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MYERS ET AL. v. UNITED STATES.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: February 18, 1924.

MYERS ET AL
v.
UNITED STATES.

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI.

Author: Mcreynolds

[ 264 U.S. Page 100]

 MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Plaintiffs in error challenged the jurisdiction of the court below -- United States District Court, Western Division of the Western District of Missouri -- to try and punish them for disobeying its order, upon the ground that the contumacious acts occurred in another division of the district Only the question of jurisdiction is here.

An information charged that plaintiffs in error wilfully disobeyed the injunction lawfully issued in equity cause, St. Louis, San Francisco Railway Company, Complainant, v. International Association of Machinists, et al., Defendants, pending in the Western Division of the Western District

[ 264 U.S. Page 101]

     of Missouri, by attempting, within the Southwestern Division of the same district, to prevent certain railroad employees from continuing at work. The order ran against men on strike, and the cause is treated as one within the purview of the Clayton Act (October 15, 1914, c. 323; 38 Stat. 730).Sections 21, 22, 24 and 25 of that act are set out below.*fn1

Counsel for plaintiffs in error maintain that ordinary contempts punishable by courts of equity without trial by jury differ radically from the "statutory contempt" here disclosed, which, under the Clayton Act, must be dealt with as a criminal offense. And they insist that §§ 51, 52

[ 264 U.S. Page 102]

     and 53, Judicial Code, control the venue when such "statutory contempt" is alleged.

Section 51 provides that, with certain exceptions, "no person shall be arrested in one district for trial in another, in any civil action before a district court." . . . Section 52. "When a State contains more than one district, every suit not of a local nature, in the district court thereof, against a single defendant, inhabitant of such State, must be brought in the district where he resides; but if there are two or more defendants, residing in different districts of the State, it may be brought in either district, and a duplicate writ may be issued against the defendants, directed to the marshal of any other district in which any defendant resides." . . . Section 53. "When a district

[ 264 U.S. Page 103]

     contains more than one division, every suit not of a local nature against a single defendant must be brought in the division where he resides; but if there are two or more defendants residing in different divisions of the district it may be brought in either division. . . . All prosecutions for crimes or offenses shall be had within the division of such districts where the same were committed, unless the court, or the judge thereof, upon the application of the defendant, shall order the cause to be transferred for prosecution to another division of the district."

None of the cited Code sections makes specific reference to contempt proceedings. These are sui generis -- neither civil actions nor prosecutions for offenses, within the ordinary meaning of those terms -- and exertions of the power inherent in all courts to enforce obedience, something they must possess in order properly to perform their functions. Bessette v. W.B. Conkey Co., 194 U.S. 324, 326.

[ 264 U.S. Page 104]

     To disobey a judicial order is not declared criminal by the Clayton Act. It recognizes that such disobedience may be contempt and, having prescribed limitations, leaves the court to deal with the offender. While it gives the right to trial by jury and restricts the punishment, it also clearly recognizes the distinction between "proceeding for contempt" and "criminal prosecution." "No proceeding for contempt shall be instituted against any person unless egun within one year from the date of the act complained of; nor shall any such proceeding be a bar to any criminal prosecution for the same act or acts." § 25.

The Clayton Act says nothing about venue in contempt proceedings; leaves it as theretofore. The power of the court below to issue the enjoining order is not questioned. By disobeying the order, plaintiffs in error defied an authority which that tribunal was required to vindicate. It followed established practice, as modified by the statute; and we think the objections to its jurisdiction are unsubstantial.

The following cases are in point: Eilenbecker v. District Court of Plymouth County, 134 U.S. 31, 35, et seq.; Interstate Commerce Commission v. Brimson, 154 U.S. 447, 489; In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564, 594, 596, 599; Bessette v. W.B. Conkey Co., supra, pp. 326, 327; Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 441, 450; Binkley v. United States, 282 Fed. 244; McGibbony v. Lancaster, 286 Fed. 129; Dunham v. United States, 289 Fed. 376; McCourtney v. United States 291 Fed. 497.

Gompers v. United States, 233 U.S. 604, does not support the claim that the challenged contempt proceedings amounted to prosecution for a criminal offense within the intendment of § 53, Judicial Code. While contempt may be an offense against the law and subject to appropriate punishment, certain it is that since the foundation of our government proceedings to punish such offenses have been

[ 264 U.S. Page 105]

     regarded as sui generis and not "criminal prosecutions" within the Sixth Amendment or common understanding.

The judgment below must be affirmed.


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