1. Where a district court dismisses a suit upon the specific
ground of want of jurisdiction, this Court, upon a sufficient
certificate, acquires jurisdiction of a direct appeal, and whatever
the reason assigned by the district court for the supposed want of
jurisdiction must determine whether that court had and should have
exercised the jurisdiction thus denied. P. 264 U. S.
2. But where a decree of the district court does not purport to
be based upon a question of its jurisdiction, a subsequent
certificate characterizing the ground of decision as one involving
a question of jurisdiction does not authorize this Court to
entertain the appeal unless the question certified presents an
issue as to "the jurisdiction of the court" within the meaning of
Jud.Code § 238. Id.
3. The question whether, in a suit in equity, the plaintiff is
prevented by Jud.Code § 265 from obtaining an injunction staying
proceedings in a state court does not present an issue as to the
jurisdiction of the district court within the meaning of § 238, but
one of the equity or merits of the case. Id.
Page 264 U. S. 275
4. Section 265 of the Code is not a jurisdictional statute, but
a mere limitation upon the general equity powers of the federal
courts, preventing relief by injunction in the cases covered by it.
P. 264 U. S.
5. An appeal from the district court, involving only the merits
but mistakenly brought here as involving only that court's
jurisdiction, will be transferred to the circuit court of appeals
under the Transfer Act of September 14, 1922, Jud.Code § 238a. P.
264 U. S.
Case transferred to circuit court of appeals.
Direct appeal from a decree of the district court dismissing,
for want of jurisdiction, a suit to enjoin enforcement of judgments
recovered by the defendant in a state court.
MR. JUSTICE SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.
The record presents a preliminary question as to our
jurisdiction of this appeal. This we must consider although not
raised by counsel. Stevirmac Oil Co. v. Dittman,
245 U. S. 210
245 U. S.
This is a suit in equity brought in the district court by a
citizen of Oklahoma against a citizen of Kansas to enjoin the
latter from enforcing certain judgments that he had recovered
against the plaintiff in a state court -- which were alleged to be
unconscionable and void -- and, incidentally, from further
prosecuting a suit in the district court that had been brought by
him against a surety on a supersedeas bond given by the plaintiff
in the course of the proceedings in the state court. The amount
involved, exclusive of interest and costs, exceeds $3,000.
The defendant moved to dismiss the suit on two grounds: 1st, for
want of jurisdiction, because the diversity
Page 264 U. S. 276
of citizenship had not existed at the time the judgments were
rendered; and, 2nd for want of "a valid cause of action in equity."
The district judge, on consideration of this motion, handed down a
memorandum in which, without passing upon the jurisdictional
question raised by the motion, he said:
"In examining the matter, I am constrained to believe, insofar
as restraint of further proceedings in the courts of the state are
concerned, the injunction prayed for in this suit is within the
letter and spirit of the prohibition of Section 265 of the Judicial
Code, . . . and that the motion to dismiss interposed in this suit
should be sustained."
"A decree was thereupon entered dismissing the suit at the costs
of the plaintiff, 'for the reasons stated' in the memorandum.
Thereafter, the appeal to this Court was allowed by another
district judge, sitting by assignment; his order allowing the
appeal reciting that the decree dismissing the suit"
"was made upon consideration solely of the question of the
court's jurisdiction of the said action under the provisions of
Section 265 of the Judicial Code."
Section 238 of the Judicial Code, reenacting a like provision in
the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, provides that appeals and writs
of error may be taken from district courts direct to this Court in
cases "in which the jurisdiction of the court is in issue," in
which case that question alone shall be certified from the court
below for decision. [Footnote
We assume for present purposes that, in matter of form, the
recital in the order allowing the appeal that the suit was
dismissed "upon consideration solely of the court's jurisdiction"
of the action under Section 265 of the Code is a sufficient
certification of a jurisdictional question. See
Page 264 U. S. 277
Excelsior Pipe Co. v. Bridge Co., 185 U.
