1. In a suit in equity brought by a widow for the purpose of
preserving and protecting her right to future participation in a
fund from which she is entitled to receive a pension of so much per
month during her lifetime as long as she shall remain unmarried,
the amount in controversy, determining the federal court's
jurisdiction, is the present value of her interest, calculable from
the amount of the monthly payment and her life expectancy. P.
293 U. S.
2. The fact that the further payments will cease if the
pensioner remarry does not render them contingent or speculative.
Thompson v Thompson, 226 U. S. 551
293 U. S.
3. The evidence discloses that the pensioner's "expectancy of
remarriage" and its effect upon the value of her interest in the
fund were subject to actuarial measurement in this case. P.
293 U. S.
69 F.2d 600 affirmed.
Certiorari, 292 U.S. 621, to review the reversal of a decree
dismissing the bill, for lack of jurisdiction, in a suit by a widow
on behalf of herself and of other beneficiaries similarly situated,
for an accounting and other equitable relief in respect of a fund
established by a labor association for the pensioning of widows of
their deceased members.
Page 293 U. S. 98
Opinion of the Court by MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND, announced by the
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen is an
unincorporated voluntary association with headquarters in Ohio. It
has a department known as the Widows' Pension Department, created
in order to provide a monthly income for the widows or widowed
mothers of deceased members. The widow of a member, upon his death,
is to receive a pension of $35 per month during her lifetime. In
the event of her remarriage, the
Page 293 U. S. 99
pension is to cease. The respondent, widow of a deceased member,
became entitled to this pension. Thereafter, the association,
following an investigation of the financial condition of the
department and upon an actuarial report, determined to abolish the
department and distribute the assets after making a lump-sum
settlement not to exceed $1,500 with each widow then on the pension
roll. Widows refusing to settle were to have their names erased
from the roll, and be provisionally relegated to another fund.
Payment of monthly installments on pensions was discontinued,
beginning September 1, 1931.
Complainant thereupon brought suit in a federal District Court,
on behalf of herself and other beneficiaries similarly situated,
for an accounting, determination of priorities, and a proper
liquidation and administration of the funds of the department. The
federal jurisdiction was invoked on the ground of diversity of
citizenship. The District Court, after a hearing, dismissed the
bill on the ground that the requisite amount to confer jurisdiction
(over $3,000) was not involved. The Circuit Court of Appeals
reversed (69 F.2d 600) upon the authority of Thompson v.
Thompson, 226 U. S. 551
Whether that court rightly held that the jurisdictional amount was
involved is the only question for consideration.
The entire fund is nearly $300,000. The bill proceeds on the
theory that this constitutes a trust fund, and seeks its
administration under judicial orders. Respondent urges that the
jurisdiction may well be tested by the value of the whole fund. But
we put that question aside, since we are of opinion that the value
of respondent's own interest in the fund exceeds the jurisdictional
This, it will be seen, is not an action at law to recover
overdue installments, but a suit in equity to preserve and protect
a right to future participation in the fund. If
Page 293 U. S. 100
the value of that right exceeds $3,000, the District Court has
In the Thompson
case, a decree had been entered by the
Supreme Court of the District of Columbia in favor of a wife
against her husband, for support and maintenance at the rate of $75
a month, together with $500 for counsel fees. The decree was
reversed by the Court of Appeals of the District (35 App.D.C. 14).
On an appeal to this Court, our jurisdiction was challenged upon
the ground that a sum in excess of $5,000 was not involved, as the
statute at that time required. While the installments already
accrued amounted to much less than that, it was held that the
expectancy of life of the parties was clearly sufficient to make up
the balance, and jurisdiction was upheld. Mr. Justice Pitney, who
delivered the opinion, said (p. 226 U. S.
"The future payments are not in any proper sense contingent or
speculative, although they are subject to be increased, decreased,
or even cut off as just indicated."
The situation there and that here fairly cannot be
distinguished. The life expectancy of respondent, as shown by the
mortality tables, is enough to bring the value of the future
pension installments, as of the date of the suit, to a sum much in
excess of $3,000, and, as to that, no point is made. The
jurisdictional defect said to exist is that the payments are to
cease in the event of respondent's remarriage, and this condition,
petitioners say, makes future payments depend entirely upon the
volition of the widow, and whether they may accrue is therefore a
matter of pure speculation. Indeed, the happening of the event does
not depend (if that would matter) upon the widow's volition alone,
but equally upon the willingness of another to marry her.
Continuance of payments during the life of the respondent is fixed
by contract quite as definitely as continuance of payments for
maintenance in the Thompson
case was fixed by decree, and
subject to substantially like conditions subsequent. In the
Page 293 U. S. 101
case the payments were subject to be cut off entirely, not only
by death but, the Court said, "in the event of a change in the
circumstances of the parties." The same is true here. In no respect
are we able to see any difference in principle between the two
cases. The occurrence of the specified event which would put an end
to the obligation is no more uncertain in the one case than in the
Moreover, the evidence discloses that the expectancy of
remarriage and its effect upon the value of the pension is capable
of actuarial determination. The law of averages applies in respect
of that event, as it does in respect of death and of other events.
Mr. Pipe, an actuary called as a witness by petitioners, testified
that the value of respondent's right to receive $35 a month so long
as she remained unmarried was, in round figures, $6,000 as of
August 1, 1931. A report made to the Brotherhood, filed June 2,
1932, by its Committee on Constitution, which seems to have been
made after careful study, contains the statement:
"The 'present value' can be determined if we know the average
ages of widows corresponding to the ages at the death of members,
and we know the proportion of widows who remarry. This information
is available from the records of Pension Funds. For example, if we
know that the average age of the widows of members who die at age
40 is 36, then the value of the benefit in event of death at 40 is
the present value of a pension of $420 per annum on the life of a
woman aged 36, taking into account the chances of remarriage. The
benefit has a definite 'lump sum' value on the death of the member.
. . ."
Counsel upon both sides have cited and discussed decisions of
this and other courts bearing upon the general subject. We have
examined these decisions, but find it unnecessary to review or
distinguish them. We agree with the court below that the question
of jurisdiction here
Page 293 U. S. 102
under consideration is the same in substance as that involved in
case, and, that being so, the decree of the
court below must be