Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert (1947)

US Civil Procedure

Gulf Oil Corporation v Gilbert
Image: ‘Leyland Octopus Gulf Oil’ by Mike Jeffries

Choice of venue within a civil action, while enjoyed by claimants for honourable reasons, can sometimes prove destructive to the roots of a claim when the right is abused or exercised in error. In this instance, the want of policy ran risk of disrupting and possibly destroying, the need for redress through the use of established legal doctrine.

In 1944, the appellants supplied a delivery of gasoline to the respondent in Lynchburg, Virginia, whereupon an explosion caused significant damage to the establishment, customers property and pecuniary standing of the proprietor. Upon litigation, the respondent sought damages of around $365,000, and when exercising his civil rights, elected to issue proceedings in the state of New York, as explained under 28 § 1391(b)  U.S.C., which reads:

“A civil action may be brought in (1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located.”

And yet with appreciation that the appellants were based in New York, the court elected to challenge the choice of venue on grounds of ‘forum non conveniens’, which translated that although the claimant had a right to choose the venue best suited to their needs, the location of the actual event, the relevant evidence, potential expedience, lower legal costs and optimal attendance of both jurors and witnesses, demonstrated that the hearing was best heard in Virginia, as opposed to a courtroom almost four-hundred miles away.

Taken to the district appeal court, the decision was reversed back in favour of the claimant, whereupon the matter was further escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of certiorari. Here, it was noted that it was not unusual for claimants to abuse § 1391 by choosing inconvenient forums as a means of vexing and oppressing the defendant, thereby reducing the opportunity of a fair trial, while it also became apparent that on this occasion, the lawyer acting under instruction for the claimant resided in New York, and was retained by the insurance firm for reasons benefiting their own interests, hence arguing strongly in favour of one venue over the other, despite the obvious inconvenience to the claimant.

In light of this glaring disparity, the Court held that there were simply too many reasons for a trial to be held in Virginia, and that despite any contention that the district court had acted ultra vires, the judgment of the appeal court was too narrow an interpretation of the doctrine, and so the decision was reversed with a view to proceedings in Lynchburg on the principle that:

“[T]he doctrine of forum non conveniens can never apply if there is absence of jurisdiction or mistake of venue.”

U.S. v. Carolene Products Co. (1938)

US Constitutional Law

US v Carolene Products Co
Image: ‘Oreo Cookies and Milk’ by Mick McGinty

Amendment rights and the need to protect against fraud, are central to a case involving a distributor of food products and the intervention by Congress in the interests of public safety when in 1938, a corporate entity was indicted under §§ 61 and 62 of the Filled Milk Act 1923.

After having shipped a number of containers of ‘Milnut’, a product that fell within the scope of the Act, and which resulted in a sentence of either imprisonment or a $1000 fine as per § 63, the now appellee was charged with illegal distribution and misrepresentation, within which § 62 clearly expressed how:

“It is declared that filled milk, as herein defined, is an adulterated article of food, injurious to the public health, and its sale constitutes a fraud upon the public. It shall be unlawful for any person to ship or deliver for shipment in interstate or foreign commerce, any filled milk.”

Whereupon the matter was taken to appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court under the Criminal Appeals Act 1907. Here, the appellee demurred that application of the 1923 Act was subject to the limitations prescribed by the tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

And that seizure of the prohibited goods was a breach of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which expresses how:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

Therefore the decision by Congress to create and apply prohibitive legislation which conflicts with the aims of the Constitution, was both ultra vires and an affront to the privacy rights and freedoms of the individual citizens of the United States of America.

Contrastingly, the Court drew reference to Hebe Co. v. Shaw, in which the Supreme Court ruled that any state law forbidding the manufacture and sale of filled milk under § 6(c) of the 1923 Act, which clarified how:

“The term ‘filled milk’ means any milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, evaporated, concentrated, Powdered, dried, or desiccated, to which has been added, or which has been blended or compounded with, any fat or oil other than milk fat, so that the resulting product is in imitation or semblance of milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, evaporated, concentrated, powdered, dried, or desiccated.”

Was not an infringement of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which again stipulates that:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This translated that while the rights afforded under the Constitution were exempt from the wishes of Congress, the importance of public interest and compelling evidence submitted by the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in relation to ‘doctored’ milk, justified the prevention of misrepresentation through sensitive regulation, as opposed to wanton deprivation of liberty or distortion of justice. Thus it was for this fundamental reason that the Court dismissed the demurrer and reversed the judgment accordingly.

