VANCE v. W. A. VANDERCOOK CO.(1898)
It was also alleged that the defendants claimed that the acts by them done were performed under the authority of a law of South Carolina designated as the 'Dispensary Law,' and it was charged that the statute was void, because in conflict with the constitution of the United States. It was moreover averred that the forcible seizure and carrying away of the packages, and the detention thereof, were done 'knowingly, wrongfully, willfully, and maliciously, with intent to oppress and humiliate and intimidate this plaintiff, and make it afraid [170 U.S. 468, 470] to rely upon the constitution and laws of the United States, and the judicial power thereof, for its protection in those rights, privileges, and immunities secured to the plaintiff by the constitution and laws of the United States.' It was also alleged that the defendants, by 'the said malicious trespass and wrongful retainer,' intended to deter and intimidate plaintiff and others from asserting their rights under the constitution of the United States.
S. W. Vance filed a separate answer, while Bahr and Scott jointly answered. The respective answers set up that the court had no jurisdiction of the action; that the complaint did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action; that by the provisions of the dispensary law of South Carolina, approved March 6, 1896, the action could not be maintained against the defendants, for the reason that the acts complained of were by them performed in the discharge of duties imposed upon the defendatns by the said law; and, if the action was maintainable, that there was a misjoinder of causes of action, in that the plaintiff sued for the recovery of the possession of personal property, and also for exemplary damages for the commission of a trespass in taking the same. It was denied that the seizures and detentions complained of were made with the intent to injure or oppress the complainant, and it was also denied that the property was of the value alleged in the complaint, or that the plaintiff had been damaged in the sum claimed. It was further speciallya verred that the packages were seized and detained because the liquors contained therein had not been inspected as required by the provision of an amendment to the dispensary law adopted in 1897, and because of a failure to have attached to each package a certificate of inspection, as required by the statute.
By a stipulation in writing, it was agreed that the issues of fact should be tried by the court without a jury. At the trial, as appears by a bill of exceptions allowed by the presiding judge, the court, on the request of counsel for the defendant, passed upon the matters of law heretofore referred to, and also upon several propositions of law relied on by the defendants; that is, that the dispensary law was not in conflict with the [170 U.S. 468, 471] constitution of the United States, and was a valid exercise of the police power of the state, particularly by reason of the provisions of the act of congress of 1890, known as the 'Wilson Act.' Each of these propositions of law was decided aversely to the defendants, and an exception was noted.
The facts found by the court were 'that the property described in the complaint is the property of the plaintiff, and that the value thereof is the sum of one thousand dollars, and that the damages to the plaintiff from the detention of the said property by the defendants is the sum of one thousand dollars.' And as matter of law the court found 'that the plaintiff is entitled to judgment against the defendants for the recovery of the possession of the said property described in the complaint, or the sum of one thousand dollars, value of said property, in case delivery thereof cannot be had, and for the further sum of one thousand dollars damages.' Judgment was entered in conformity with the findings. A writ of error having been allowed, the cause was brought to this court for review.
Wm. A. Barber, for plaintiffs in error.
J. P. Kennedy Bryan, for defendant in error.
Mr. Justice WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.
Counsel for plaintiffs in error discuss in their brief the contentions that the circuit court erred in holding that it had jurisdiction of the action, and that there was not a misjoinder of causes of action, and also assert that the court erred in refusing to hold that the dispensary law of South Carolina was a valid enactment.
We shall dispose of the case upon the jurisdictional question, as it is manifest that the amount of recovery to which the plaintiff was entitled, upon the construction put upon the complaint by its counsel, and acted upon by the trial court, could not equal the sum of $2,000. [170 U.S. 468, 472] In his brief, counsel for defendant in error says:
In determining from the face of a pleading whether the amount really in dispute is sufficient to confer jurisdiction upon a court of the United States, it is settled that if, from the nature of the case as stated in the pleadings, there could not legally be a judgment for an amount necessary to the jurisdiction, jurisdiction cannot attach, even though the damages be laid in the declaration at a larger sum. Barry v. Edmunds, 116 U.S. 550, 560 , 6 S. Sup. Ct. 501; Wilson v. Daniel, 3 Dall. 401, 407.
