Phelps v. Oaks
117 U.S. 236 (1886)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Phelps v. Oaks, 117 U.S. 236 (1886)

Phelps v. Oaks

Submitted March 1, 1888

Decided March 15, 1886

117 U.S. 236

Syllabus

A circuit court of the United States having, by removal from a state court by reason of citizenship of the parties, properly acquired jurisdiction of an action against a tenant for the possession of land, is not ousted of it by admitting as codefendant, under the provisions of a state statute, his landlord, a citizen of the same state as the plaintiff.

Section 914 of the Revised Statutes, which requires the forms and modes of proceeding in civil causes other than equity and admiralty causes in circuit and district courts to conform as near as may be to the forms and modes of proceeding existing at the time in like causes in the courts of record in the state within which the circuit or district courts are held, does not require the courts of the United States, by adopting the forms and modes of the state courts, to divest themselves of a jurisdiction once lawfully acquired under an act of Congress.

In ejectment against a tenant in possession of real estate whose landlord is a citizen of another state, the plaintiff has a real and substantial "controversy" with the defendant within the meaning of the act for removal of causes from state courts which continues after his landlord is summoned in and becomes a party for the purpose of protecting his own interests.

The plaintiffs in error, who were plaintiffs below, brought their action in the Circuit Court of De Kalb County, Missouri at the April term, 1883, against George R. Oaks for the recovery of the possession of certain lands in that county unlawfully withheld by him, as they alleged, and for damages therefor, and for rents and profits. The defendant, a citizen of Missouri, having been served with process, the plaintiffs, who were citizens of Pennsylvania, filed their petition for the removal of the cause to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western Division of the Western District of Missouri on the ground that the controversy in said suit was between citizens of different states, the matter and amount in dispute being in excess of the sum or value of $500. The prayer of the petition was granted, the accompanying bond being approved, and the cause was removed.

Page 117 U. S. 237

Afterwards, on June 16, 1884, the defendant Oaks filed his answer, in which he denied all the allegations of the plaintiffs' complaint, except as expressly admitted, and in addition set up that at the time of the commencement of the action he was in the possession of the premises as the tenant, from year to year, of one Maria Zeidler, wife of John Zeidler, who was the owner thereof, and to whom he had paid the rents due on account thereof, and asked that the said Maria and John Zeidler be made parties defendant to the suit according to the form of the statute of Missouri in such cases provided. Thereupon the Zeidlers also appeared and asked to be let in as defendants and for leave to plead, and it was so ordered by the court, with leave to file a motion to remand the cause to the state court in thirty days. Such a motion was accordingly made on the ground that Maria Zeidler and John Zeidler, her husband, were both citizens of Pennsylvania; that the defendant Oaks made no claim or demand to the premises in controversy otherwise than as the tenant of Maria Zeidler, and that consequently the said suit did not really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy properly within the jurisdiction of the circuit court of the United States.

Pending this motion, the plaintiffs moved the court to rescind the order making Maria and John Zeidler parties. This motion to rescind was denied and the motion of the defendants to remand the cause was granted. To reverse these rulings is the object of this writ of error.

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