Harris v. Balk (1905)

US Civil Procedure

Harris v Balk
‘Strong Arm’ by Kevin LePrince

Debt priority through attachment is not something familiar to English law, however in America the facts are quite different, and in this instance the indebtedness of a lender became primary to the borrower’s failure to repay, after a third party attached the sum outstanding through applicable State law.

In 1896, two men residing in North Carolina entered into a verbal agreement concerning the lending of $180, during which time the lender and now claimant, had an outstanding debt of $344 with a lender in Maryland. While visiting Baltimore, the now defendant was approached by the Maryland lender, who issued a writ of attachment for $180 under the powers of §§ 8 and 10 of art. IX of the Code of Public General Laws of Maryland, both of which read:

“8. Upon making the affidavit and producing the proofs before the clerk of the court from which such attachment is to issue…he shall issue an attachment against the lands, tenements, goods, chattels and credits of said debtor.

10. Any kind of property or credits belonging to the defendant, in the plaintiff’s own hands, or in the hands of any one else, may be attached; and credits may be attached which shall not then be due.”

Having failed to attend the hearing, the defendant admitted later acquiesced to the attachment and entered payment for the sum owed to the Maryland claimant in accordance with both the statute and decision of the court.

Upon this, the claimant sought remedy on grounds that the Maryland court lacked sufficient jurisdiction to apply such an attachment, whereupon the defendant claimed under art.IV of the U.S. Constitution that:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

Therefore the judgment against the defendant to the claimant’s creditor was equally valid in North Carolina as it was in Maryland. However, the Supreme Court of North Carolina awarded in favour of the claimant on grounds that the defendant was in Maryland for but a brief time, and that the debt was initiated and so grounded in North Carolina.

Heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, it was explained through Chicago, R. I. & P. Co. v. Sturm that:

“All debts are payable everywhere unless there be some special limitation or provision in respect to the payment; the rule being that debts, as such, have no locus or situs, but accompany the creditor everywhere, and authorize a demand upon the debtor everywhere.”

While § 35 of art. IX of the Code of Public General Laws of Maryland provides that:

“Any judgment of condemnation against a garnishee ad execution thereon, or payment by such garnishee, shall be sufficient and pleadable in bar in any action brought against him by the defendant in the attachment for or concerning the property or credits so condemned…”

Which translated that the claimant had equal opportunity to sue the defendant for his debt while in Maryland, but failed to do so, while it was also held that upon litigation, the defendant was under a legal duty to notify the claimant that a third party had issued an attachment for the $180, whereupon the claimant is afforded opportunity to defend the debt, as had been held in Morgan v. Neville.

This caveat left the Court with no option other than to reverse the previous decision for further discussion, so as to avoid duplication of a debt recently paid in full, while further holding that:

“Power over the person of the garnishee confers jurisdiction on the courts of the State where the writ issues…”

Hutto v. Davis (1982)

US Criminal Law

Hutto v Davis
Image: ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Barbara St. Jean

Disproportionate sentencing for non-violent offences, while not surprising in a multi-jurisdictional continent, becomes central to the hierarchical fragility of a country built upon fairness and constitutional rights, when a convicted felon receives life imprisonment for drug related offences valued at less than $200 at the time of arrest.

In 1973, Virginia state police raided and recovered nine ounces of marijuana from the home of the defendant, prior to his conviction for possession with intent to distribute. When awarding judgment, the court passed a sentence of forty years imprisonment with a fine of $10,000, after which the defendant successfully appealed under habeas corpus, while contending that such an exorbitant term was in contravention to art.VIII of the US Constitution which reads:

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

And s.1 of art.XIV which reads:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Unfortunately, a US court of appeals panel reversed the decision on grounds that at no point in history had the Court been found liable for cruel and unusual punishment when sentencing under the guidance of state legislation, however when reheard in full judicial capacity, the court amended its earlier judgment back in favour of the appellant.

Through the application of Rummel v. Estelle, in which a Texan defendant had been unfairly sentenced to life imprisonment for fraudulent misrepresentation to the value of just under $121, the US Supreme Court ruled that despite the extremity of the sentences, there was nothing unconstitutional about the application of maximum penalty through approved legislative framework, and that on this occasion, when the lower courts had relied upon the four principles used in Hart v. Coiner:

  1. No element of violence and minimal, debatable danger to the person
  2. Examination of the purposes behind criminal statute and alternative mitigating remedies
  3. Evidence of excessive penalty beyond maximum recommendations
  4. Evidence of disproportionate sentencing through comparative state analysis

To allow the appeal, they had collectively failed to recognise that federal courts should be slow to review legislative sentencing mandates, and that tradition clearly showed how such instances were both rare and intrusive to the doctrine that amendments to statute were privy to Congress and not the courts. It was thus for these reasons that the US Supreme Court reversed the findings of the court of appeals, with explicit instruction to dismiss the habeas corpus, despite a majority dissent from within.

