Nye v. United States,
Annotate this Case
313 U.S. 33 (1941)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Nye v. United States, 313 U.S. 33 (1941)
Nye v. United States
Argued March 12, 1941
Decided April 14, 1941
313 U.S. 33
1. Seeking to terminate a suit for wrongful death which an administrator had brought in a federal district court, petitioners (strangers to the suit) induced the administrator, by undue influence, to file a final account and obtain his discharge as administrator, and to send letters to his attorney and the district judge asking dismissal of the suit. The misbehavior occurred more than 100 miles from the district court. Petitioners were adjudged guilty of contempt by the district judge; one was ordered to pay the costs of the contempt proceeding, including a sum to the administrator's attorney, and on both fines were imposed. A notice of appeal was filed.
(1) The case was not one of civil, but of criminal, contempt. P. 313 U. S. 42.
(a) A contempt is considered civil
"when the punishment is wholly remedial, serves only the purposes of the complainant, and is not intended as a deterrent to offenses against the public."
P. 313 U. S. 42.
(b) That the contempt proceeding was entitled in the administrator's suit and that the United States was not a party until the appeal are not conclusive as to the nature of the contempt. P. 313 U. S. 42.
(c) Nor is the fact that one of the petitioners was ordered to pay the costs of the proceeding, including a sum to the administrator's attorney, decisive. P. 313 U. S. 42.
(d) The punitive character of the judgment of contempt was dominant. P. 313 U. S. 43.
(2) The appeal is not governed by the Criminal Appeals Rules. P. 313 U. S. 43.
(a) In this case, there was no "plea of guilty," no "verdict of guilt by a jury," and no "finding of guilt by the trial court were a jury is waived." The quoted qualifying language of the Rules does not designate merely the state of the proceedings in criminal cases when the Rules become applicable, but describes the kinds of cases to which they are to be applied. P. 313 U. S. 43.
(b) In the light of the history of the Act authorizing the Rules, and the amendatory Act, the categories embraced in the Rules may not be expanded by interpretation to include the present case.
(3) The appeal is governed by § 8(c) of the Act of February 13, 1925. P. 313 U. S. 44.
(4) This Court being equally divided in opinion as to whether the Circuit Court of Appeals had power, in the absence of an application for allowance of the appeal, to decide the case on the merits, the action of that court in taking jurisdiction of the appeal is affirmed. P. 313 U. S. 44.
(5) The conduct of petitioners did not constitute "misbehavior . . . so near" the presence of the court "as to obstruct the administration of justice" within the meaning of § 268 of the Judicial Code. P. 313 U. S. 52.
So far as the crime of contempt is concerned, the fact that the district judge received the administrator's letter is inconsequential.
2. The words "so near thereto" is § 268 of the Judicial Code are to be construed as having a geographical, rather than a causal, connotation. P. 313 U. S. 48.
3. The phrase "so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice" likewise connotes that the misbehavior must have occurred in the vicinity of the court. P. 313 U. S. 48.
4. The history of §§ 1 and 2 of the Act of March 2, 1831, and of § 135 of the Criminal Code, requires meticulous regard for the separate categories of offenses therein embraced, so that the instances where there is no right to a jury trial will be narrowly restricted. P. 313 U. S. 49.
5. The phrase "so near thereto" must be restricted to acts in the vicinity of the court, and not be construed to apply to all acts which have a "reasonable tendency" to "obstruct the administration of justice." P. 313 U. S. 49.
113 F.2d 1006 reversed.
Certiorari, 313 U.S. 643, to review the affirmance of an order upon an adjudication of contempt.