North American Transp. & Trading Co. v. Morrison, 178 U.S. 262 (1900)

Author: Justice Shiras

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North American Transp. & Trading Co. v. Morrison, 178 U.S. 262 (1900)

MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit by Donald Morrison, alleging himself to be a citizen of the State of Minnesota, against the North American Transportation & Trading Company, a corporation of the State of Illinois, for damages arising out of a breach of a contract whereby the transportation company had agreed to carry the plaintiff and his baggage from Seattle in the State of Washington to Dawson City in the Northwest Territory, in the Dominion of Canada.

It is conceded that the defendant company failed, without sufficient excuse, to fulfill its engagement, and the question upon which the jurisdiction of the court below depended is as to the nature and amount of the damages to which the plaintiff is entitled. The allegations in the complaint in that respect were first, the sum paid by the plaintiff as a fare being $200; second, the expenses caused by having to return to Seattle, amounting to $72.50; third, the wages which he could and would have earned at Seattle if he had not proceeded upon the attempted journey, being wages at the rate of three dollars per day during all the time intervening between August 3, 1897, and November 17, 1897, amounting to about $320; fourth, the loss of a certain portion of plaintiff’s baggage, amounting to $29.25; and, fifth, the loss occasioned plaintiff by the defendant’s failure to transport him to Dawson City,

where the plaintiff could have obtained employment and engaged in business which he was competent to perform and transact at or about Dawson City and thereby have secured wages and profits at the rate of fifteen dollars per day continuously from September 15, 1897, for the period of the year next ensuing, . . . by reason whereof there is due and owing the plaintiff from the defendant by reason of the premises, for said expenditures, outlay, and damages, the sum of two thousand three hundred and one dollars and seventy-five cents.

It was obvious on the face of the plaintiff’s complaint that, if he was not entitled to recover the money which he alleged, "he could have earned and secured by obtaining employment and engaging in business at or about Dawson City" the amount necessary to give the circuit court jurisdiction was not involved.

While it has sometimes been said that it is the amount claimed by the plaintiff in his declaration that brings his case within the jurisdiction of the circuit court, that was in suits for unliquidated damages, in which the amount which the plaintiff was entitled to recover was a question for the jury; an inspection of the declaration did not disclose and could not disclose but that the plaintiff was entitled to recover the amount claimed, and hence, even if the jury found a verdict in a sum less than the jurisdictional amount, the jurisdiction of the court would not be defeated. Barry v. Edmunds, 116 U.S. 550; Scott v. Donald, 165 U.S. 58, 89.

But where the plaintiff asserts, as his cause of action, a claim which he cannot be legally permitted to sustain by evidence, a mere ad damnum clause will not confer jurisdiction on the circuit court, but the court, on motion or demurrer or of its own motion, may dismiss the suit. And such, we think, was the present case.

We do not consider it necessary to enter upon a discussion of the rule that a person is not to be held responsible in damages for the remote consequences of every negligent act, but only for those which are proximate or natural, and shall content ourselves by stating our conclusion that, in the circumstances disclosed by the plaintiff’s declaration and in the certificate of the trial judge, the defendant company, though liable in a court of competent jurisdiction for the other claims asserted, cannot be held for the amount of wages or profits which the plaintiff suggests he might have earned had he reached Dawson City.

In the district judge’s certificate, it is stated that the plaintiff did not allege that he had ever lived in Dawson City before, or had any previous engagement or business there or any promise of employment; that it was not alleged what, if any, occupation the plaintiff had before his departure on the journey, nor what occupation was expected at the point of destination, or that any expected occupation or employment was communicated to the defendant company.

The plaintiff was traveling to a land of promise, hoping to there procure some occupation, he knew not what, or to engage in some business, he knew not what. The result of such an adventure cannot be foretold, and the plaintiff’s anticipations afford no safe ground on which to base a claim for damages.

If, then, the plaintiff, in respect to his own claim, did not disclose a case of which the circuit court had jurisdiction, did he overcome that difficulty by the additional counts in which he alleged himself to be the assignee of several other voyagers who had suffered loss and damages similar to those claimed by him on his own behalf? The citizenship of the assignors was not alleged, and the greater portion of the respective claims consisted of matter which we have held in reference to plaintiff’s own claim to be too remote and uncertain to be allowed.

It is somewhat uncertain, upon the facts alleged in the declaration and those stated to us in the certificate of the district judge, whether, if all the claims, as well those assigned as those held by the plaintiff in his own right, omitting those which we have held to be too remote and uncertain, were aggregated, they would reach the necessary jurisdictional amount. But however that may be, as it is not alleged that the assignors could have themselves prosecuted suit in the circuit court, it is the settled construction of the statutes of the United States that the suit cannot maintain in favor of the assignee.

Sere v. Pitot, 6 Cranch 332, was an action commenced to foreclose a mortgage given by a citizen of Louisiana to another citizen of the same state. The language of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was as follows:

Nor shall any district or circuit court have cognizance of any suit to recover the contents of any promissory note or other chose in action in favor of an assignee unless a suit might have been prosecuted in such court to recover the said contents if no assignment had been made.

1 Stat. 78. The plaintiff was the general assignee in insolvency of the mortgagor, and was an alien, and it was said by Chief Justice Marshall, delivering the opinion of the Court:

Without doubt, assignable paper, being the chose in action most usually transferred, was in the mind of the legislature when the law was framed, and the words of the provision are therefore best adapted to that class of assignments. But there is no reason to believe that the legislature was not equally disposed to except from the jurisdiction of the federal courts those who could sue in virtue of equitable assignments and those who could sue in virtue of legal assignments. The assignee of all the open accounts of a merchant might, under certain circumstances, be permitted to sue in equity in his own name, and there would be as much reason to exclude him from the federal courts as to exclude the same person when the assignee of a particular note. The term "other chose in action" is broad enough to comprehend either case, and the word "contents" is too ambiguous in its import to restrain that general term. The "contents" of a note are the sum it shows to be due, and the same may, without much violence to language, be said of an account.

And the same construction was put upon the language of the Act of August 13, 1888, c. 866, 25 Stat. 433. Mexican National Railroad v. Davidson, 157 U.S. 201.

We do not think that it was competent for the plaintiff to add to his own cause of action in order to obtain jurisdiction in the circuit court, claims assigned by those whose citizenship and residence did not appear either in the complaint or in the petition for removal. As, however, the plaintiff brought his action in the state court, where he was entitled to join the assigned claims with his own, and as the case was removed into the federal court at the instance of the defendant company, whose motion to remand the case we are now obliged to sustain, we impose the costs in the circuit court and in this Court on the North American Transportation & Trading Company, the plaintiff in error.

These views render it needless to answer severally the questions certified.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Circuit Court is reversed, and the cause is remanded to that court, with directions to remand the cause to the state court.


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Chicago: Shiras, "Shiras, J., Lead Opinion," North American Transp. & Trading Co. v. Morrison, 178 U.S. 262 (1900) in 178 U.S. 262 178 U.S. 266–178 U.S. 269. Original Sources, accessed July 24, 2024,

MLA: Shiras. "Shiras, J., Lead Opinion." North American Transp. & Trading Co. v. Morrison, 178 U.S. 262 (1900), in 178 U.S. 262, pp. 178 U.S. 266–178 U.S. 269. Original Sources. 24 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Shiras, 'Shiras, J., Lead Opinion' in North American Transp. & Trading Co. v. Morrison, 178 U.S. 262 (1900). cited in 1900, 178 U.S. 262, pp.178 U.S. 266–178 U.S. 269. Original Sources, retrieved 24 July 2024, from