, 185 U. S. 285
Coming, however, to the matter of substance, it is clear that the
suit was dismissed solely upon the ground that, in the opinion of
the district judge, the court was prohibited by § 265 from granting
the injunction sought by the bill. True it is that, where a
district court dismisses a suit upon the specific ground of want of
jurisdiction, this Court, upon a sufficient certificate, acquires
jurisdiction of a direct appeal, and, whatever the ground assigned
by the District Court for the supposed want of jurisdiction, must
determine whether or not that court had and should have exercised
the jurisdiction thus denied. Excelsior Pipe Co. v. Bridge Co.,
p. 185 U. S. 285
The Ira M. Hedges, 218 U. S. 264
218 U. S. 270
Louisville & N. Railroad Co. v. Western Union Telegraph
Co., 234 U. S. 369
234 U. S. 377
Public Service Co. v. Corboy, 250 U.
, 250 U. S. 159
But where, as in the present case, a decree of the district court
does not purport to be based upon a question of its jurisdiction, a
subsequent certificate characterizing the ground of the decision as
one involving its jurisdiction does not authorize this Court to
entertain the appeal unless the question certified presents an
issue as to "the jurisdiction of the court" within the meaning of §
238 of the Code. Smith v. McKay, 161 U.
, 161 U. S. 357
O'Neal v. United States, 190 U. S. 36
Bien v. Robinson, 208 U. S. 423
208 U. S. 427
Darnell v. Illinois Railroad, 225 U.
, 225 U. S. 245
Stevirmac Oil Co. v. Dittman, supra,
p. 245 U. S. 214
DeRees v. Costaguta, 254 U. S. 166
254 U. S.
Does the dismissal of a suit in equity upon the ground that the
court is prohibited by Section 265 of the Code from granting the
relief sought by the bill involve an issue as to "the jurisdiction
of the court" within the meaning of Section 238 of the Code?
Under the latter section, as interpreted by repeated decisions
of this Court, the jurisdiction of the district court is an issue
only when its power to hear and determine the cause, as defined and
limited by the Constitution or
Page 264 U. S. 278
statutes of the United States, is in controversy, Smith v.
p. 161 U. S. 358
Mexican Railway v. Eckman, 187 U.
; O'Neal v. United States, supra,
190 U. S. 37
United States v. Congress Construction Co., 222 U.
, 222 U. S. 201
The Pesaro, 255 U. S. 216
255 U. S. 218
-- that is, shortly stated, when "its power to entertain the suit
under the laws of the United States" is in issue. Louisville
& N. Railroad Co. v. Western Union Telegraph Co., supra,
p. 234 U. S. 371
Where a district court is vested with jurisdiction of a cause, as
where diversity of citizenship exists and the matter in controversy
is of the requisite value, the question whether as a court of
equity it has power to entertain the suit and afford the plaintiff
equitable relief does not present a jurisdictional issue. Bien
v. Robinson, supra,
p. 208 U. S. 427
Such an issue is not presented by the question whether there is
want of equity in the bill, Smith v. McKay, supra,
161 U. S. 353
Building Association v. Price, 169 U. S.
, 169 U. S. 46
World's Columbian Exposition v. United States,
56 F. 654,
as whether its allegations are sufficient to entitle the plaintiff
to the equitable relief sought, Louisville & N. Railroad
Co. v. Western Union Telegraph Co., supra,
p. 234 U. S. 372
DeRees v. Costaguta, supra,
p. 254 U. S. 173
or whether it is not cognizable in equity because of a plain,
adequate, and complete remedy at law, Smith v. McKay,
p. 161 U. S. 356
Shepard v. Adams, 168 U. S. 618
168 U. S. 622
Illinois Railroad v. Adams, 180 U. S.
, 180 U. S.
So the question whether, in a suit in equity, the plaintiff is
prevented by Section 265 of the Code from obtaining an injunction
staying proceedings in a state court does not present an issue as
to "the jurisdiction" of the district court. This Section,
reenacting Section 720 of the Revised Statutes, provides that,
except in bankruptcy cases, the "writ of injunction shall not be
granted by any court of the United States to stay proceedings in
any court of a state." It is not a jurisdictional statute. It
neither confers jurisdiction upon the district courts nor takes
away the jurisdiction otherwise specifically conferred upon
Page 264 U. S. 279
by the federal statutes. [Footnote 2
] It merely limits their general equity powers
in respect to the granting of a particular form of equitable relief
-- that is, it prevents them from granting relief by way of
injunction in the cases included within its inhibitions. In short,
it goes merely to the question of equity in the particular bill.
