Lumiere v. Mae Edna Wilder, Inc., 261 U.S. 174 (1923)

Author: Justice Brandeis

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Lumiere v. Mae Edna Wilder, Inc., 261 U.S. 174 (1923)

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The venue of suits for infringement of copyright is not determined by the general provision governing suits in the federal district courts. Judicial Code, § 51. The Copyright Act provides that suits "may be instituted in the district of which the defendant or his agent is an inhabitant, or in which he may be found." Act March 4, 1909, c. 320, § 35, 35 Stat. 1075, 1084. Whether under this section a valid service was made upon defendant is the only question for decision.

New York is divided into four federal judicial districts. Judicial Code, § 97. Lumiere, a citizen and resident of New York City, in the southern district, brought, in the federal court for that district, this suit to enjoin the infringement of a copyright by publications in that city. The defendant, Mae Edna Wilder, Inc., is a New York corporation, with its place of business in Rochester, in the western district. It was not an inhabitant of the southern district. It had no place of business there. It had no agent or employee there authorized to carry on business on its behalf. It transacted no business there. The only service of process made was by delivering to Mr. Adkin, who was its president, a copy of the summons while he was temporarily in New York City. He was not an inhabitant of the southern district, and it was not shown that he was there on business of the company. The defendant, appearing especially for the purpose of objecting to the jurisdiction of he court, moved to quash the service on the ground that it was not amenable to process. The motion was granted, and the case is here on appeal under § 238 of the Judicial Code, the question of jurisdiction having been duly certified.

That jurisdiction over a corporation cannot be acquired in a district in which it has no place of business and is not found, merely by serving process upon an executive officer temporarily therein, even if he is there on business of the company, has been settled. Philadelphia & Reading Ry. Co. v. McKibbin, 243 U.S. 264; Rosenberg Bros. & Co., Inc. v. Curtis Brown Co., 260 U.S. 516; Bank of America v. Whitney Central National Bank, ante,171. The contention here is that jurisdiction was obtained over the defendant because its president is an agent within the meaning of the statute, and was personally found in New York City. If such facts are sufficient to give jurisdiction, a suit upon a copyright may be brought in any district of the United States in which one who is an officer or an agent of a defendant is served with process, although neither plaintiff nor defendant has his residence or a place of business there, and although the copyright was not infringed there. It is not to be lightly assumed that Congress intended such a thing. Compare In re Keasbey & Mattison Co., 160 U.S. 221; Macon Grocery Co. v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 215 U.S. 501; Ladew v. Tennessee Copper Co., 218 U.S. 357.

Ordinarily a civil suit to enforce a personal liability under a federal statute can be brought only in the district of which the defendant is an inhabitant. Judicial Code, § 51. In a few classes of cases, a carefully limited right to sue elsewhere has been given. In patent cases, it is the district of which the defendant is an inhabitant or in which acts of infringement have been committed and the defendant has a regular and established place of business. Judicial Code, § 48; W. S. Tyler Co. v. Ludlow-Saylor Wire Co., 236 U.S. 723. In cases under the antitrust laws, it is where the defendant "resides or is found or has an agent" (Act. Oct. 15, 1914, c. 323, § 4, 38 Stat. 730, 731), and, in the case of corporations, the "district whereof it is an inhabitant" or "any district wherein it may be found or transacts business." Section 12, p. 736. It is not reasonable to conclude that Congress intended in copyright cases to give a right far greater than these. "Agent" is a word used in the law in many senses. What it means in a statute is to be determined from the context and the subject matter. The president of a business corporation is commonly authorized to represent it for many purposes, and it may often be said properly that he is acting as its agent. But induction into office does not impress upon a person the status of agent of the corporation so that he must be deemed its agent in every jurisdiction which he happens to enter, although the corporation transacts no business there and he is not there in any way representing it. The service of process made upon Mr. Adkin was clearly not service upon an agent of the corporation within the meaning of the Copyright Act.

As there is in this case only one defendant, the provision concerning suits in states which contain more than one federal judicial district can have no application. See Judicial Code, § 52; Comp v. Gress, 250 U.S. 308, 314. Whether, under the Copyright Act, service upon an agent would be effective as upon one "found," if it appeared that the agent when served was transacting some business for defendant within the jurisdiction, but was there only temporarily, and had his residence and place of business elsewhere is a question which we need not decide in this case.



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Chicago: Brandeis, "Brandeis, J., Lead Opinion," Lumiere v. Mae Edna Wilder, Inc., 261 U.S. 174 (1923) in 261 U.S. 174 261 U.S. 177–261 U.S. 178. Original Sources, accessed July 12, 2024,

MLA: Brandeis. "Brandeis, J., Lead Opinion." Lumiere v. Mae Edna Wilder, Inc., 261 U.S. 174 (1923), in 261 U.S. 174, pp. 261 U.S. 177–261 U.S. 178. Original Sources. 12 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Brandeis, 'Brandeis, J., Lead Opinion' in Lumiere v. Mae Edna Wilder, Inc., 261 U.S. 174 (1923). cited in 1923, 261 U.S. 174, pp.261 U.S. 177–261 U.S. 178. Original Sources, retrieved 12 July 2024, from