As, by section 914 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, the practice, pleadings, and forms and modes of pro- [170 U.S. 468, 473] ceeding in actions at common law in a circuit court of the United States are required to conform as near as may be to those prevailing in the state court, and as by section 721 the laws of the several states are made rules of decision in trials at common law in the courts of the United States, in cases where they apply (Bauserman v. Blunt, 147 U.S. 648 , 13 Sup. Ct. 466 ), we will examine the laws of South Carolina, and the decisions of its courts, in order to ascertain the nature of the state statutory action to recover possession of personal property, and the rights of the parties thereunder.
The action of claim and delivery of personal property, under the Code of South Carolina, is one of the class of statutes referred to by Judge Cooley in his treatise on Torts (note 2, p. 442), which permits the plaintiff in an action of replevin to proceed in it as in trover, and recover the value of the property in case the officer fails to find it to return to the plaintiff on the writ. The proceeding was introduced into the legislation of South Carolina by the Code of Procedure adopted in 1870 ( 14 St. at Large, 423), which provided, in section 269, p. 480, that, upon the making or an affidavit containing certain requisites, and the giving of a bond, the plaintiff might obtain an immediate delivery of the property. By section 285, p. 484, it is provided that: 'In an action for the recovery of specific personal property, if the property have not been delivered to the plaintiff, or if it have, and the defendant by the answer claim a return thereof, the jury shall assess the value of the property, if their verdict be in favor of the plaintiff; or if they find in favor of the defendant, and that he is entitled to a return thereof; and may, at the same time, assess the damages, if any are claimed in the complaint or answer, which the prevailing party has sustained by reason of the detention or taking and withholding such property.' In section 301, p. 488, it is provided: 'In an action to recover the possession of personal property, judgment for the plaintiff may be for the possession, or for the recovery of possession, or the value thereof, in case a delivery cannot be had, and of damages for the detention.' By section 300 it is provided that: 'Whenever damages are [170 U.S. 468, 474] recoverable, the plaintiff may claim and recover, if he show himself entitled thereto, any rate of damages which he might have heretofore recovered for the same cause of action.'
Prior to the Code, by a statute passed December 19, 1827, entitled 'An act to alter the law in relation to the action of trover and for other purposes' (6 St. at Large, p. 337), it was provided that upon the giving of a bond and the making of an affidavit by a plaintiff, who intended to commence an action of trover for the conversion of any specific chattel, that the chattel belonged to the plaintiff and had been converted by the defendant, an order might issue, requiring the defendant to enter into a bond, with sufficient surety, for the production of the chattel to satisfy the plaintiff's judgment, in case he should recover against the defendant or defendants; and it was declared that such specific chattel should be liable to satisfy the plaintiff's judgment, to the exclusion f other creditors. Under this act the surety might take the body of the defendant, and keep him in custody until he gave the required security. Poole v. Vernon, 2 Hill, 667.
The measure of damages in South Carolina in an action of trover was early settled in that state. Thus, in 1792, in the case of Buford v. Fannen, 1 Bay, 273, an action of trover to recover the value of several negroes and a horse, after proving the value of the horse the plaintiff offered evidence of consequential damages sustained by the loss of his crop. The trial judge having refused to receive the evidence, the case came before the superior court on a motion for a new trial. Chief Justice Rutledge was of opinion that this kind of testimony might be allowed in some cases, and was for granting a new trial; but the court ruled otherwise, the following opinions being delivered (page 273):
In 1818, in the case of Banks v. Hatton, 1 Nott & McC. 221, an action of trover to recover the value of three negroes, a verdict having been rendered for the plaintiff, a new trial was asked for, amon other grounds, because the damages were excessive. In the course of the opinion of the appellate court granting the motion, Mr. Justice Colcock said on this branch of the case (page 222):
On a subsequent appeal from the new trial granted in the case, Mr. Justice Nott, with whom four justices concurred, said (1 Nott & McC. 223):
In McDowell v. Murdock, 1 Nott & McC. 237, an action of trover for the value of two negroes, Mr. Justice Nott, in deliv- [170 U.S. 468, 477] ering the opinion of the court, held that the defendant was entitled to a new trial because, among other grounds, of an erroneous instruction to the jury as to the rule of damages, and said (page 240):
