Missouri Pacific Ry. Co. v. Larabee
234 U.S. 459 (1914)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Missouri Pacific Ry. Co. v. Larabee, 234 U.S. 459 (1914)

Missouri Pacific Railway Company v. Larabee

No. 135

Argued December 15, 16, 1913

Decided June 22, 1914

234 U.S. 459

Syllabus

A state cannot burden the right of access to this Court, nor does the power of the state extend to regulating proceedings in this Court.

A state court has not, nor can a statute of the state give it, the power to assess as against one party to a suit in this Court a sum for attorneys' fees for services rendered in this Court as against another party to the suit when such assessment is not authorized by the law of the United States or by the rules of this Court.

A writ of error from this Court to review the judgment of a state court and the supersedeas authorized by the Judiciary Act are federal, and not state, acts.

A state court, when so authorized by the laws of the state, has the power to award actual damages for business losses which are suffered by reason of the acts sought to be controlled or enjoined in the suit after the allowance by this Court of a writ of error and supersedeas, including reasonable attorneys' fees in the proceedings in the state court. Quaere whether the state court can award punitive damages.

The existence of the right to sue on a supersedeas bond does not imply an exclusion of the right to sue under an existing general and applicable law for proper and reasonable damages.

A classification which is based on the distinction between that which is ordinary and that which is extraordinary is reasonable and not repugnant to the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment which only restrains acts regulating judicial procedure so transcending the limits of classification as to cause them to conflict with the fundamental conceptions of just and equal legislation.

A state statute imposing reasonable attorneys' fees in actual mandamus proceedings against the party refusing to obey a peremptory writ is not repugnant to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment either because it does not apply to other proceedings or because it is not reciprocal. The classification is not unreasonable, and so held as to the statute to that effect of Kansas involved in this case and as herein applied.

85 Kan. 214 reversed.

A dispute as to a small charge for demurrage having arisen between the Missouri Pacific Railway Company and

Page 234 U. S. 460

the Larabee Flour Mills Company, the railway company, to enforce payment, suspended the rendering of a certain class of switching service which it had previously regularly performed for the mills company. The latter, on September 15, 1906, commenced in the Supreme Court of Kansas mandamus proceedings to compel the continuance of the service. After a response to an alternative rule and a hearing on the eighth of December, 1906, the court granted a peremptory mandamus. 74 Kan. 808. At the close of the opinion, there was the following memorandum (p. 822):

"The court has authority to render judgment in favor of the plaintiff for any damage it has sustained. Gen.Stat. 1901, § 5193. The plaintiff is given ten days in which to file a claim for damages, stating separately the character and amount of each item. The defendant is given ten days after notice of the filing of the claim in which to except to any items which it may deem not recoverable. The court will then pass upon the exceptions if any be taken, and make orders respecting a hearing."

Some days thereafter, a claim of damages was filed enumerating fifteen items. The first eight concerned various business losses alleged to have been occasioned by the suspension of the service, such as decrease in the output of the mill, increased cost of hauling, etc., etc. Four of the claims on these subjects aggregated $4,907.39, and four stated no amount, but reserved the right to make a future claim for losses in case the litigation should be prolonged and the resumption of the service postponed. The remaining six items, with one exception, related to small expenses alleged to have been incurred in the mandamus suit. One of them, however, the fourteenth, made a charge of $2,500 "to cash paid and plaintiff's agreement to pay Waters & Waters attorneys' fees in this case." The fifteenth item reserved the right to make a charge for future

Page 234 U. S. 461

legal services "if this case is taken to the Supreme Court of the United States whatever such services may be worth." A few days after this claim was filed, on December 24, 1906, a writ of error was issued from this Court to the judgment in mandamus, and a bond to operate as a supersedeas was approved. About two years thereafter, on January 11, 1909, the case was decided in this Court and the judgment below was affirmed. 211 U. S. 211 U.S. 612.

After the mandate went down, leave was given to file an amended claim for damages, and on the same day a Commissioner was appointed to hear the testimony concerning it and report. The amended claim was filed. It was divided into three general classes: first, damages asserted to have arisen from loss of business, etc.; second, damages claimed as the result of the expenses and outlay for the suit; third, cost incurred or anticipated, occasioned by the hearing of the claim. The first, that is, the business losses, was embraced in separate items substantially following the order of the original claim; that is, it was based on alleged loss of output, increased cost of operation, etc., etc. The amounts of many of these items were larger, as they covered the time from the discontinuance of the service up to the filing of the amended claim. The aggregate of the claim was $18,921.90, as compared with $4,907.39, made at the time of the first claim. The second, the expenses of the suit, was greatly changed. Leaving out two insignificant items, as amended the claim was in substance follows.

The claim for $2,500 paid or to be paid to Waters & Waters for personal services was changed to read

"For the reasonable value of the services of Waters & Waters to bring this action and to attend to the same in the supreme court of the State of Kansas, the sum of $2,500.00. "

Page 234 U. S. 462

"Tenth. For the reasonable value of the services of Waters & Waters in this case in the Supreme Court of the United states, the sum of $40,000.00."

"Eleventh. For cash paid out for printed briefs in the state and United States Supreme Court, the sum of $93.50."

"Twelfth. For the reasonable value of the professional services of John F. Switzer, attorney at law, employed to assist Waters & Waters in the Supreme Court of the United states, the plaintiff, in the best judgment of the partners composing said firm, deeming it necessary, after considering the momentous and far-reaching controversy made, urged, and argued in the Supreme Court of the United States, and which controversy it could not avoid, the sum of $3,000.00."

