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SIMON V. SOUTHERN RY. CO., 236 U. S. 115 (1915)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Simon v. Southern Ry. Co., 236 U.S. 115 (1915)

Simon v. Southern Railway Company

No. 34

Argued November 2, 3, 1914

Decided January 25, 1915

236 U.S. 115


United States courts, by virtue of their general equity powers, have jurisdiction to enjoin the enforcement of a judgment obtained by fraud or without service.

In the absence of service of process, a person named as defendant can no more be regarded as a party than any other member of the community.

A judgment against a person on whom no process has been served is not erroneous and voidable, but, upon principles of natural justice and also under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, is absolutely void.

Jurisdiction of the United States courts cannot be lessened or increased by state statutes regulating venue or establishing rules of procedure. While § 720, Rev.Stat., prohibits United States courts from staying proceedings in a state court, it does not prevent them from depriving a party of the fruits of a fraudulent judgment, nor from enjoining a party from using that which he calls a judgment but which is, in chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 236 U. S. 116

fact and in law, a mere nullity and absolutely void for lack of service of process. Marshall v. Holmes, 141 U. S. 589.

This rule obtains whether the case was one removed from the state court to, or originally commenced in, the federal court.

The broader the ground of a decision, the more likelihood there is of affecting interests of persons not before the court, and therefore this Court refrains from passing upon propositions not necessary to the decision of the case, although passed upon by the courts below.

Quaere whether the acts of the foreign corporation against whom judgment was entered amounted to doing business within the state.

Quaere whether, under the statute of Louisiana providing for service of process on foreign corporations doing business within the state, but who have not appointed an agent therein, by service upon the Secretary of State, service upon the Assistant Secretary is sufficient in the absence of the Secretary.

Quaere whether the state court has jurisdiction of a suit on a transitory cause of action against a foreign corporation arising in another state, based on service of process on an agent voluntarily appointed by such corporation.

A state may by statute require a foreign corporation doing business therein to designate agents upon whom service may be made, or in default of its so doing, to provide upon whom such service may be made in suits relating to business transacted therein, but such statutory requirements cannot extend to causes of action arising in other states.

Service of process, in a suit against a foreign corporation who has not appointed a resident agent, upon the Secretary of State under the Louisiana statute providing for such service is not sufficient to give the court jurisdiction of a suit based on a cause of action arising in another state, and judgment entered thereon by default is absolutely void, and enforcement thereof, other jurisdictional facts existing, can be enjoined by the federal court.

195 F. 56 affirmed.

This appeal raises a question of the power of a United States court to enjoin the appellant, Ephraim Simon, from enforcing a judgment alleged to have been fraudulently obtained by him in a state court in a suit against the Southern Railway. The company had no notice that the suit had been brought, other than that arising from the service, which purported to have been made in pursuance of the Louisiana Act No. 54, which provides (§ 1) that it shall chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 236 U. S. 117

be the duty of every foreign corporation doing any business in this state to file a written declaration setting forth the places in the state where it is doing business, and the name of its "agents in this state upon whom process may be served."

"Section 2. -- Whenever any such corporation shall do any business of any nature in the state without having complied with the requirements of Sec. 1 of this act, it may be sued for any legal cause of action in any parish of the state where it may do business, and such service of process in such suit may be made upon the secretary of state the same and with the same validity as if such corporation had been personally served."

Availing himself of the provisions of this statute, Ephraim Simon, on December 1, 1904, brought suit, in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, against the Southern Railway Company, averring that the defendant was a Virginia corporation "doing business in the City of New Orleans." The petition alleged that Simon, a New Orleans merchant and manufacturer, purchased, on February 8, 1904, a ticket from Selma, Alabama, to Meridian, Mississippi, and while riding over its lines, through the negligence of defendant, a collision occurred in which were inflicted upon him great personal injuries and financial loss. The petitioner claimed as damages $5,000 for personal injury; $340 for medical expenses; $4,000 for loss of profit that he would have earned; $3,000 for deterioration in the stock while he was confined to his bed and unable to sell, and $1,000 for increased cost of manufacture due to his absence from business.

There was a prayer that the company be cited to appear and answer, and,

"it having failed to comply with the provisions of § 1 of Act No. 54 of the Session of 1904, that service of process in this suit be made upon Hon. John T. Michel, Secretary of State, said service, so made, to be a service upon the said Southern Railway

Page 236 U. S. 118

Company, as provided for in the act aforesaid."

The plaintiff asked for judgment for $13,348.

The summons was directed to "the Southern Railway Company, through Hon. John T. Michel, Secretary of Louisiana, New Orleans," and required the defendant to answer within ten days after service. The deputy sheriff on December 3, 1904, made return that he had served the citation and petition

"on the within named Southern Railway Company in the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana, by personal service on E. J. McGivney, Assistant Secretary of State, Jno. T. Michel, Secretary of State, being absent at the time of service."

The Assistant Secretary of State, acting under the instructions of the Attorney General, filed the citation and petition in his office.

No notice, however, was given to the Southern Railway of the service of the citation or of the fact that suit had been brought. It therefore made no appearance in the suit brought against it by Simon, and, on January 10, 1905, the court, on motion of the plaintiff, ordered that judgment by default be entered against the railway company. Under the Louisiana practice, the case was thereafter submitted to a "trial by jury on confirmation of default." The plaintiff himself testified and other witnesses were examined, and on January 16 the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $13,34