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HOWARD v. DE CORDOVA.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: May 14, 1900.

HOWARD
v.
DE CORDOVA.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS.

Author: White

[ 177 U.S. Page 613]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

That the court erred in sustaining the demurrer and dismissing the suit for want of jurisdiction over the subject-matter of the controversy, has been in effect conclusively settled by this court in a case decided since the action of the court below was taken. Cooper v. Newell, 173 U.S. 555. In that case suit had been brought in a court of the State of Texas in the ordinary form of trespass, to try title by Peter McGrael against Stewart Newell, the defendant. It was alleged in the suit that the plaintiff was a resident of Texas, and that the defendant was also a resident and citizen of that State. An answer was filed in the cause by an attorney at law in the name of the defendant, and the suit proceeded to judgment. The controversy decided in Cooper v. Newell thus arose: Newell filed his bill in the Circuit Court of the United States in and for the Eastern District of Texas, in the ordinary form of trespass, to try title to recover the land to which the suit of McGrael v. Newell had related. He charged that the defendants claimed title under the judgment rendered in that suit, but that they had no title because he, Newell, had never resided in the State of Texas; had not authorized any attorney to appear for him in the suit, and that, therefore, the proceedings in McGrael v. Newell were as to him res inter alios acta, and wholly void. The controversy turned on whether Newell could be heard in the Circuit Court of the United States to attack the judgment of the state court, it being contended that the fact that Newell was represented by an attorney at law, who appeared and filed an answer in his name, was conclusively established by the judgment, which could not be assailed collaterally in a court of the United States, however much it might be subject to direct attack for fraud in the courts of the State of Texas. The contentiou was

[ 177 U.S. Page 614]

     not maintained, it being decided that as the charges went to the jurisdiction of the state court such question of jurisdiction could be examined in the courts of the United States whenever the judgment of the state court was presented as a muniment of title. The alleged facts in the case before us bring it directly within this ruling. By chapter 95, sections 13 and 14, Laws of Texas 1847 and 1848, page 129, the affidavit by the plaintiff or his attorney as to the want of knowledge of the names of the parties defendant or their residences, is made an essential prerequisite of the jurisdiction of the court to issue an order for publication. In other words, a summons by publication can only take place when the essential affidavit is previously made. In the state court the affidavit was therefore jurisdictional in its character; and its verity was directly assailed by the averments of the present bill which were admitted by the demurrer. Besides this decisive consideration, the proceedings in the state court, whatever may have been their efficacy as a defence to the charges of fraud contained in the bill, as to which we express no opinion, were not adequate to defeat the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of the United States. In other wordss, they address themselves not to the jurisdiction of the court, but to the merits of the cause. Huntington v. Laidley, 176 U.S. 668.

Whilst the demurrer which the court below maintained was predicated solely on the fact that there was a want of jurisdiction because of the proceedings had in the state court, which the bill assailed for want of jurisdiction and fraud, we have observed that the citizenship of Smolenski is not averred in the bill. This defect was curable by amendment, and it was not only within the power but the duty of the court, on its attention being called to the fact, to have allowed such an amendment to be made. It follows that

The judgment must be reversed and the cause be remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion, and it is so ordered.

19000514

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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