The jurisdiction of the circuit courts in original suits between
citizens of the same state in internal revenue cases conferred or
made clear by the Act of June 30, 1864, "to provide internal
revenue," &c., 13 Stat
at Large 241, was taken away by the Act of July 13, 1866, "to
reduce internal taxation and to amend an act to provide internal
revenue," &c., 14 id.
172. And suits originally
brought in the circuit courts, and pending at the passage of this
This was an appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court for
Massachusetts dismissing a bill in equity filed by the Merchants'
Insurance Company, a corporation created by the laws of
Massachusetts and having its place of business in the City of
Boston in that state
against James Ritchie and E. L. Pierce,
the assessor and collector of internal revenue for the third
collection district of that same commonwealth, and both citizens of
it, praying that they might be enjoined from the distraint and sale
of the complainant's property for nonpayment of a certain tax. The
defendants demurred for the reason that the bill disclosed no
ground for equitable relief. The demurrer was sustained and the
Coming here, the case was elaborately argued by Mr. Stanbery, A.
G., and Mr. Ashton, Assistant A. G., for the assessor and
collector, and by Messrs. S. Bartlett and F. W. Palfrey (by brief)
for the Insurance Company, the argument turning chiefly on the
matter of public policy, on the one hand, in allowing officers of
the government to be embarrassed in the prompt collection of its
revenues by the strong and summary process of injunction, and on
the other hand on the matter of private rights of the citizen in
precluding him from adequate remedy against clearly illegal
proceedings of government agents in the assessment and collection
of these revenues.
But a preliminary question, the question namely whether the suit
as an internal revenue case could, under the statutes of the United
States as now existing, be maintained at all -- the parties all
being citizens of the same state -- cut off decision on these
points, and renders a report of the principal argument
Page 72 U. S. 542
THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court.
We meet upon the threshold of this cause a question of
The record discloses a suit in equity by the Merchants'
Insurance Company, a corporation under the laws of Massachusetts,
having its place of business in the City of Boston, against James
Ritchie and E. L. Pierce, assessor and collector of internal
revenue in the third collection district of that commonwealth. The
corporation constructively, [Footnote 1
] and Ritchie and Pierce actually, are citizens
of Massachusetts. And the question is whether this suit, as a
revenue case, can be maintained by a citizen of Massachusetts
against citizens of the same state.
The Judiciary Act of 1789 limited the jurisdiction of national
courts, so far as determined by citizenship, to "suits between a
citizen of the state in which the suit is brought and a citizen of
another state." And except in relation to revenue cases, this
limitation has remained unchanged.
In 1833, an attempted nullification of the laws for the
collection of duties on imports led to the enactment of a law one
of the provisions of which conferred on the circuit courts
jurisdiction of "all cases in law or equity arising under the
revenue laws of the United States for which other provisions had
not been already made." [Footnote
Until the passage of this act, no original action by a citizen
of any state against a citizen of the same state could be
maintained in a national court, at law or in equity, for injuries
arising from the illegal exaction of duties by collectors of
revenue. Redress of such injuries could be obtained only in the
state courts, and the revisory jurisdiction of this Court could be
invoked only under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary
The act of 1833 made the right of action to depend not
altogether, as previously, upon the character of the parties
Page 72 U. S. 543
as citizens or aliens, but also on the nature of the
controversy, without regard to citizenship or alienage. Under that
act, citizens of the same state might sue each other for causes
arising under the revenue laws. A citizen injured by the
proceedings of a collector might have an action against him for the
injury, though a citizen of the same state with himself.
And the third section of the same act gave the right to
collectors or others who might be sued in any state court, on
account of any act done under the revenue laws, to remove the
action by a proper proceeding into a national court.
The right to remove causes from state into national courts had
been long before given by the Judiciary Act, but it was limited to
certain classes of cases, which did not include those arising under
the laws for the collection of duties.
After the act of 1833, many suits, brought in the state courts
against collectors, were removed into the circuit courts. The cases
of Elliott v. Swartwout
] and Bend v. Hoyt
] were of this description. They were
suits originally instituted in the Superior Court of New York but
removed to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern
District to recover from collectors of the port of New York duties
alleged to have been illegally exacted.
Under that act, suits in equity in proper cases, as well as
actions at law, might have been maintained against collectors of
customs by citizens of the same state, and upon the enactment,
under the exigencies created by civil war, of the existing internal
revenue laws, it became a question whether the general provisions
of that act giving jurisdiction of cases under the revenue laws
extended to cases under the new enactments.
This question was resolved by the internal revenue act of 1864,
in the fiftieth section of which it was provided that the
provisions of the act of 1833 should extend to all cases arising
under the laws for the collection of internal duties. [Footnote 5
Page 72 U. S. 544
It was while this section of the act of 1864 was in force that
the suit in the present record was brought. Had it been suffered to
remain in force, the question of jurisdiction now under
consideration could not have arisen.
But it was repealed by the act of 1866, [Footnote 6
] without any saving of such causes as that
before us. And not only was there no such saving, but it was
expressly provided that "the act of 1833 shall not be so construed
as to apply to cases" arising under the act of 1864, or any
amendatory acts, "nor to any case in which the validity or
interpretation of such act or acts shall be in issue."
The case before us is a case under the act of 1864. It is a case
of which, because of the fact that the appellants and appellees are
citizens of the same state, we have no jurisdiction except under
the act of 1833. And the act of 1866 declares that the act of 1833
shall not be construed so as to apply to such a case.
This is equivalent to a repeal of an act giving jurisdiction of
a pending suit. It is an express prohibition of the exercise of the
jurisdiction conferred by the act of 1833 in cases arising under
the internal revenue laws.
It is clear that when the jurisdiction of a cause depends upon a
statute, the repeal of the statute takes away the jurisdiction.
] And it is equally
clear that where a jurisdiction conferred by statute is prohibited
by a subsequent statute, the prohibition is so far a repeal of the
statute conferring the jurisdiction.
It is quite possible that this effect of the act of 1866 was not
contemplated by Congress. The jurisdiction given by the act of 1833
in cases arising under the customs revenue laws is not taken away
or affected by it. In these cases, suits may still be maintained
against collectors by citizens of the same state. It is certainly
difficult to perceive a reason for discrimination between such
suits and suits under the internal
Page 72 U. S. 545
revenue laws, but when terms are unambiguous, we may not
speculate on probabilities of intention.
The rules of interpretation settled and established in the
construction of statutes deny to us jurisdiction of the controversy
in the record, because it is a suit between citizens of the same
state, and the jurisdiction of such suits in internal revenue
cases, conferred by the acts of 1833 and 1864, is taken away by the
act of 1866.
The appeal in this cause must therefore be
Dismissed for want of jurisdiction.
Company v. Letson,
2 How. 554; Marshall
v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co.,
4 Stat. at Large 632.
35 U. S. 10
38 U. S. 13
13 Stat. at Large 241.
14 Stat. at Large 172.
Rex v. Justices of London,
3 Burrow 1456;
13 How. 429.