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decided: December 17, 1900.



Author: Brown

[ 179 U.S. Page 406]

 MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The prime object of all litigation is to establish a right asserted by the plaintiff or to sustain a defence set up by the party pursued. Save in a few instances where, by statute or the settled practice of the courts, the plaintiff is permitted to sue for the benefit of another, he is bound to show an interest in the suit personal to himself, and even in a proceeding which he prosecutes for the benefit of the public, as, for example, in cases of nuisance, he must generally aver an injury peculiar to himself, as distinguished from the great body of his fellow citizens.

[ 179 U.S. Page 407]

     The very first general rule laid down by Chitty, Pleading, p. 1, is that "the action should be brought in the name of the party whose legal right has been affected, against the party who committed or caused the injury, or by or against his personal representative." An action on contract (p. 2) "must be brought in the name of the party in whom the legal interest in such contract was vested;" and an action of tort (p. 69) "in the name of the person whose legal right has been affected, and who is legally interested in the property at the time the injury thereto was committed." As stated by another writer: "No one can be a party to an action if he has no interest in it. A plaintiff cannot properly sue for wrongs that do not affect him, and on the other hand, a person is not properly made a defendant to a suit upon a cause of action in which he has no interest, and as to which no relief is sought against him." In familiar illustration of this rule, the plaintiff in an action of ejectment must recover upon the strength of his own title and not upon the weakness of the defendant's, who may even show title in a third person to defeat the action.

Actions instituted in this court by writ of error to a state court are no exceptions to this rule. In order that the validity of a state statute may be "drawn in question" under the second clause of section 709, Rev. Stat., it must appear that the plaintiff in error has a right to draw it in question by reason of an interest in the litigation which has suffered, or may suffer, by the decision of the state court in favor of the validity of the statute. This principle has been announced in so many cases in this court that it may not be considered an open question.

In Owings v. Norwood's Lessee, 5 Cranch, 344, an action of ejectment, defendant set up an outstanding title in one Scarth, a British subject, who held a mortgage upon the premises. The decision of the court being adverse to Owings, he sued out a a writ of error from this court, contending that Scarth's title was protected by the treaty with Great Britain. It was held that, as the defendant claimed no right under the treaty himself, and that the right of Scarth, if he had any, was not affected by the decision of the case, the court had no jurisdiction. "If," the court said, "he [the defendant] claims nothing under

[ 179 U.S. Page 408]

     a treaty, his title cannot be protected by the treaty. If Scarth or his heirs had claimed it would have been a case arising under a treaty. But neither the title of Scarth nor of any person claiming under him can be affected by the decision of this court."

In Henderson v. Tennessee, 10 How. 311, a similar case, namely, an action of ejectment, an outstanding title in a third person, was set up by the defendant, and alleged to have been derived under a treaty. The court held that an outstanding title in a third person might be set up, and that the title set up in this case was claimed under a treaty, "but," said the court, "to give jurisdiction to this court, the party must claim for himself, and not for a third person in whose title he has no interest. . . . The heirs of Miller," who claimed under the treaty, "appear to have no interest in this suit, nor can their rights be affected by the decision." Like rulings were made under a similar state to facts in Montgomery v. Hernandez, 12 Wheat. 129; Hale v. Gaines, 22 How. 144; Verden v. Coleman, 1 Black 472; and Long v. Converse, 91 U.S. 105.

In Giles v. Little, 134 U.S. 645, the prior authorities are cited, and the law treated as well settled that "in order to give this court jurisdiction to review a judgment of a state court against a title or right set up or claimed under a statute of, or an authority exercised under, the United States, that title or right must be one of the plaintiff in error, and not of a third person only." See also Ludeling v. Chaffe, 143 U.S. 301.

It is true that under the third clause of section 709, where a title, right, privilege or immunity is claimed under Federal law, such title, etc., must be "specially set up or claimed," and that no such provision is made as to cases within the second clause, involving the constitutionality of state statutes or authorities, but it is none the less true that the authority of such statute must "be drawn in question" by some one who has been affected by the decision of a state court in favor of its validity, and that in this particular the three clauses of the section are practically identical.

As we had occasion to observe in California v. San Pablo & Tulare Railroad, 149 U.S. 308, 314, "the duty of this court, as of every judicial tribunal, is limited to determining rights of

[ 179 U.S. Page 409]

     persons or of property, which are actually controverted in the particular case before it. When, in determining such rights, it becomes necessary to give an opinion upon a question of law, that opinion may have weight as a precedent for future decisions. But the court is not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare, for the government of future cases, principles or rules of law which cannot affect the result as to the thing in issue in the case before it. No stipulation of parties, or counsel, whether in the case before the court, or in any other case, can enlarge the ...

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