Equity Jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts

100. Circuit courts are vested with equity jurisdiction in certain cases. The Act of September, 1789, 11, gives original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several states, of all suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity, where the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of costs, the sum or value of five hundred dollars, and the United States are plaintiffs or petitioners, or an alien is a party, or. the suit is between a citizen of the state where the suit is brought and a citizen of another state.

101. The Act of April 15, 1819, 1, provides, " That the circuit court of the United States shall. have original cognizance, as well in equity as at law, of all actions, suits, controversies, and cases arising under may law of the United States, granting or confirming to authors or inventors, the exclusive right to their respective writings, inventions, and discoveries; and upon any bill in equity filed by any party aggrieved, in such cases, shall have authority to grant injunctions according to the course and principles of courts of equity, to prevent the viola-tion of the rights of any authors or inventors, secured to them by any laws of the United States, on such terms and conditions as the said courts may deem fit and reasonable:.provided, however, that from all judgments and decrees of any circuit courts rendered in the premises, a writ of error or appeal as the case may. require, shall lie to the supreme court of the United States, in the same Maniaer and under the same circumstances, as is now provided by law, in other judgments and decrees of such circuit court."

102. By the Act of August 23, 1842, it is enacted, 5, " That the district courts, as courts of admiralty, and the circuit courts, as courts of equity, shall be deemed always open for the purpose of filing libels, bills, petitions, answers, pleas, and other plead- ings, for issuing and returning mesne and final process and commissions, and for making and directing all interlocutory motions, orders, rules, and other proceedings whatever, preparatory to the hearing of all causes pending therein upon their merits. And it shall be competent for any. judge of the court, upon reasonable notice to the parties, in the clerk's office or at chambers, and in vacation as well as in term, to make and direct, and award all such process, commissions, and interlocutory orders, rules, and other proceedings, whenever the same are not grantable of course according to the rules and practice of the court."

(2.) Criminal Jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts

103. The often cited llth section of the Act of the 24th of September, 1789, gives the circuit courts exclusive cognizance of all crimes and offences cognizable under the authority of the United States, except where that act otherwise provides, or the laws of the United States shall otherwise direct, and concurrent jurisdiction with the district courts of the crimes and offences cognizable. therein. The jurisdiction of the circuit courts in criminal cases is confined to offences committed within the district for which those courts respectively sit when they are committed on land. Serg. Const. Law, 129; 1 Gallis. 488.


2. Of the District Courts

104. In treating of district courts, the same division which was made, in considering circuit courts, will here be adopted, by taking a view, 1. Of their organization and, 2. Of their jurisdiction. 1. Of the Organization of the District Courts.

105. The United States are divided into districts, in each of which is a court called a district court, which is to consist of one judge, who is to reside in the district for wbich he is appointed, and to hold annually four sessions. Act of September 24, 1789. By subsequent acts of congress, the number of annual sessions in particular districts, is sometimes more and sometimes less; and they are to be held at various places in the district. There is also a district court in the District of Columbia, held by the chief justice of the circuit court of that district. 2. Jurisdiction of the District Courts.

106. Their jurisdiction is either civil or criminal.

107. - (1.) Their civil jurisdiction extends, 1. To admiralty and maritime causes: the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, is either the ordinary jurisdiction, which comprehends prize suits; cases of salvage actions for torts; and actions on contracts, such. as seamen's wages, pilotage, bottomry, ransom, materials, and the like; or the extraordinary or expressly vested jurisdiction, which includes cases of seizures under the revenue laws, &c.; and captures within the jurisdiction of the United States.

108.-2. To cases of seizure on land under the laws of the United States, and in suits for penalties and forfeitures, incurred under the laws of the United States.

109.-3. To cases in which an alien sues for a tort, in violation of the laws of nations, or a treaty of the United States.

110. - 4. To suits instituted by the United States.

111. - 5. To actions by and against consuls.

112. - 6. To certain cases in equity.

113. - 1. The admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the district court is ordinary or extraordinary.

114. - 1st. The ordinary jurisdiction is granted by the Act of September 24th, 1789, It is there enacted, that the district court shall have exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. This jurisdiction is exclusive. Bee, 19; 3 Dall. 16; Paine, 111; 4 Mason, 139.

115. This ordinary jurisdiction is exercised in,

116. - 1. Prize suits. The Act of September 24, 1789, 9, vests in the district courts as full jurisdiction of all prize causes as the admiralty of England; and this jurisdiction is an ordinary inherent branch of the powers of the court of admiralty, whether considered as prize courts or instance courts, 3 Dall. 16; Paine, 111.

