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PORTO RICO RAILWAY v. MOR

June 1, 1920

PORTO RICO RAILWAY, LIGHT & POWER COMPANY
v.
MOR



CERTIFICATE FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

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

Author: Brandeis

[ 253 U.S. Page 345]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the court.

Mor, a subject of the King of Spain, domiciled in Porto Rico, brought in the United States District Court for

[ 253 U.S. Page 346]

     Porto Rico this action at law for an amount exceeding $3,000, exclusive of interest and costs, against the Porto Rico Railway, Light and Power Company, a Porto Rico corporation having its principal place of business there. Objection to the jurisdiction of the trial court was overruled and the plaintiff recovered judgment. The case came before the Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on writ of error and that court has presented to us by certificate the question whether the District Court had jurisdiction. The answer depends upon the construction to be given to the following provision contained in § 41 of the so-called Jones Act of March 2, 1917, c. 145, 39 Stat. 951, 965, which provides a civil government for Porto Rico:

"Said district court shall have jurisdiction of all controversies where all of the parties on either side of the controversy are citizens or subjects of a foreign State or States, or citizens of a State, Territory, or District of the United States not domiciled in Porto Rico, wherein the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of interest or cost, the sum or value of $3,000. . . ."

It is clear under this act that if Mor, instead of being a Spanish subject, had been a citizen of one of the United States, the court would not have had jurisdiction since he was domiciled in Porto Rico. The precise question, therefore, is whether the restriction of jurisdiction to cases where all the parties on either side of the controversy are "not domiciled in Porto Rico" applies to aliens as well as to American citizens.

The judicial system of Porto Rico prior to annexation to the United States comprised a Supreme Court and district trial courts of general jurisdiction and municipal courts. The proceedings in all of these courts were conducted in the Spanish language and according to the forms of the civil law. By § 33 of the Foraker Act, April 12, 1900, c. 191, 31 Stat. 77, 84, which established what was intended

[ 253 U.S. Page 347]

     as a temporary civil government for the island, these insular courts were continued, with the proviso that the judges of the Supreme Court should be appointed by the President, and the judges of the inferior courts by the Governor. By § 40 of the Jones Act the jurisdiction of these courts and the forms of procedure in them were further continued.

The "District Court of the United States for Porto Rico" provided for by § 41 of the Jones Act was, in effect, a continuation of the district court of the United States provided for by § 34 of the Foraker Act, as amended by the Act of March 2, 1901, c. 812, § 3, 31 Stat. 953.*fn1 Both acts conferred upon the court jurisdiction of all cases cognizable in circuit or district courts of the United States; the court is by both directed to proceed in the same manner as those courts; and in both there is an express provision that the pleadings and all proceedings shall be conducted in the English language. But the Jones Act greatly abridged the jurisdiction. The jurisdictional amount, which by the amendatory Act of March 2, 1901, had been lowered to $1,000, was raised to $3,000. And, whereas by the amendment of 1901 the court had been given jurisdiction in case either party was a citizen of the United States, even if he was domiciled in Porto ...


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