See Simon v. Southern Railway, 236 U.
, 236 U. S. 116
236 U. S.
-124; Wells Fargo & Co. v. Taylor,
254 U. S. 175
254 U. S. 185
Public Service Co. v. Corboy, [Footnote 3] supra,
p. 250 U. S. 160
National Surety Co. v. State Bank,
120 F. 593, 604. This
section, as settled by repeated decisions of this Court, does not
prohibit in all cases injunctions staying proceedings in a state
court. Such injunctions may be granted, consistently with its
provisions, in several classes of cases. See Wells Fargo &
Co. v. Taylor, supra,
at p. 254 U. S. 183
in which many decisions on this question are collated and
classified. Necessarily, therefore, in a suit in equity of which a
district court has jurisdiction under the federal statutes, where
the relief sought is an injunction against proceedings in a state
court, it is the duty of the court to determine, under the
allegations and proof, whether a case is made which entitles the
plaintiff to the injunction sought -- that is, whether the case
presented is one in which such relief is prohibited by the statute
or one in which it may
Page 264 U. S. 280
nevertheless be granted. Marshall v. Holmes,
141 U. S. 589
141 U. S. 601
Where the plaintiff has the undoubted right to invoke its federal
jurisdiction, the court is bound to take the case and proceed to
judgment. Kline v. Burke Construction Co., 260 U.
, 260 U. S. 234
And when the court takes jurisdiction and determines that, in the
light of § 265 of the Code, it is either authorized or prevented
from granting the injunction prayed, its decision, whether the
relief sought be granted or denied, is plainly not a decision upon
a jurisdictional issue, but upon the question whether there is or
is not equity in the particular bill -- that is, a decision going
to the merits of the controversy.
In the present case, the district court, as shown by the
memorandum and decree, did not decline to exercise jurisdiction. On
the contrary, it took jurisdiction of the cause and, determining,
upon consideration of the bill, that it was prohibited by § 265
from granting the relief sought, dismissed the bill, thereby in
effect sustaining the ground of the motion relating to want of
equity in the bill. This decision, not being upon a jurisdictional
issue, but on the merits, was only reviewable by appeal to the
circuit court of appeals. De Rees v. Costaguta, supra,
254 U. S. 173
The direct appeal to this Court was therefore improvidently
Prior to the Act of September 14, 1922, c. 305, 42 Stat. 837,
this would have resulted in the dismissal of the appeal for want of
jurisdiction here. Smith v. McKay, supra,
p. 254 U. S. 359
O'Neal v. United States, supra,
p. 190 U. S. 38
Excelsior Pipe Co. v. Bridge Co., supra,
p. 185 U. S. 285
De Rees v. Costaguta, supra,
p. 254 U. S. 174
That Act, however, amends the Judicial Code by adding Section
238(a), providing, inter alia,
that an appeal taken to
this Court in a case wherein it should have been taken to a circuit
court of appeals shall not for such reason be dismissed, but shall
be transferred to that court for determination as if the appeal had
been duly taken to it. As this appeal involves a question upon
Page 264 U. S. 281
the merits of the controversy which should have been taken to
the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit instead of to
this Court, it must, pursuant to the statute, be transferred to
It is so ordered.
he Act of 1891 related to direct appeals and writs of error from
the then existing circuit courts as well as district courts.
Decisions under that, Act as well as the Code, are cited in this
opinion without distinction in this respect.
Its language is similar to that in § 267 of the Judicial Code,
providing that suits in equity "shall not be sustained in any court
of the United States in any case where a plain, adequate, and
complete remedy may be had at law," which does not go to the
jurisdiction of the court, and in marked contrast to the provision
in § 24 of the Code that no "district court shall have cognizance
of any suit" to recover upon any chose in action in favor of an
assignee unless it might have been prosecuted in such court if no
assignment had been made.
In this case, as the decree had dismissed the bill "for want of
jurisdiction," this Court was required, under the direct appeal, to
determine whether the district court had the jurisdiction which it
had denied, and its decree denying jurisdiction was reversed.