Swift & Co. v. United States
276 U.S. 311 (1928)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Swift & Co. v. United States, 276 U.S. 311 (1928)

Swift & Company v. United States, 276 U.S. 311 (1928)

No. 181

Argued October 3, 4, 1927

Reargued January 3, 4, 1928

Decided March 19, 1928

276 U.S. 311

Syllabus

1. Where a consent decree, entered in a suit brought by the government under the Anti-Trust Act, provided for entertaining at any time thereafter any application which the parties might make in respect to it, motions to vacate it made by defendants four years later in response to petitions of intervention and entitled in the suit were part of the original cause. P. 276 U. S. 322.

2. An appeal from an order of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia overruling defendant's motion to vacate a decree in a suit by the government under the Anti-Trust Act does not lie to the Court of Appeals of the District, and where erroneously taken there from an order entered before the effective date of the Jurisdictional Act of February 13, 1925, should be transferred by that court, as a circuit court of appeals, to this Court. P. 276 U. S. 323.

3. Where questions were certified to this Court in a case appealed to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia which, under the Expediting Act of 1903, should have been appealed directly here, this Court, by ordering up the entire record, acquired jurisdiction as fully as if a formal transfer had been made. P. 276 U. S. 323.

4. The Supreme Court of the District of Columbia has power to administer relief under the Anti-Trust Act (Federal Trade Comm'n v. Klesner,274 U. S. 145), and where the suit is one under § 4, which can only be brought in equity, it is properly brought in that court sitting in Equity, and need not be addressed to it at special term as the "District Court of the United States." P. 276 U. S. 324.

5. In a suit by the government to restrain alleged violations of the Anti-Trust Act, defendants denied material allegations of the bill, but consented to the entry without any proof or finding of facts, of a decree granting comprehensive relief under the bill but declaring that defendants maintained the truth of their answers, asserted their innocence, and consented to the entry of the decree upon condition that their consent should not constitute an admission, nor the decree an adjudication, that they, or any of them, had violated any law of the United States.

Held:

(1) That a motion by the defendants to vacate the consent decree could not be sustained upon the ground that there was no case

Page 276 U. S. 312

or controversy to afford jurisdiction, since (a) an injunction may issue to prevent future wrongs though no right has yet been violated, and (b) because, if the court, having jurisdiction of the subject and the parties, erred in deciding that there was a controversy, the error could have been reached only by bill of review or appeal. P. 276 U. S. 325.

(2) A motion to vacate would not lie upon the ground that the facts necessary to constitute a violation conferring jurisdiction under the Anti-Trust Act were neither admitted nor proved, since an injunction limited to future acts might be based upon allegations of the bill not specifically denied. Error in that regard would not go to the jurisdiction, and, besides being of a kind reviewable only by appeal, was in this case waived by consent to the decree. P. 276 U. S. 327.

(3) Prohibitions in an injunction decree which, standing alone, are too general are to be read with other parts of the decree and with allegations of the bill for the purpose of removing uncertainties. P. 276 U. S. 327.

(4) Provisions of the consent decree cannot be assailed by a motion to vacate upon the ground that they enjoin future conduct in terms too vague and general. P. 276 U. S. 327.

(5) Nor upon the ground that defendants are debarred in the future from lawful lines of business not connected by any finding of facts with the conspiracy charged, since consent to entry of the decree without such findings left power in the court to construe the pleadings and therein to find circumstances of danger justifying such prohibitions. P. 276 U. S. 328.

(6) Even if the consent decree contain prohibitions which are contrary to the Anti-Trust Act and the common law, and are grossly erroneous, it is not therefore void. P. 276 U. S. 330.

(7) If the court, in addition to enjoining the acts that were admittedly interstate, enjoined some that.were wholly intrastate and in no way related to the conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce, it erred, and, had the defendants not waived such error by their consent, they might have had it corrected on appeal. But the error, if any, does not go to the jurisdiction of the court. P. 276 U. S. 330.

(8) The consent of the Attorney General to the decree, whether correctly or erroneously given, was within his official discretion. P. 276 U. S. 331.

Supreme Court of the District of Columbia affirmed.

Page 276 U. S. 313

Review of orders of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, overruling motions of Swift & Company and other defendants seeking to vacate a decree which had been entered by consent in a suit brought by the government under the Anti-Trust Law. The matter went first, by appeal, to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, and became lodged in this Court by an order calling up the entire record after that court had certified certain questions concerning it.

Page 276 U. S. 318

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