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DE REES v. COSTAGUTA ET AL.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


December 6, 1920

DE REES
v.
COSTAGUTA ET AL., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CO-PARTNERS COMPOSING THE CO-PARTNERSHIP OF DAVID COSTAGUTA AND COMPANY, ET AL.

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds, Brandeis, Clarke

Author: Day

[ 254 U.S. Page 169]

 MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the court.

The appellant, plaintiff below, a resident and citizen of the State of New Jersey, filed a bill of complaint against David Costaguta, Marcos A. Algiers, Alejandro Sassoeli, Eugenio Ottolenghi, individually, and as co-partners composing the firm of David Costaguta & Company, asserting that they, and each of them, were aliens, and residents of the Republic of Argentine, South America. The bill joined as defendants Renado Taffell, a British subject, resident of New York and the Southern District thereof, and the American-European Trading Corporation, organized under the laws of New York.

The bill sets forth at length a contract whereby it is alleged that a co-partnership was formed between the plaintiff and David Costaguta & Company for the buying and selling of hosiery. The bill alleges that to carry the contract into effect a place of business was established in New York City; that disagreements arose between the parties; that plaintiff elected to terminate the contract and demanded a liquidation of the merchandise and an accounting; that the firm of David Costaguta & Company caused the American-European Corporation to be organized under the laws of New York and that said firm caused certain assets of the co-partnership to be transferred to the corporation in fraud of the plaintiff, and which assets, it was alleged, were within the territorial jurisdiction of

[ 254 U.S. Page 170]

     the Southern District of New York. Plaintiff prayed a dissolution of the alleged co-partnership; the liquidation of the property thereof; that the non-resident defendants account for their acts and transactions, and that it be established what sum, if any, remained due to the plaintiff; that the plaintiff be decreed to have a lien upon all of the property of the defendants and on the property and assets of the American-European Trading Corporation; that a receiver pendente lite be named. An order was prayed for the delivery of the property to the receiver, and an injunction to restrain its transfer or disposition. A temporary restraining order was asked, pending the hearing and the return of the rule nisi, prohibiting in any manner or form interference with the property, or removing the same from the jurisdiction of the court. An order was issued requiring the defendants to show cause why such receiver pendente lite should not be appointed, and the defendants required to transfer the property to such receiver, and enjoining them from otherwise transferring the same. The subpoena and order for the rule were served on the resident defendants American-European Trading Corporation and Taffell. Plaintiff then procured an order for service upon the non-resident defendants by publication under § 57 of the Judicial Code. The non-resident defendants filed a special appearance for the purpose of asking the court to quash and set aside the order for service by publication, and for an order requiring the plaintiff to show cause why an order should not be made vacating and setting aside the service by publication, and also to vacate, quash and set aside certain alleged service on an agent of the firm in the Southern District of New York. A motion was also made by the American-European Trading Corporation and Taffell, by special appearance, for the purpose of opposing the jurisdiction. The District Court denied the plaintiff's motion for an injunction and receiver, and granted the non-resident

[ 254 U.S. Page 171]

     defendants' motion to vacate the order for service by publication. This resulted in the dismissal of the plaintiff's bill by final decree, and the case was brought here by the plaintiff under § 238 of the Judicial Code upon the question of jurisdiction of the court.

The District Judge after entering the decrees of dismissal made a certificate as follows:

"I hereby certify that said decrees were entered solely because the case as made by the bill did not set forth a legal or equitable claim to or lien on the property in the district, of which this court would have jurisdiction within the meaning of Section 57 of the Judicial Code, or in which this court could render a judgment otherwise than a judgment in personam against the non-resident aliens who appeared specially and objected to the jurisdiction of the court."

The Judge also delivered an opinion, which is in the record, holding that under the terms of the contract the plaintiff had no right in the assets as such, and no partner's lien upon the property, but was confined to his rights in personam against the firm, and that, therefore, there could be no service by publication under § 57 of the Judicial Code. That section is a reenactment of § 8 of the Act of March 3, 1875, c. 137, 18 Stat. 472. It provides for service by publication when in any suit commenced in any district court of the United States to enforce any legal or equitable lien upon, or claim to, or to remove any incumbrance or lien or cloud upon the title to real or personal property within the district where such suit is brought, one or more of the defendants therein shall not be an inhabitant of or found within the said district, or shall not voluntarily appear thereto.*fn1

Section 238 of the Judicial Code provides that, the case

[ 254 U.S. Page 172]

     being one in which the jurisdiction of the court is in issue, that question shall be certified to this court.

The appellees challenge the jurisdiction of this court to entertain this appeal on the ground that the case does not present a jurisdictional issue properly reviewable by this court.

[ 254 U.S. Page 173]

     Since the decision of Shepard v. Adams, 168 U.S. 618, it has been the accepted doctrine that where there is a contention that no valid service of process has been made upon the defendant, and the judgment is rendered without jurisdiction over the person, such judgment can be reviewed by direct appeal to this court. This principle was restated and previous cases cited as late as Merriam & Co. v. Saalfield, 241 U.S. 22, 26.

It is equally well settled that, where the question of jurisdiction presented and decided turns upon questions of general law, determinable upon principles alike applicable to actions brought in other jurisdictions, the jurisdiction of the court as a federal court is not presented in suchwise as to authorize the jurisdictional appeal directly to this court; and the question must be decided as other questions are, by the usual course of appellate procedure, giving review in the Circuit Court of Appeals. Louisville Trust Co. v. Knott, 191 U.S. 225; Bache v. Hunt, 193 U.S. 523; Fore River Shipbuilding Co. v. Hagg, 219 U.S. 175; Scully v. Bird, 209 U.S. 481, 485; Bogart v. Southern Pacific Co., 228 U.S. 137.

That the question of the adequacy of the allegations of the bill to justify the relief sought does not present a jurisdictional question was held in Smith v. McKay, 161 U.S. 355; Illinois Central R.R. Co. v. Adams, 180 U.S. 28; Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 234 U.S. 369, 372; Darnell v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 225 U.S. 243; Public Service Co. v. Corboy, 250 U.S. 153, 162.

The opinion of the court below, read in connection with the certificate, shows that it was held that the contract set up in the bill gave no lien upon or right in rem in the assets sought to be reached within the district. The question was presented, the court in the exercise of jurisdiction, after an examination of the contract set forth in the bill and a consideration of its terms, determined it

[ 254 U.S. Page 174]

     upon principles which would have been equally applicable had the question been presented in other jurisdictions. Its decision, therefore, did not involve the jurisdiction of the federal court as such, which, it is settled, is required in order to justify a direct appeal to this court.

In Chase v. Wetzlar, 225 U.S. 79, the Act of March 3, 1875, now § 57 of the Judicial Code, was involved, and there was an attempt to have service on alien defendants by publication under the provisions of the statute. The issue made was as to whether there was property of the defendants within the jurisdiction of the court. That issue was held to present a question of jurisdiction properly reviewable in this court under § 238. In the case now presented no question is made as to the presence of property in the district. The attempted service was set aside, and the bill dismissed, upon consideration of the allegations of the bill which, it was held, upon application of general principles, did not show that the plaintiff had any lien upon or interest in the property authorizing him to invoke the procedure outlined in § 57 of the Judicial Code.

As to the contention that the whole case is here upon a constitutional question because of the procedure in the court below, § 238 provides that when a case comes here upon a question of jurisdiction, that question alone shall be certified. Moreover, we find no merit in the alleged deprivation of constitutional rights so as to present questions arising under the Constitution.

It follows that the appeal must be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

Dismissed.


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