one of which the Circuit Court is entitled to take cognizance. Ansbro v. United States, 159 U.S. 695.

Without expressing any opinion as to the effect of the proceedings in the probate court and the sale by the administrator Hall upon the rights acquired by the plaintiff under the tax sale at which Thaddeus Hanford purchased, we adjudge that the court below properly sustained the demurrer for want of jurisdiction, and, therefore, did not err in dismissing the bill.

Judgment affirmed.

18960518

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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