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decided: June 2, 1919.



Author: Brandeis

[ 250 U.S. Page 310]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the court.

Section 51 of the Judicial Code declares that (with exceptions not here material) "no civil suit shall be brought in any district court against any person by any original process or proceeding in any other district than that whereof he is an inhabitant; but where the jurisdiction is founded only on the fact that the action is between citizens of different States, suit shall be brought only in the district of the residence of either the plaintiff or the defendant."

Resting jurisdiction wholly on diversity of citizenship, Gress, a citizen and resident of Florida, brought, in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Virginia, this action against P. D. Camp, P. R. Camp, and John M. Camp, alleging them to be citizens of Virginia and residents of that district. One of them, John M., filed a "plea to jurisdiction," asking that the suit be dismissed, because he was not a citizen or resident of the district in which it was brought, but a citizen of North Carolina, resident in the Eastern District thereof. P.D. and P.R. Camp filed a separate "plea to jurisdiction" setting up the same facts, alleging that the cause of action sued on was joint and inseparable, and denying jurisdiction as to themselves also, because there was none as to John M. Camp. The pleas were overruled; the case proceeded to trial; a verdict was rendered against the three defendants, and judgment was entered thereon. Exceptions had been duly taken both by John M. and by P. D. and P. R. Camp to the decision overruling their pleas to the jurisdiction, and by the three defendants to certain rulings at the trial alleged to be erroneous; but

[ 250 U.S. Page 311]

     the judgment was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 244 Fed. Rep. 121. A writ of certiorari was granted by this court. 245 U.S. 655.

First. The several defendants below, although not citizens of the same State, were all citizens of States other than that of the plaintiff. Hence, the diversity of citizenship requisite to federal jurisdiction existed. Sweeney v. Carter Oil Co., 199 U.S. 252. The objection of John M. Camp is not to the jurisdiction of a federal court, but to the jurisdiction over him of the court of the particular district; that is, the objection is to the venue. He asserts the personal privilege not to be sued in a district other than that of his residence, since the action is not brought in the district of the plaintiff's residence. If he were a sole defendant, or if none of the defendants resided in the district where suit was brought, the privilege asserted would be supported by the very language of the statute. Macon Grocery Co. v. Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co., 215 U.S. 501. Section 51 of the Judicial Code does not in terms provide for the case where there are several defendants. Does the limitation of jurisdiction to the district of the residence "of either the plaintiff or the defendant" mean also of all the plaintiffs or all the defendants, so that when the several defendants are not all residents of the district in which they are sued, the nonresident may assert the privilege not to be sued therein? The precise question has not been decided by this court; but the construction already given to this section in analogous cases and to analogous provisions in other statutes makes it clear that the privilege asserted should be sustained.

Section 51 of the Judicial Code embodies in substance the Act of March 3, 1887, c. 373, § 1, 24 Stat. 552, as corrected by Act of August 13, 1888, c. 866, § 1, 25 Stat. 433. From the passage of the original Judiciary Act (September 24, 1789, c. 20, § 11, 1 Stat. 73, 79), until 1887, suit could be brought not only in the district of defendant's residence,

[ 250 U.S. Page 312]

     but also in any other district in which the defendant was found. The 1887-1888 act accomplished its purpose of restricting the jurisdiction of the federal courts, in part, by limiting the districts in which suit might be brought to that of the defendant's or of the plaintiff's residence. See In re Keasbey & Mattison Co., 160 U.S. 221, 228. In Smith v. Lyon, 133 U.S. 315, the question was presented whether this limitation prohibited suit in a district in which some, but not all, of the plaintiffs were resident. The court felt itself controlled largely by the construction which had been given in Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 3 Cranch, 267, to a clause of the original Judiciary Act, similar in language and analogous in subject-matter, and had been steadfastly adhered to since. There this court construed the phrase, "where . . . the suit is between a citizen of the State where the suit is brought, and a citizen of another State" as meaning "that where the interest is joint, each of the persons concerned in that interest must be competent to sue, or liable to be sued, in those courts [courts of the United States]." Adopting a like construction, this court held in Smith v. Lyon, supra, that suit could not be brought in a district in which some, but not all, of the plaintiffs resided. The rule declared in Strawbridge v. Curtiss had been applied indiscriminately to plaintiffs and defendants; and after the decision in Smith v. Lyon it was generally assumed in the lower courts that the rule there applied to plaintiffs must likewise be applied to defendants.*fn1 Compare Shaw v. Quincy Mining

[ 250 U.S. Page 313]

     Co., 145 U.S. 444; Geneva Furniture Co. v. Karpen, 238 U.S. 254, 259. The same assumption appears to have been made in Interior Construction and Improvement Co. v. Gibney, 160 U.S. 217, where the question was raised whether the resident defendant could avail himself of the objection that another defendant, who was a nonresident, was not liable to suit therein. And in Ladew v. Tennessee Copper Co., 218 U.S. 357, 364-365, a like rule was applied; for it was there held that, although an alien defendant could be sued in any district where found, an American citizen joined with him as co-defendant could not, without his consent, be sued in a district other than that of his or the plaintiff's residence.

It is said, however, that § 51, if read in connection with § 50 and in the light of their legislative history, shows that it was the intention of Congress to confer jurisdiction over all the defendants found within the district, if one of them resides therein. Section 50,*fn1a which embodies without substantial change the Act of February 28, 1839, c. 36, § 1, 5 Stat. 321, makes provision for enforcing a cause of action which exists against several persons, although one of them is neither an inhabitant of nor found within the district in which suit is brought and does not voluntarily appear. It does so by permitting the court ...

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