Adam v. Saenger (1938)

US Civil Procedure

Adams v Saenger
Image: ‘Texas Longhorn Skull’ by Marlon Rose

When parties to an existing litigation require an immediate defence response, the essence of the Constitution reminds those involved, that regardless of how such matters are realised, the purpose of natural law is to permit resolution in every State.

On this occasion, a Texas-based exporter and importer commenced action against a former California-based client for the recovery of monies concerning goods purchased and delivered prior to their dissolution. In response, the appellant issued a cross-complaint to recover monies for the conversion of chattels, after which the superior court of California dismissed the respondents claims, along with their contention that the cross-complaint had not been lawfully served, thus prompting an appeal to the Texas Court of Civil Appeals. Here, it was held that at the time the complaint was served, the California court lacked jurisdiction to uphold such a claim over an out-of-state entity, therefore due process was unsustainable and null by effect.

Pursued in the U.S. Supreme Court, the decision of the Texas Appeals Court was reviewed, giving particular regard to § 1 of art. IV of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

And while the complaint served was ancillary to the original action, the Texas Court of Appeals based its judgment on the principle that any matter of fact or law determinable by jurisdiction unrelated to the cause of litigation is subject to adjudication, as was held in Thompson v. Whitman, and that the complaint was deemed independent of the original matter, and therefore subject to such a review.

However, in Hanley v. Donoghue it had been equally held by the U.S. Supreme Court that:

“Whatever was matter of law in the court appealed from is matter of law here, and whatever was matter of fact in the court appealed from is matter of fact here.”

More importantly, § 442 of the California Code of Civil Procedure provides that:

“Whenever the defendant seeks affirmative relief against any party, relating to or depending upon the contract, transaction, matter, happening or accident upon which the action is brought, or affecting the property to which the action relates, he may, in addition to his answer, file at the same time, or by permission of the court subsequently, a cross-complaint.”

While § 1015 (as amended by St.Cal.1933) also notes:

“When a plaintiff or a defendant, who has appeared, resides out of the State, and has no attorney in the action or proceeding, the service may be made on the clerk or on the justice where there is no clerk, for him. But in all cases where a party has an attorney in the action or proceeding, the service of papers, when required, must be upon the attorney instead of the party…”

Therefore when the appellant issued his complaint to the attending attorney, both aspects of Californian law were satisfied enough to uphold the powers of art. IV of the Constitution, and that such diligence by the appellant lawyer was now grounds enough for the Court to reverse the Texas Appeal Court’s decision with a view to the resolution of the proceedings in question while holding that:

“There is nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment to prevent a State from adopting a procedure by which a judgment in personam may be rendered in a cross-action against a plaintiff in its courts, upon service of process or of appropriate pleading upon his attorney of record.”

Aldinger v. Howard (1976)

US Civil Procedure

Aldinger v Howard
Image: ‘Spokane Skyline’ by Pablo Romero

Litigation for loss of earnings through discriminatory dismissal is a linear process within state jurisdiction, however when the employer is a federal representative, the rules according to civil suits are subject to close examination.

Having enjoyed work as a cleric within the Spokane County Treasury, the claimant was dismissed under s.36.16.070 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which grants that:

“The officer appointing a deputy or other employee shall be responsible for the acts of his or her appointees upon his or her official bond and may revoke each appointment at pleasure.”

Under a claim in the district court, the now appellant argued that dismissal merely for living with her boyfriend was a violation of the First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that under the circumstances, the Treasury was equally liable under 42 USC § 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which provides that:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress…”

It was for these reasons that an injunction was requested against the appointing officer and his wife, while the county was deemed subject to vicarious liability through the misconduct of the two named employees, both of which claims were brought under the powers of 28 USC § 1343(3), which explains that the district courts are required:

“(3) To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States…”

When first heard, the court held that Spokane County could not be held liable as a ‘person’ and therefore no suit could be brought against them, after which the appellant sought relief through the court of appeals, who with reference to 28 USC § 1343(3), upheld the previous decision, however when taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, greater detail was paid to the doctrine of both ‘pendent’ and ‘ancillary’ jurisdiction, upon which the ruling in United Mine Workers v. Gibbs determined how the former provided that:

“[S]tate and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact. But if, considered without regard to their federal or state character, a plaintiff’s claims are such that he would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding, then, assuming substantiality of the federal issues, there is Power in federal courts to hear the whole.”

