« ПретходнаНастави »
Supreme Court of the United States a sum for attorneys' fees for services rendered in that court as against another party to the suit although such assessment, as we have seen, was not authorized by the law of the United States but was in conflict with the settled rule in the Supreme Court of the United States? It seems superfluous to put the question since its very statement conveys of necessity a negative answer. For how on the face of the question, consistently with the most elementary principles of our constitutional system of government can it be possibly assumed that a state statute could be made operative in the Supreme Court of the United States to the disregard of its settled rule of procedure and of the principles which had guided its conduct from the beginning, directly sustained by express rule adopted under the sanction of Congress?
We might well go no further, but in view of the importance of the subject we briefly advert to one or more of the obvious consequences which would arise from maintaining the principle. It would follow, of course, that the right to freely seek access to the Supreme Court of the United States would cease to exist, since it would be in the power of the States to burden that right to such a degree as to render its exercise impossible. How better could this be illustrated than by the case before us, that is, by the necessary implication that there would have been power in the court below if it had deemed it just to do so, to award the claim which was made for $75,000 attorneys' fees for services rendered in this court! Indeed, in the argument at bar it was freely conceded that it may well have been that the mainspring which caused the adoption of the statute relied upon was the deterrent influence which it would produce in the prosecution of writs of error to this court. Thus the argument proceeds: "The Railway Company refuses to obey; judgment is had against it; it still refuses, it seeks delay; it initiates
Opinion of the Court.
a writ of error in this court. By this method it makes the suit expensive. It was just this situation that the legislature of Kansas intended to correct.
And the far-reaching operation of the principle by which the state statute could alone have been made to produce the result attributed to it by the court below is illustrated by the legal conclusions of the operation and effect of the statutes of the United States stated in the report of the Commissioner which was adopted by the court as expressed in the passage which we have previously quoted. This is the case since the views thus sanctioned are necessarily illustrative of the mental atmosphere by which alone it could have been possible to conceive that the state power extended to regulate the proceedings in the Supreme Court of the United States to the disregard of the express provisions of the act of Congress. A view which is not an over-statement when it is observed that among other things the conclusion which was below sustained was that the writ of error from this court and the supersedeas authorized by the act of Congress were not Federal but purely state acts. And, moreover, it was concluded that the exertion by the Supreme Court of the United States under the Constitution and laws of the United States of the power to bring up a case from the state court in order to review it and to grant a supersedeas in order to make that right effective, operated to leave the state court in possession of the case and only to move the record, hence creating a residuum of state power which as to such case gave authority to the state court to regulate, certainly as to attorneys' fees, the proceedings in the Supreme Court of the United States.
We shall reason no further, and shall content ourselves with pointing out that in substance and effect the absolute want of foundation for the contention here made has been in express terms foreclosed. For instance, at this term in Harrison v. St. Louis & San Francisco R. R.,
232 U. S. 318, a statute of the State of Oklahoma which burdened or impeded the right of free access to the courts of the United States was held to be repugnant to the Constitution and the destructive effect of such legislation upon our institutions was pointed out. And light on the subject is afforded by a consideration of the ruling in Tullock v. Mulvane, 184 U. S. 497. See also Insurance Co. v. Morse, 20 Wall. 445, 453; Clark v. Bever, 139 U. S. 96, 102-103.
Second. The power of the court below to award damages for the business losses which were suffered after the allowance of the writ of error and the supersedeas.
The contention is that the power did not exist since the effect of the writ of error and the supersedeas was to remove the case to this court and therefore deprive the court below of the right to consider any act causing damage done after the prosecution of the writ of error and the supersedeas. But conceding in the fullest degree the asserted effect of the supersedeas, that effect ceased with the affirmance of the judgment by this court and therefore necessarily opened the way for the court below to consider and determine how far the alleged illegal conduct of the Railway Company had entailed damages and consequent responsibility. Conceding further that the bond for supersedeas embraced such acts and the resulting damages therefrom and therefore there was a right to sue on the bond, again the deduction is a non sequitur because the right to resort to the bond did not imply an exclusion of the right to sue under the general law to recover damages if the election was made to follow that course. Of course, as there is nothing in this case even suggesting that the award of damages for acts done pending the writ of error in this court was so excessive as to justify the extreme inference that punishment for invoking the right to resort to this court was inflicted, we need not consider the rule which would be applicable in such a contingency.
Opinion of the Court.
234 U. S.
Third. The power of the court below to award damages for attorneys' fees for services rendered in the state court.
The attorneys' fees were allowed by the court below in virtue of a statute which gave such power in case of mandamus proceedings. The construction of this statute which was adopted was not original in this case but was an application of an interpretation of the statute previously affixed to it, and indeed which was made prior to the commencement of the mandamus proceedings in question. (Carney v. Neeley, 60 Kansas, 672; McClure v. Scates, 64 Kansas, 282.) The contention is that as the statute exceptionally allows attorneys' fees in mandamus proceedings against one refusing to obey the peremptory writ of mandamus and does not allow them in other cases, it contravenes the equal protection of the laws clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is void. But it is not open to controversy that the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to deprive the States of their power to establish and regulate judicial proceedings and that its provisions therefore only restrain acts which so transcend the limits of classification as to cause them to conflict with the fundamental conceptions of just and equal legislation. The proposition here relied upon therefore comes to this: that there is not such a distinction between the extraordinary proceeding by mandamus and the ordinary judicial proceedings as affords a ground for legislating differently concerning the two. But when thus reduced to its ultimate basis, the proposition answers itself, since it cannot be formulated without demonstrating its own unsoundness. If more were needed to be said, it would suffice to direct attention to the distinction which must obtain between that which, is ordinary and usual and that which is extraordinary and unusual. Or, to state it otherwise, to call attention to the difference between the duty to perform a ministerial act concerning which there is room neither for the exercise of judgment or discretion
234. U. S.
Opinion of the Court.
and the right on the other hand to bring into play, judgment and discretion as prerequisites to the performance of an act of a different character, and the distinction which justifies the classification made by the statute also answers the argument that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is violated because the allowance of attorneys' fees was not reciprocal Missouri, K. & T. Ry. v. Cade, 233 U. S. 642. The ruling in the case last cited also serves to demonstrate the want of merit in the contention that the question here presented is governed by Gulf, C. & S. F. Ry. v. Ellis, 165 U. S. 150.
Again we deem it necessary to observe that the opinion here expressed is confined to the case before us. We do not therefore imply that the reasoning here applied would be controlling in a case where although the name mandamus was preserved, in substance and effect, the distinction between that writ in an accurate sense and ordinary procedure would have disappeared.
It follows from what we have said that error was committed in the court below in allowing the items of damages for attorneys' fees, traveling expenses, etc., in the Supreme Court of the United States, and that from a Federal point of view there was no error in the judgment below to the extent that it awarded the damages complained of and allowed a claim for attorneys' fees for services rendered in the state court. And to give effect to these conclusions the judgment must be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
And it is so ordered.