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ST. LOUIS AND SAN FRANCISCO RAILWAY COMPANY v. MCBRIDE

decided: May 25, 1891.

ST. LOUIS AND SAN FRANCISCO RAILWAY COMPANY
v.
MCBRIDE



ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS.

Author: Brewer

[ 141 U.S. Page 127]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

This was an action commenced by the filing of a complaint on September 19, 1890, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Arkansas. The defendants in error were plaintiffs below. They alleged that they were respectively the widow and children of James A. McBride, deceased, and his next of kin and heirs at law, and that there were no personal representatives of the said deceased. They further alleged that they were citizens and residents of the Western District of Arkansas; that the railway defendant was a corporation and citizen of the State of Missouri, doing business in the State of Arkansas and the Indian Territory, owning, maintaining and operating a line of railway through said States and Territory; that on the 20th day of July, 1890,

[ 141 U.S. Page 128]

     the deceased, James A. McBride, was in the employ of defendant; and that on that day, and in the Indian Territory, while at work as a brakeman on a freight train, he was, through the negligence of said defendant, so injured that on the 22d day of July he died. The complaint further disclosed the circumstances under which the accident occurred; alleged the dependence of the plaintiffs upon the deceased for support: and prayed judgment for twenty thousand dollars damages.

The record contains no process, or service thereof. On the 4th day of November, 1890, the defendant filed a demurrer, on three grounds, as follow: "1st. Because the court has no jurisdiction of the person of the defendant. 2d. Because the court has no jurisdiction of the subject matter of the action. 3d. Because the complaint does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action." This demurrer was overruled; and in January, 1891, a trial was had, resulting in a verdict for plaintiffs in the sum of four thousand dollars. No answer appears in the record, though it is proper to say that counsel for defendants in error, in their brief, state that service of process was made upon the defendant by delivering a copy to its station agent at Fort Smith, Arkansas; and that an answer was filed denying the defendant's negligence, and setting up also contributory negligence on the part of the deceased, but not denying any of the allegations in respect to the citizenship and residence of the parties. The fact of an answer seems also to be implied from the record of the trial, which recites that "after all the evidence had been introduced by both parties to maintain their respective issues, etc." Judgment was entered on the verdict for the sum of four thousand dollars, and of this judgment plaintiff in error complains.

As the judgment did not exceed five thousand dollars, the case can only come to this court on the question of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court. 25 Stat. 693, c. 236; McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. v. Walthers, 134 U.S. 41.

The action was one to recover money, the sum claimed being in excess of two thousand dollars, and was between citizens of different States, and was brought in the district and State of the residence of the plaintiffs. It was a case, therefore,

[ 141 U.S. Page 129]

     within the general jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts of the United States, under section 1 of chapter 866, 25 Stat. 433; and if the jurisdiction was founded only on the fact that the action was between citizens of different States it was brought in the Circuit Court of a proper district.

The contention of plaintiff in error is, that the jurisdiction is not founded only on the matter of diverse citizenship, but that it is an action based upon a statute of the United States, and to enforce a right given solely by such statute, and is therefore one which must be brought in the district of which the defendant was an inhabitant. Its contention goes further than this. It insists that under a proper construction of the United States statutes there was no cause of action existing in favor of the plaintiffs. It will be observed that the action is one to recover damages for the wrongful acts of defendant, in causing the death of the husband and father of the respective plaintiffs. Such an action did not survive at common law. The wrongful acts of defendant were done in the Indian Territory. On May 2, 1890, an act was passed by Congress with respect to the Territory of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory. Act of May 2, 1890, 26 Stat. 81, c. 182. The 31st section extended over the Indian Territory the provisions of certain specified statutes of Arkansas, among them one chapter relating to "pleadings and practice, chapter 119;" and in that chapter, by sections 5225 and 5226, it is provided that in case of injuries causing death, a right of action survives, the statute being substantially like that now in force in most States of the Union. The plaintiff in error contends that the effect of the act of Congress extending this chapter over the Indian Territory was not to put in force therein all its sections, but only those relating to pleadings and practice; and that, therefore, there being no other law than the common law in force in the Indian Territory, the complaint stated no cause of action. And further, as heretofore stated, that, if those sections in respect to the surviving of actions were extended to the Territory, the action was founded on the statute of the United States alone, and such an action must be brought in the district of which the defendant is an inhabitant.

[ 141 U.S. Page 130]

     The first of these questions is not open to inquiry in this case. The complaint making no reference to the Federal statute, alleges wrongful acts on the part of the defendant, and prays to recover damages therefor. Whether upon those facts the plaintiffs are entitled to recover is not a matter of jurisdiction, but one of the merits of the controversy. Suppose in a State where there is no statute providing for the surviving of such an action a suit is brought by the widow and children of a deceased person, alleging that his death was caused by the wrongful act of the defendant, and the defendant having been served with process enters its appearance and denies all liability, and the trial court improperly holds that there was liability and renders judgment for damages, is there anything other than a matter of erroneous ruling upon the merits? Could it be held that the court had no jurisdiction, no right to hear and determine the controversy between the parties? So, here, whether there was or was not a statute in force in the Indian Territory, providing that an action should survive in case of death, and whether upon the facts stated in the complaint the plaintiffs had ...


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