In 1853, in Harley v. Platts, 6 Rich. Law, 310, an action of trover brought to recover the value of four slaves, a new trial asked for on the ground of excessive damages was refused; it being held that the verdict was warranted by the evidence, under the rule allowing the jury to give the highest value up to the time of trial, with interest or hire. Glover, J., delivering the opinion of the court, said (page 318):
That the decisions referred to are applicable under the Code was recognized in the case of Sullivan v. Sullivan (1883) 20 S. c. 509, an action of claim and delivery to recover the possession of certain notes, with damages for their detention, where it was held by the appellate court that, in addition to a recovery of the notes, the plaintiff was entitled to recover [170 U.S. 468, 478] the amount they had diminished in value while in the hands of defendant. After quoting section 298 (formerly sectio 300) of the Code, which we have heretofore referred to, the court said (page 512):
A recent decision construing the provisions of the action of claim and delivery of personal property is Loeb v. Mann, 39 S. C. 465, 18 S. E. 1, in which the defendant, a sheriff, was alleged to have wrongfuly and unlawfully taken from the plaintiffs, and to have unjustly detained from them, certain liquors. Bond having been given, the goods were taken from the possession of the defendant, and delivered to the plaintiffs. The appellate court, in the course of its opinion, held that the trial judge erred in permitting evidence of expenditures by the plaintiffs for hotel bills, railroad fare, and attorney's fees, and [170 U.S. 468, 479] declared that such damages were not recoverable for the detention of the property. The court said (39 S. C. 469, 18 S. E. 2):
After reviewing authorities in support of the proposition that counsel fees were not allowable as damages for the detention of property, for the reason that they could not be said to be the necessary result of the act done by the defendant, the court said (39 S. C. 471, 18 S. E. 3):
Under the decisions to which we have referred, it is evident [170 U.S. 468, 480] that in the case at bar the measure of damages for the detention was interest on the value of the property from the time of the wrong complained of. This rule of damages has been held by this court to be the proper measure, enen in an action of trespass for a seizure of personal property, where the facts connected with the seizure did not entitle the plaintiff to a recovery of exemplary damages. An action of this character was the case of Conard v. Insurance Co., 6 Pet. 262. In the course of the opinion there delivered by Mr. Justice Story, the court held that the trial judge did not err in giving to the jury the following instruction:
Indeed, the same rule was, in effect, reiterated in Watson v. Sutherland, 5 Wall. 79, where it was substantially held that 'loss of trade, destruction of credit, and failure of business prospects' could not be recovered in an action at law, where malice or bad faith was not an ingredient, because such damages were collateral or consequential, as regards a seizure of personal property, and could only be recovered at law where the issue of bad faith was involved; in other words, that however, at law, such damages might be considered when the suit was based upon a malicious trespass, they were not a proximate result of an injury of property caused by an illegal seizure thereof.
The courts of South Carolina, as we have seen, have held that, in an action of trover, consequential damages are not recoverable, and have also held that, in the action of claim and delivery, damages for the detention must have respect to the property, and to a direct injury arising from the detention. Destruction of business not being of the latter character, it follows that the special damages averred in the complaint were not recoverable. [170 U.S. 468, 481] It results that as the plaintiff's action was solely one for claim and delivery of property alleged to have been unlawfully detained, and for damages for the detention thereof, the amount of recovery depended first upon the alleged value of the property, which in the present case was $1, 000, and such damages as it was by operation of law allowed to recover in the action in question. As, however, by way of damages in an action of this character, recovery was only allowable for the actual damage caused by the detention, and could not embrace a cause of damage which was not, in legal contemplation, the proximate result of the wrongful detention, and such recovery was confined, as we have seen, to interest on the value of the property, it results that there was nothing in the damages alleged in the petition, and properly recoverable, adequate, when added to the value of the property, to have conferred upon the court jurisdiction to have entertained a consideration of the suit. Upon the face of the complaint, therefore, the circuit court was without jurisdiction over the action, and it erred in deciding to the contrary.
The judgment of the circuit court of the United States for the district of South Carolina is reversed, with costs, and the cause is remanded to that court, with directions to dismiss the case for want of jurisdiction.