Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


decided: November 9, 1936.



Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Roberts, Cardozo; Stone took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Cardozo

[ 299 U.S. Page 111]

 MR. JUSTICE CARDOZO delivered the opinion of the Court.

Whether a federal court has jurisdiction of this suit as one arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States is the single question here.

Petitioner, plaintiff in the court below, sued the respondent in a state court in Mississippi to recover a money judgment. The following facts appear on the face of the complaint: In June, 1931, the assets of the First National Bank of Meridian, a national banking association, were conveyed to the respondent, the First National Bank in Meridian, under a contract whereby the debts and liabilities of the grantor, insolvent at the time and in the hands of a receiver, were assumed by the grantee, which covenanted to pay them. Among the debts and liabilities so assumed were moneys owing to the petitioner, the state Collector of Taxes, or now claimed to be owing to him, for state, county, city, and school district taxes. In form the assessment was imposed upon the shares or capital stock of the bank, its surplus and undivided profits, exclusive of the value of the real estate. In law, so the pleader states, all taxes thus assessed were debts owing by the shareholders, which the bank was under a duty to pay as their agent out of moneys belonging to them, then in its possession.

[ 299 U.S. Page 112]

     The new bank, in violation of its covenant, failed to pay the taxes of the old bank, which it had thus assumed and made its own. Judgment is demanded for the moneys due under the contract.

A petition was filed by the respondent for the removal of the cause to the federal court upon the ground that the suit was one arising "under the Constitution or laws of the United States." Judicial Code § 28, 28 U. S. C. § 71; cf. Judicial Code § 24 (1) (a), 28 U. S. C. § 41. The state court made an order accordingly, and the federal District Court denied a motion to remand. Later, after a trial upon the merits, the complaint was dismissed. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment of dismissal, overruling the objection that the cause was one triable in the courts of Mississippi. 81 F.2d 502. The decision was put upon the ground that the power to lay a tax upon the shares of national banks has its origin and measure in the provisions of a federal statute (R.S. § 5219, 12 U. S. C. § 548), and that by necessary implication a plaintiff counts upon the statute in suing for the tax. Because of the importance of the ruling, this Court granted certiorari, "limited to the question of the jurisdiction of the District Court."

How and when a case arises "under the Constitution or laws of the United States" has been much considered in the books. Some tests are well established. To bring a case within the statute, a right or immunity created by the Constitution or laws of the United States must be an element, and an essential one, of the plaintiff's cause of action. Starin v. New York, 115 U.S. 248, 257; First National Bank v. Williams, 252 U.S. 504, 512. The right or immunity must be such that it will be supported if the Constitution or laws of the United States are given one construction or effect, and defeated if they receive another. Ibid; King County v. Seattle School District, 263 U.S. 361, 363, 364.

[ 299 U.S. Page 113]

     A genuine and present controversy, not merely a possible or conjectural one, must exist with reference thereto (New Orleans v. Benjamin, 153 U.S. 411, 424; Defiance Water Co. v. Defiance, 191 U.S. 184, 191; Joy v. St. Louis, 201 U.S. 332; Denver v. New York Trust Co., 229 U.S. 123, 133), and the controversy must be disclosed upon the face of the complaint, unaided by the answer or by the petition for removal. Tennessee v. Union & Planters Bank, 152 U.S. 454; Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149; The Fair v. Kohler Die & Specialty Co., 228 U.S. 22, 25; Taylor v. Anderson, 234 U.S. 74. Indeed, the complaint itself will not avail as a basis of jurisdiction in so far as it goes beyond a statement of the plaintiff's cause of action and anticipates or replies to a probable defense. Devine v. Los Angeles, 202 U.S. 313, 334; The Fair v. Kohler Die & Specialty Co., supra.

Looking backward we can see that the early cases were less exacting than the recent ones in respect of some of these conditions. If a federal right was pleaded, the question was not always asked whether it was likely to be disputed. This is seen particularly in suits by or against a corporation deriving its charter from an act of Congress. Osborn v. Bank of the United States, 9 Wheat. 738, 817-828; Pacific Railroad Removal Cases, 115 U.S. 1, 11. Modern statutes have greatly diminished the importance of those decisions by narrowing their scope. Gay v. Ruff, 292 U.S. 25, 35; Puerto Rico v. Russell & Co., 288 U.S. 476, 483. Federal incorporation is now abolished as a ground of federal jurisdiction except where the United States holds more than one-half the stock. Act of ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.