Iowa Central Railway Co. v. Iowa
160 U.S. 389 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Iowa Central Railway Co. v. Iowa, 160 U.S. 389 (1896)

Iowa Central Railway Company v. Iowa

No. 128

Submitted December 18, 1895

Decided January 6, 1896

160 U.S. 389

Syllabus

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution in no way undertakes to control the power of a state to determine by what process legal rights may be asserted, or legal obligations be enforced, provided the method of procedure adopted for these purposes gives reasonable notice and affords fair opportunity to be heard before the issues are decided.

Whether the court of last resort of a state has properly construed its own constitution and laws in determining that a summary process under those laws was applicable to the matter which it adjudged is purely the decision of a question of state law, binding upon this Court.

Page 160 U. S. 390

This Court has no power to review a decision of a state court that the averments of an answer in a pending case set forth no defense to the plaintiff's claim.

It is no denial of a right protected by the Constitution of the United States to refuse a jury trial in a civil cause pending in a state court, even though it be clearly erroneous to construe the laws of the state as justifying the refusal.

In 1880, the Central Iowa Railway Company, which had become the owner, through foreclosure proceedings, of the railroad of the Central Railway Company of Iowa, leased to the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Company, about eleven miles of said road, which lay between Manly Junction and Northwood, the northern terminus of the Central Company's road. The Burlington Company took exclusive possession of the leased premises. In 1881, the citizens of Northwood made application to the state railroad commissioners for an order requiring the Central Iowa Railway Company to operate such leased portion of its road, and after due notice a hearing was had before the commissioners, and in 1883 the order prayed for was granted. As the company failed to obey, an action was brought, pursuant to chapter 133, Iowa Laws of 1884, to compel compliance with the order of the commissioners. The state district court rendered a decree against the railroad company, and on appeal, after a hearing and overruling of a motion for rehearing, the supreme court of the state, in October, 1887, entered a decree ordering, adjudging, and decreeing that the Central Iowa Railway Company operate such leased portion of its line and enjoining the Burlington Company from interference therewith. The opinion of the supreme court is reported in 71 Ia. 410.

During the pendency of this litigation, however, foreclosure proceedings were instituted in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Iowa against the Central Iowa Railway Company, and, while the cause was pending in the Supreme Court of Iowa on the appeal of the company, a receiver of its property was appointed. A decree of foreclosure was entered, and in September, 1887, the road was sold. Subsequently, the purchaser assigned his purchase to

Page 160 U. S. 391

the Iowa Railway Company, a corporation of Iowa, which company thereafter made conveyance to plaintiff in error herein, an Illinois corporation, and the receiver surrendered possession to it on May 30, 1889.

In August, 1889, the Attorney General of the State of Iowa filed a petition in the supreme court of the state in the name of the state, as plaintiff, against the Iowa Central Railway Company, alleging the entry of the decree of October, 1887, above referred to; that thereafter the Iowa Railway Company had become the successor, assignee, and grantee of the Central Iowa Railway Company, and was operating and running its line contrary to the terms and provisions of the decree, and in violation thereof. A mandatory injunction was prayed to compel the defendant to obey the command and order contained in said decree.

A copy of said petition, with notice of an intention to apply for an order to show cause why the order and decree referred to should not be obeyed was served upon the railway company. That company filed its answer and amendments thereto, which in substance set forth that it was not a party to the suit in which the decree was rendered; that the Central Iowa Railway Company at the time of the entering of the decree, was dead, to all intents and purposes, by reason of the fact that a receiver had theretofore been appointed, and the road of the company sold under foreclosure; that defendant was not the successor, assignee, or grantee of said Central Iowa Railway Company, and had not been adjudged so to be; that no demand had been made upon it to perform the decree, and that a mandatory writ ought not to be issued until it had an opportunity of testing in a regular manner the right of the state to require the performance of the decree in question. The defendant also filed a demand for a jury trial. Thereupon a motion was made on behalf of the state to enter the order prayed for in the petition, upon the ground that the defendant in its answer had not shown cause why such order should not be made, and for the further reason that, from the record and pleadings in the proceeding, it appeared that the plaintiff was entitled to such order. Plaintiff's motion for

Page 160 U. S. 392

judgment was granted, and on October 26, 1891, an entry was made in the cause in the words and figures following:

"In this cause, the court, being fully advised in the premises, file their written decision, and find that plaintiff is entitled to an order for the operation of the road by defendant, as prayed for, and that a writ issue accordingly. It is further considered by the court that the defendant pay the costs of this Court, taxed at $22.75, and that execution issue therefor."

The cause was then brought to this Court by writ of error.

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