WHELESS v. CITY OF ST LOUIS(1901)
In this case the jurisdiction of the circuit court was in issue, and the question of jurisdiction was certified.
The question was whether the matter in dispute exceeded, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum of $2,000. The circuit court held that jurisdiction did not exist, and dismissed the bill. 96 Fed. Rep. 865.
The suit was brought by Joseph Wheless and others against the city of St. Louis, the president of the board of public improvements [180 U.S. 379, 380] of that city, and the Gilsonite Roofing & Paving Company, to restrain the city and the board from levying or assessing the costs and expenses of improving a public street whereon complainants' property abutted, against the property, and to enjoin the paving company from demanding or receiving from the city any special tax bills issued therefor. The certificate of the circuit court states the facts thus:
[Messrs. Joseph Wheless and Minor Meriwether for appellants.
Mr. B. Schnurmacher appeared for appellees, but court did not desire to hear argument on that side.
Messrs. Charles Claflin Allen and Edward C. Kehr also were on the brief.
Mr. Chief Justice Puller delivered the opinion of the court:
The bill alleged that defendants were about, under the charter of the city of St. Louis, and the ordinance authorizing and directing the improvement in question, to impose the cost thereof upon the several lots of ground adjoining the improvement, in the proportion that the frontage of each lot bore to the total frontage thereon. And it was admitted that the various lots of land threatened with assessment were owned in severalty; that no one complainant was interested in the lot of any other; and that the assessment against no one lot would amount to [180 U.S. 379, 382] $2,000. We think that the circuit court rightly held that it was without jurisdiction under the circumstances. The general rule was thus stated by Mr. Justice Bradley in Clay v. Field, 138 U.S. 464, 479 , 34 S. L. ed. 1044, 1049, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 419, 425: 'The general principle observed in all is that if several persons be joined in a suit in equity or admiralty, and have a common and undivided interest, though separable as between themselves, the amount of their joint claim or liability will be the test of jurisdiction; but where their interests are distinct, and they are joined for the sake of convenience only, and because they form a class of parties whose rights or liabilities arose out of the same transaction, or have relation to a common fund or mass of property sought to be administered, such distinct demands or liabilities cannot be aggregated together for the purpose of giving this court jurisdiction by appeal, but each must stand or fall by itself alone.'
Accordingly it has often been held that the distinct and separate interests of complainants in a suit for relief against assessments cannot be united for the purpose of making up the amount necessary to give this court or the circuit court jurisdiction. Ogden City v. Armstrong, 168 U.S. 224 , 42 L. ed. 444, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 98; Russell v. Stansell, 105 U.S. 303 , 26 L. ed. 989; Walter v. Northeastern R. Co. 147 U.S. 370 , 37 L. ed. 206, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 348.
The 'matter in dispute' within the meaning of the statute is not the principle involved, but the pecuniary consequence to the individual party, dependent on the litigation; as, for instance, in this suit the amount of the assessment levied or which may be levied, as against each of the complainants separately. The rules of law which might subject complainants to or believe them from assessment would be applicable alike to all, but each would be so subjected or relieved in a certain sum, and not in the whole amount of the assessment. If a decision on the merits were adverse to the assessment each of the complainants would be relieved from payment of less than $2,000. If the assessment were sustained, neither of them would be compelled to pay so much as that.
It is true that the assessment has not been made, but the charge is that it is threatened to be made, and the purpose of [180 U.S. 379, 383] the bill is to enjoin proceedings about to be taken to that end. We agree with the circuit court that in these circumstances there is no force to the suggested distinction between a case where the assessment has not in fact been made and a case where it has already been made. When made, neither one of these complainants will be called upon to pay a sum equal to the amount of $2,000 nor will any one of the lots be assessed to that amount.