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U.S. Supreme Court

North American Transp. & Trading Co. v. Morrison, 178 U.S. 262 (1900)

North American Transp & Trading Company v. Morrison

No. 203

Submitted March 20, 1900

Decided May 21, 1900

178 U.S. 262


Where a plaintiff asserts as his cause of action a claim which he cannot be legally permitted to sustain by evidence, a mere ad damnum clause will not confer jurisdiction on the circuit court, but the court, on motion or demurrer or of its own motion, may dismiss the suit.

In the circumstances disclosed by the plaintiff's declaration, and in the certificates of the trial judge, the defendant company, though liable in a court of competent jurisdiction for the other claims asserted, cannot be held for the amount of wages or profits which the plaintiff suggests he might have earned had he reached Dawson City.

This was an action originally brought in December, 1897, in the Superior Court of the State of Washington for King County, by Donald Morrison against the North American Transportation & Trading Company, and subsequently, on petition of the defendant company, removed to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Washington. To the declaration, containing several counts, the defendant demurred. The demurrer was overruled, and the cause was tried before the district judge and a jury. After verdict and judgment in favor of the plaintiff, the district judge certified the following statement of facts and questions of jurisdiction to this Court:

"I, C. H. Hanford, District Judge, presiding in the circuit court aforesaid, and the judge before whom the above-entitled cause was tried, do now, on the 29th day of December, 1898, being the December term at which the judgment and verdict were entered herein, certify as follows:"

"Morrison, the plaintiff, alleging himself to be a citizen and resident of the State of Minnesota, began this action in the Superior Court of King County, State of Washington, against the defendant, alleging it to be a corporation organized and

Page 178 U. S. 263

existing under the laws of the State of Illinois and engaged in business in the State of Washington. The suit was upon eight causes of action, the first on plaintiff's own account, the other on account of seven alleged assignors of plaintiff. The citizenship of these assignors was nowhere alleged."

"Defendant removed the case to this court on the ground of diversity of citizenship between it and plaintiff Morrison, and the involving of a sum exceeding $2,000, exclusive of interest and costs. After removal, defendant demurred to each cause of action in the complaint as not sufficient to constitute a cause of action, and, as to the last seven causes of action, on the additional ground that the court had no jurisdiction to hear it, and this was overruled, with exception to defendant. Issue was then joined, and, after two trials, judgment was entered as now complained of in error in the sum of $2,119.50. After the verdict and before judgment, defendant moved to dismiss or remand the whole cause and each cause of action on the ground that as to the first cause of action it did not involve $2,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and as to the second and each subsequent cause of action -- that is to say, as to the assigned causes of action -- that each of these did not involve $2,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and because also it did not appear that proper diversity of citizenship existed at the time of the commencement of the action, or at the time of its removal, between the assignors of plaintiff and defendant so as to confer jurisdiction upon the federal court, which said motion to dismiss and remand was denied, with exception to defendant."

"The original complaint shows that the aggregate sum sued for by Morrison was $18,173.50, divided, as already stated, into eight causes of action. The suit was upon eight contracts of carriage, between defendant as a carrier and plaintiff and his seven assignors, from Seattle to Dawson City by way of St. Michaels and the Yukon River, which contracts were alleged to have been broken by the carrier by failure and refusal to transport the passengers farther than Fort Yukon on the river."

"The first cause of action -- that of plaintiff himself -- alleged himself to be a citizen and a resident of Minnesota and

Page 178 U. S. 264

defendant a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Illinois. The contract was alleged to have been made at Seattle on the 30th day of July, 1897, and the agreed date of the delivery of the plaintiff at Dawson by the carrier was alleged to be September 15, 1897, and this suit was brought on the 17th day of November, 1897. On the breach of the contract at Fort Yukon, plaintiff alleged himself compelled to return to Seattle. The damages claimed by him were as follows: (a) the price of his ticket from Seattle to Dawson City, $200; (b) $72.50, returning to Seattle after the breach of contract at Fort Yukon; (c) expense of one dollar a day and loss of time at three dollars a day at Seattle since his return there, the 18th day of October, 1897; (d) three dollars a day from the 30th day of July, 1897, which he could have earned if he had not started on the journey at all; (e) fifteen dollars a day which he could have earned for a year at Dawson after the 15th day of September, 1897; (f) lost baggage, $29.50; the total prayer of this cause of action being $2,301.75."

"The second and subsequent causes of action, being the assigned causes, arose on exactly similar contracts of carriage. The citizenship of the respective assignors was not averred. The damages claimed were exactly the same as those claimed by plaintiff himself, excepting that none of the assignors claimed the item of lost baggage, and that the item of cost in returning from Fort Yukon to Seattle was as low as $61.50 in some instances, and as high as $103.25 in others. The lowest sum claimed by any of the assignors as his total damage was $2,261.25, and the highest claimed was $2,303.25."

"Neither in the original nor the assigned causes of action was it alleged that any of these passengers had ever lived in Dawson before, had any previous engagement or business there, or any promise of employment, the allegation in each cause of action as to the passenger's damage in this respect being that"

"he could have obtained employment and engaged in business by him competent to perform and transact at or about said Dawson City, and thereby secured wages and profits at the rate of fifteen dollars per day continuously from September 15, 1897, for the period of the year thence next ensuing,"

"and that"


Page 178 U. S. 265

has wholly lost all of said employment and time, and all of said wages and profits, to his damage in the sum of $2,000."

"It was not alleged what, if any, occupation either plaintiff or any of his assignors had before departure on the journey, nor was it alleged what occupation was expected at the point of destination, or that any expected occupation was communicated to the the journey, nor was it alleged what occupation was expected at the point of destination, or that any expected occupation was communicated to the the journey, nor was it alleged what occupation was expected at the point of destination, or that any expected occupation was communicated to the defendant."

"Now, therefore, I do certify to the Supreme Court the following question of jurisdiction, as follows:"

"Whether the motions to dismiss and to remand should have been granted because, at the time of removal to this court, the cause was one of which this court could not take jurisdiction -- that is to say, whether --"

"(a) In each of the causes of action, the sum or value of the matter actually in dispute, as shown in the pleadings, was less than two thousand dollars, exclusive of interest and costs and a controversy was involved substantially within the jurisdiction of this Court, and whether --"

"(b) If the foregoing be answered in the affirmative, the amounts claimed in the assigned causes of action could be united to that in the first to make up the jurisdictional amount, the citizenship of the assignors not being alleged, and whether --"

"(c) Supposing the jurisdictional amount was sufficient in each cause of action, the case was even then removable to this court when the necessary diversity of citizenship was alleged only in the first cause of action, and was not alleged in those assigned."

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