Bell v. Commonwealth Title Ins. Co. - 189 U.S. 131 (1903)


U.S. Supreme Court

Bell v. Commonwealth Title Ins. Co., 189 U.S. 131 (1903)

Bell v. Commonwealth Title and Trust Company

No. 191

Submitted March 10, 1903

Decided April 6, 1903

189 U.S. 131

Syllabus

Under § 828, Rev.Stat., and section 2 of the Act of August 1, 1888, a corporation engaged in the business of insuring titles to real estate has the right, during office hours, to inspect and examine the indices and cross-indices of the judgment records kept by the clerks of the circuit and district courts when such inspection and examination relate to current and depending transactions and are made at such times and under such circumstances that they do not interfere with the clerk or his assistant in the discharge of their duties or with the exercise of the right of other persons to have access to such indices and cross-indices.

By section 828, Rev.Stat., clerks of the circuit and district courts are allowed certain fees for searching records for judgments, decrees, etc., and certifying the results of such searches. In the same section is this provision:

"All books in the offices of the clerks of the circuit and district courts, containing the docket or minute of the judgments, or decrees thereof, shall, during office hours, be open to the inspection of any person desiring to examine the same, without any fees or charge therefor."

Section 2 of the Act of August 1, 1888, 25 Stat. 357, reads:

"The clerks of the several courts of the United States shall prepare and keep in their respective offices complete and convenient indices and cross-indices of the judgment records of said courts, and such indices and records shall at all times be open to the inspection and examination of the public."

On December 28, 1896, the Commonwealth Title Insurance & Trust Company commenced a suit in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Samuel Bell, clerk of that court. The company is engaged in the business of insuring titles to real estate, making

Page 189 U. S. 132

searches for liens and encumbrances upon the same, and issuing certificates in respect thereto, and sought a decree giving to it access to the judgment indices and cross-indices kept by the clerk. The case proceeded to a decree as follows:

"And now this sixteenth day of January, 1901, this case having come on to be heard upon pleadings and proofs, and having been argued by counsel, it is ordered, decreed, and adjudged that the respondent shall permit the properly authorized representatives of the complainant to inspect and examine the judgment indices and cross-indices kept by the respondent, as Clerk of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in such way and manner as will enable the complainant to prosecute its business as insurer of titles, but subject to the following restrictions:"

"The inspection and examination must in each instance relate and be confined to a transaction or transactions which at the time being shall be current or depending, and such inspection and examination shall be made only at such times and under such circumstances as will not interfere with the respondent or his assistants in the discharge of their duties, or with the exercise of the right of other persons to have access to said indices and cross-indices."

This decree was affirmed on September 27, 1901, by the circuit court of appeals. 110 F. 828. On December 2 of the same year, the case was brought here on certiorari. 183 U.S. 699.



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