Santa Fe Central Ry. Co. v. Friday
232 U.S. 694 (1914)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Santa Fe Central Ry. Co. v. Friday, 232 U.S. 694 (1914)

Santa Fe Central Ry. Co. v. Friday

No. 230

Submitted March 5, 1914

Decided March 23, 1914

232 U.S. 694

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT

OF THE TERRITORY OF NEW MEXICO

Syllabus

A statute of a territory cannot withdraw from the courts established by the United States authority expressly conferred upon them by Congress by the Organic Act and other statute. The City of Panama,101 U. S. 453.

The District Court of the United States for New Mexico has jurisdiction of a case arising under the Employers' Liability Act of 1906.

This Court will not decide against the local understanding as expressed by the decisions of the Supreme Court of a Territory in construing a jurisdictional statute affecting a matter of local concern unless those decisions are clearly wrong. Phoenix Ry. Co. v. Landis,231 U. S. 57.

16 N.M. 434 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the jurisdiction of the courts of a territory of the United States over actions brought under the Employers' Liability Act of 1906, are stated in the opinion.

Page 232 U. S. 698

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action for personal injuries, brought by the defendant in error against the railway company under the Act of June 11, 1906, c. 3073, 34 Stat. 232, held valid for the territories in El Paso & Northeastern Ry. Co. v. Gutierrez,215 U. S. 87. The plaintiff got a verdict and judgment which the supreme court of the territory affirmed. 16 N.M. 434.

The only argument addressed to us is an attack upon the jurisdiction of the court that tried the case. That court was the district court, sitting for the trial of causes arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States in the First Judicial District in the Territory of New Mexico. The organic act of September 9, 1850, c. 49, 9 Stat. 446, provided in § 10 for three judicial districts, and for a district court to be held in each by a justice

Page 232 U. S. 699

of the supreme court, as should be prescribed by law. It further enacted that the jurisdiction of the several courts therein provided for "shall be as limited by law," that

"each of the said district courts shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States as is vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States,"

and that the first six days of every term, or so much of them as necessary, "shall be appropriated to the trial of causes arising under the said Constitution and laws." See also Rev.Stat. § 1910. The court where the trial was held was one of these district courts provided for by the organic act, and the case was one arising under the laws of the United States.

But it is said that the jurisdiction of these courts was to be "as limited by law," that that means by territorial legislation, and that a territorial statute provided for the holding of district courts in the counties, and enacted that the district courts in the counties should have "exclusive original jurisdiction in all civil cases which shall not be cognizable before probate judges and justices of the peace." Compiled Laws 1897, § 900. By a later territorial act, the district courts in the various counties were given "jurisdiction in all civil causes in said counties which, according to law, belong to the district courts," id., § 901. And this was in pursuance not only of the organic act, but of another act of Congress of 1858, 11 Stat. 366, c. 166, afterwards Rev.Stat. § 1874, by which the judges of the supreme court were

"authorized to hold court within their respective districts, in the counties wherein, by the laws of the territory, courts have been or may be established, for the purpose of hearing and determining all matters and causes, except those in which the United States is a party."

Thus, it is argued, exclusive jurisdiction of cases like the present was transferred to the county district courts.

Page 232 U. S. 700

But it has been held for many years that the purpose and effect of these statutes was to give the judges of the supreme court sitting in the county district courts authority to hear cases arising under territorial laws, and to make the jurisdiction over such cases exclusive in those courts. Lincoln-Lucky & Lee Mining Co. v. District Court, 7 N.M. 486, 499-501; Murphy v. Murphy, 25 N.W. 806. The statutes, we believe, have not been understood to attempt to withdraw from the courts of the larger districts the authority expressly conferred upon them by the Revised Statutes and the organic act -- a thing that, of course, territorial statutes could not do. See The City of Panama,101 U. S. 453. We should not decide against the local understanding of a matter of purely local concern unless we thought it clearly wrong, instead of thinking it, as we do, plainly right. Phoenix Ry. Co. v. Landis,231 U. S. 578, 231 U. S. 579.

Judgment affirmed.

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