The circuit courts do not possess original jurisdiction over
controversies between citizens of different states claiming lands
under grants of different states by reason of the subject matter,
and the decree of a circuit court of appeals in such a case is
final and an appeal to this Court does not lie.
This was a bill filed by Stevenson and others, citizens and
residents of New York and Rhode Island, against Fain and others,
citizens and residents of North Carolina and Georgia, in the
Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of
Tennessee, to remove a cloud upon the title to a
Page 195 U. S. 166
body of wild lands lying adjacent to the boundary between
Tennessee and North Carolina.
Complainants claimed title under grants from the State of
Tennessee, and alleged that the lands lay wholly in Monroe County,
Tennessee. Defendants alleged that the lands lay wholly within the
County of Cherokee, in the State of North Carolina, and that they
were lawfully granted to their ancestor by that state.
The issue involved the true boundary line between North Carolina
and Tennessee. The circuit court held that the lands lay in the
State of North Carolina, and that the title was in defendants, and
dismissed the bill.
Thereupon an appeal was taken to the Circuit Court of Appeals
for the Sixth Circuit, and, on hearing, the decree of the circuit
court was affirmed. 116 F. 147.
From the decree of the circuit court of appeals this appeal was
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER delivered the opinion of the Court.
If the jurisdiction of the circuit court was dependent entirely
on diversity of citizenship, the decree of the circuit court of
appeals was final, and this appeal cannot be maintained. The
contention of appellants is that it was not so dependent, because
jurisdiction also existed in that the parties claimed under grants
from different states, to which it is replied that, under the
Constitution and laws, the circuit courts are not vested with
jurisdiction on that ground except when the parties are citizens of
the same state.
By section 1 of Article III of the Constitution, it is
Page 195 U. S. 167
"The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one
supreme court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may,
from time to time, ordain and establish."
And by § 2, that
"The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and
equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United
States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their
authority; to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public
ministers, and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime
jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall be
a party; to controversies between two or more states, between a
state and citizens of another state, between citizens of different
states, between citizens of the same state claiming lands under
grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens
thereof, and foreign states, citizens, or subjects. In all cases
affecting ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls, and
those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have
original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the
Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and
fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations, as the
Congress shall make."
The Supreme Court alone "possesses jurisdiction derived
immediately from the Constitution, and of which the legislative
power cannot deprive it," United States v.
7 Cranch 32, but the jurisdiction of the
circuit courts depends upon some act of Congress. Turner v.
4 Dall. 8, 4
U. S. 10
; McIntire v.
7 Cranch 504, 11 U. S. 506
The use of the word "controversies" as in contradistinction to
the word "cases," and the omission of the word "all" in respect of
controversies, left it to Congress to define the controversies over
which the courts it was empowered to ordain and establish might
exercise jurisdiction, and the manner in which it was to be
By the eleventh section of the Judiciary Act of September 24,
1789, it was provided that the circuit courts of the United States
"have original cognizance, concurrent with the
Page 195 U. S. 168
courts of the several states, of all suits of a civil nature at
common law or in equity, where the matter in dispute exceeds,
exclusive of costs, the sum or value of five hundred dollars, and
the United States are plaintiffs or petitioners, or an alien is a
party, or the suit is between a citizen of the state where the suit
is brought and a citizen of another state."
In Bank v. Deveaux,
5 Cranch 61, 9 U. S. 85
Chief Justice Marshall said:
"The judicial power of the United States, as defined in the
Constitution, is dependent, 1st, on the nature of the case, and 2d
on the character of the parties. By the judicial act, the
jurisdiction of the circuit court is extended to cases where the
constitutional right to plead and be impleaded, in the courts of
the Union, depends on the character of the parties; but where that
right depends on the nature of the case, the circuit courts derive
no jurisdiction from that act except in the single case of a
controversy between citizens of the same state claiming lands under
grants from different states."
And that jurisdiction was conferred by the twelfth section of
the act, which provided that, "if in any action commenced in a
state court, the title of land is concerned and the parties are
citizens of the same state," either party might remove the cause to
the circuit court on the fact being made to appear that the parties
claimed under grants of different states. This section was carried
forward as section 647 of the Revised Statutes, U.S.Comp.Stat.
1901, p. 524, and reappears in substance in section 3 of the Act of
March 3, 1875. 18 Stat. 470, c. 137.
By the first section of the latter act, original jurisdiction
was given to the circuit courts of cases, among others, "arising
under the Constitution or laws of the United States, or treaties,"
or in which there was "a controversy between citizens of the same
state claiming lands under grants of different states."
The Acts of March 3, 1887, 24 Stat. 552, c. 373, and of August
13, 1888, 25 Stat. 433, c. 866, are to the same purport.
Two cases arising under the Judiciary Act of 1789 are cited,
Page 195 U. S. 169
9 Cranch 292, decided March 10, 1815, and
2 Wheat. 377, decided March 14, 1817.
In Pawlet v. Clark,
it appeared that the parties were
citizens of Vermont, and that the cases were pending in the Circuit
Court for the District of Vermont, but the reporter's statement
does not show that the case was commenced in the state court. The
record on file in this Court, however, discloses that such was the
fact, and that the cause was removed into the circuit court under
the twelfth section.
Colson v. Lewis
is not well reported. It was a bill in
equity in which Lewis and others were complainants and Rawleigh
Colson was the sole defendant. It came here on certificate, and the
title was "Lewis and others against Colson," and not as given in
the report. The case stated shows that the case was removed from
the state court into the Circuit Court of Kentucky, and that the
complainants were citizens of Virginia, but the citizenship of
defendant was not disclosed. The headnote asserts that the parties
were citizens of Kentucky. But the certificate of the clerk, as
appears from our files, sets forth "that it is stated in the bill
that the deft. Rawleigh Colson is a citizen of the State of
In both cases, the parties were citizens of the same state, and
the cases were originally commenced in the state courts, and the
circuit courts acquired jurisdiction by removal. The Judiciary Act
of 1789 vested the circuit courts with original jurisdiction on the
ground of diversity of citizenship, but not where title was claimed
under grants of different states. Congress manifestly accepted the
letter of the Constitution, and, as the judicial power extended to
controversies where citizens of the same state claimed title under
grants of different states, assumed that cases presenting such
controversies would be commenced in the state courts, and provided
that those cases might be removed when that fact was made to
appear. The particular constitutional provision was treated as not
open to a construction which would make it embrace
Page 195 U. S. 170
citizens of different states. Naturally enough, as the reason
for the extension of the federal judicial power to controversies
between citizens of different states, and to controversies between
citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different
states, was in substance the same. 2 Story, Const. § 1696.
And when the act of 1875 enlarged the original jurisdiction, no
view to the contrary was indicated.
Ayres v. Polsdorfer, 187 U. S. 585
an action of ejectment brought in the circuit court by citizens of
one state against those of another, and the case, having gone to
judgment, was carried to the circuit court of appeals, and the
judgment affirmed. A writ of error from this Court was then sought
to be sustained because, as was contended, the evidence disclosed,
though the pleadings did not, that the parties claimed under grants
of different states. But we held that, if the emergence of such a
question might have justified taking the case directly to this
Court, having gone to the court of appeals, it could not, after
judgment, then be brought here.
As Congress has not conferred jurisdiction on the circuit courts
over controversies between citizens of different states because,
apart from diversity of citizenship, they may have claimed title by
grants from different states, even if it had power to do so, which
is not conceded, the result is that the appeal must be