"Thirteenth. For the reasonable value of the professional services of the firm of Rossington & Smith, attorneys at law, also employed to present the case of the plaintiff in the Supreme Court of the United states, the plaintiff, in the best judgment of the partners composing said firm, deeming it necessary, after considering the momentous and far-reaching controversy made, urged, and contended for in the Supreme Court of the United States, and which controversy it could not avoid, the sum of $30,000.00."

"Fourteenth. For the railroad fare, hotel bills, and reasonable expenses of W. H. Rossington and J. G. Waters in attending on the United States Supreme Court in April, 1908, the sum of $250 each, and making a total of $500.00. "

Page 234 U. S. 463

"Fifteenth. For the railroad fare, hotel bills, and reasonable expenses of Charles Blood Smith and J. G. Waters in attending on the Supreme Court in October, 1908, the sum of $480.60."

"Sixteenth. For the costs due the plaintiff in the Supreme Court of the United states, the sum of $148.25."

The 17th, 18th, and 19th items embraced small items of traveling and other expenses of the parties and some of their attorneys. In the items of court expenses the difference between the original claim was substantially this, that the claim had grown from about $2,800 for attorneys' fees in the state court when the original claim in damages was filed to a sum in excess of $75,000, all of which increase resulted from charges made for professional services rendered in this Court in connection with the trial of the case. The remaining items of the third class related to expenses incurred under the reference to the Commissioner before whom the case was pending, with a reservation of the right to make future charges for such purpose when the reference was completed.

The railway company objected to the various items in the amended claim as follows: to those covering the business losses, decrease of output, increased expenses, etc., etc., besides denying that the suit was the proximate cause of the losses represented by the alleged claims, and asserting their speculative nature, it was specially charged that, insofar as they included items arising after the allowance of the writ of error from this Court and the giving of the supersedeas bond, they were not within the cognizance of the court, but were matters alone of federal competency within the jurisdiction of this Court. So far as the claims for alleged outlay and expenses including attorneys' fees in the state court were concerned, it was alleged that there was no right to recover them because

Page 234 U. S. 464

the only authority under which they could be allowed was a statute of the State of Kansas relating to mandamus proceedings, and that such statute, as construed by the court of last resort of the state, was repugnant to the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment because, under such construction, a right was given by the statute to a plaintiff in mandamus to recover attorneys' fees as damages, while no reciprocal right in case of success was given to a defendant, and no such right was given to litigants generally. Coming to the alleged right to recover attorneys' fees for services rendered on the writ of error in this Court and the other items, such as briefs, traveling expenses, hotel bills, etc., etc., it was expressly charged that, under the statutes of the United States, the effect of the writ of error from this Court and the supersedeas was to deprive the state court of all authority over such expenses, and that, moreover,

"under such statutes and laws of the United States, this Court has no power, authority, or jurisdiction to consider the claim and demand for damages on account of attorneys' fees for services rendered in such proceeding in error from the Supreme Court of the United States to the Supreme Court of Kansas, and for the further reason that, if the said plaintiffs were entitled to any damages, their application therefor should be made to the Supreme Court of the United States, or in an independent proceeding brought on the supersedeas bond so approved and allowed as a supersedeas by the chief justice of this state . . . and because, further, to allow such claim would be violative of the Constitution of the United States, and especially the Fourteenth Amendment thereof, which prohibits any state from denying to any person, company, or corporation the equal protection of the laws, and prevents any state from depriving any person, company, or corporation of its property without due process of law; . . . and because of such Judiciary Act [of the United States], . . . this court

Page 234 U. S. 465

is deprived of all jurisdiction to consider or determine any such question or element of damage in a proceeding of this kind, and because, further, the Supreme Court of the United States, in affirming the judgment of this court . . . allowed to said plaintiffs, on account of attorneys' fees, the sum of $20.00, and assessed the same against the said defendant. . . ."

After proof and hearing the Commissioner made an elaborate report stating fully what he conceived to be the facts and the law of the case. On the subject of the various claims made for the allowance of damages for a charge of fees for professional services rendered in the Supreme Court of the United States, the Commissioner made the following statement:

"I find that no agreement has ever been had between the mill company and any of the attorneys as to the amount of their compensation; that neither of the attorneys has at any time entered on his books a charge against the mill company for services rendered. nor have they informed the mill company of the amount intended to be charged, nor have they determined in their own minds any definite amount intended to be charged."

"I find that the attorneys will claim the full amount, and will accept whatever amount that shall be determined by this court in this proceeding to be a reasonable compensation for their services in the case and allowed as part of the damages."

"I further find that it is mutually understood between the mill company and the attorneys named, that whatever amount is recovered in this proceeding on account of fees and expenses of counsel will be paid by the mill company to and accepted by the attorneys as a full discharge of the liability to them."

The conclusions of the Commissioner as to the amounts to be allowed as damages under the three classes of claims were as follows:

Page 234 U. S. 466

As to the first class, he reduced the claim for

business losses, increased expenses, etc., etc.,

from $18,921.90 to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $5,658.10

As to the amount claimed as due because of

the professional services of Waters & Waters in

the state court, the sum claimed was allowed in full. . . 2,500.00

As to the items for professional services

rendered in the Supreme Court of the United States,

including hotel bill, etc., the amount was reduced

from about $75,000 to. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11,480.00

Under the third class, three small items were

allowed relating to the expenses of the parties in Kansas,

and concerning the reference to the Commissioner . . . . . 376.00

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Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20,014.10

Both parties excepted to the report of the Commissioner on various grounds, and after a hearing the supreme court sustained his action and affirmed his report. 85 Kan. 214.

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