While the latter was outlined in Fulton Bank v. Hozier, when it was held how:

“The general rule is that when a federal court has properly acquired jurisdiction over a cause, it may entertain, by intervention, dependent or ancillary controversies; but no controversy can be regarded as dependent or ancillary unless it has direct relation to property or assets actually or constructively drawn into the court’s possession or control by the principal suit.”

However, on this occasion both approaches ran counter to the principle held in the appeals court that:

“[F]ederal courts should be wary of extending court-created doctrines of jurisdiction to reach parties who are expressly excluded by Congress from liability, and hence federal jurisdiction…”

This translated that while art. III of the Federal Constitution allowed the Supreme Court to vest adjudicatory powers to the lower courts, the conflicting principles of both 42 USC § 1983 and that of the appeals court prevented the Court from allowing a mergence of the two claims, despite their obvious connectivity, and which resulted in dismissal of the appeal while holding that:

“[A]s against a plaintiff’s claim of additional power over a “pendent party,” the reach of the statute conferring jurisdiction should be construed in light of the scope of the cause of action as to which federal judicial power has been extended by Congress.”

Allgeyer v. State of Louisiana (1897)

US Constitutional Law

Allgeyer v State of Louisiana
Image: ‘Georgia Cotton’ by Marilyn M King

The powers of state legislation, while binding upon the citizens residing within its borders, doubtless remain subject to the supremacy of the constitution, and so on this occasion, a marine insurance policy drafted and bargained for in another part of the country, was held to allow for the unfettered rights of the insured, while reminding the pursuers that justice is a two-way process.

In the fall of 1894, the defendant cotton exporters negotiated an open marine insurance policy with providers based in New York. The terms of the agreement were drafted and released on the proviso that the defendant completed the transaction by way of written letter to the insurers operational address.

Around the same time, Act No.66 of the State of Louisiana was enacted, so as to prevent foreign insurance operators from issuing policies within the State unless licensed accordingly, as was expressed below:

“[A]ny person, firm or corporation who shall fill up, sign or issue in this state any certificate of insurance under an open marine policy, or who in any manner whatever does any act in this state to effect for himself, or for another, insurance on property then in this state, in any marine insurance company which has not complied in all respects with the laws of this state, shall be subject to a fine of one thousand dollars for each offense…”

Because the defendants were based in New Orleans, the claimants held that their entering into a contract with an insurance firm outside of Louisiana constituted a violation of those powers, and thus sought recovery of $3,000 in the courts.

In defence of the claim, it was argued that the terms of Act No.66 were unconstitutional in that such powers were an interference with the fundamental right to carry on business in a manner befitting the principles of the U.S. Constitution, while noting that the contract entered into was exempt from state jurisdiction, and executed in full accordance with the law.

While judgment was made in favour of the defendants, an appeal before the Supreme Court of Louisiana resulted in damages of £1000 for the claimants. It was at this point that the defendants requested a review by the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that the judgment had been made in error.

With an appreciation of the absolute powers conferred under Act No.66 (or art.236), it was found by the Court that in State of Louisiana v. Williams the state court had ruled that:

“[A]n open policy of marine insurance, similar in all respects to the one herein described, and made by a foreign insurance company, not doing business within the state and having no agent therein, must be considered as made at the domicile of the company issuing the open policy, and that where in such case the insurance company had no agent in Louisiana it could not be considered as doing an insurance business within the state.”

While it was further noted that the writing and despatch of the acceptance letter by the appellants, was therefore nothing more than consideration within the terms of the agreement, and not sufficient enough to serve as evidence that the policy was underwritten and concluded within the state of Louisiana. The Court also drew reference to Butchers’ Union Slaughterhouse Co v. Crescent City Live-Stock Landing Co., in which Bradley J stipulated how:

“[T]he right to follow any of the common occupations of life is an inalienable right. It was formulated as such under the phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ in the Declaration of Independence, which commenced with the fundamental proposition that ‘all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”

And so it was with these salient observations, that the Court ruled Act No.66 as wholly unconstitutional to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which itself reads:

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

And was therefore unsustainable as an argument for penalty, after which it was held that the Louisiana Supreme Court decision be reversed in lieu of recommencement of proceedings in keeping with the original judgment.