117. The act of congress marks out not only the general jurisdiction of the district courts, but also that of the several courts in relation to each other, in cases of seizure on the waters of the United States, navigable, &c. When the seizure is made within the waters of one district, the court of that district has exclusive, jurisdiction, though the offence may have been committed out of the district. When the seizure is made on the high seas, the jurisdiction is in the court of the district where the property may be brought. 9 Wheat. 402; 6 Cranch; 281; 1 Mason, 360; Paine, 40.

118. When the seizure has been made within the waters of a foreign nation, the district court has jurisdiction, when the property has been brought into the district, and a prosecution has been instituted there. 9 Wheat. 402; 9 Cranch. 102.

119. The district court has jurisdiction of seizures, and of the question of who is entitled to their proceeds, as informers or otherwise; and the principal jurisdiction is exclusive; the question, as to who is the informer, is also exclusive. 4 Mason, 139.

120. - (2.) Cases of salvage. Under the constitution and laws of the United States, this court has exclusive original cognizance in cases of salvage; and, as a consequence, it has the power to determine to whom the residue of the property belongs, after deducting the salvage. 3 Dall. 183.

121. - (3.) Actions arising out of tort's and injuries. The district court has jurisdiction over all torts and injuries committed on the high seas, and in ports or harbors within the ebb and flow of the tide. Vide 1 Wheat. R. 304; 2 Gall. R. 389; 1 Mason, 96; 3 Mason., 242; 4 Mason, 380; 18 Johns. R. 257.

122. A court of admiralty has jurisdiction to redress personal wrongs committed on a passenger, on the high seas, by the master of a vessel, whether those wrongs be by direct force or consequential injuries. 3 Mason, 242.

123. The admiralty may decree damages for an unlawful capture of an American vessel by a French privateer, and may proceed by attachment in ?-em. Bee, 60.

124. It has jurisdiction in cases of maritime torts, in personam as well as in rem. 10 Wheat. 473,

125. This court has also jurisdiction of petitory suits to reinstate owners of vessels who have been displaced from their possession. 5 Mason, 465. It exercises jurisdiction of all torts and injuries committed on the high seas, and in ports or barbors within the flow or ebb of the tide. 2 Gallis. 398; Bee, 51.

126. A father, whose minor son has been tortiously abducted and seduced on a voyage on the high seas, may sue, in the admiralty, in the nature of an action per quod, &c., also for wages earned by such son in maritime service. 4 Mason, 380.

127. - (4.) Suits on contracts. As a court of admiralty, the district court has a jurisdiction, concurrent with the courts of common law, over all maritime contracts, wheresoever the same may be made or executed, or whatsoever be the form of the contract. 2 Gallis. 398. It may enforce the performance of charter-parties for foreign voyages, and by proceeding in rem, a lien for freight under them. 1 Sumn. 551; 2 Sumn. 589. It has jurisdiction over contracts for the hire of seamen, when the service is substantially performed on the sea, or on waters within the flow and reflow of the tide 10 Wheat. 428; 7 Pet. 324; Bee, 199; Gilp. 529. But unless the services are essentially maritime, the jurisdiction does not attach. 10 Wheat. 428; Gilp. 529.

128. The master of a vessel may sue in the admiralty, for his wages; and the mate, who on his death succeeds him, has the same right. 1 Sumn. 157; 9 Mason, 161; 4 Mason, 196. But when the services for which he sues have not been performed by him as master, they cannot be sued for in admiralty. 3 Mason, 161.

129. The jurisdiction of the admiralty attaches when the services are performed on a ship in port where the tide ebbs and flows. 7 Pet. 324; Gilp. 529.

130. Seamen, employed on board of steamboats and lighters engaged in trade or commerce on tide-water, are within the admiralty jurisdiction. But those in ferryboats are not so. Gilp. 532 Gilp. 203.

131. Wages may be recovered in the admiralty by the pilot, deck-hands, engineer, and firemen, on board of a steamboat. Gilp. 505.

132. But unless the service of those employed contribute in navigating the vessel, or to its preservation, they cannot sue for their wages in the admiralty; musicians on board of a vessel, who are hired and employed as such, cannot therefore enforce a payment of their wages by a suit in rem in the admiralty. Gilp. 516.

133. - 2d. The extraordinay jurisdiction of the district court, as a court of admiralty, or that which is vested by various acts of congress, consists of -

(1.) Seizures under the laws of imposts, navigation, or trade of the United States. It is enacted, by the Act of September 24, 1789, 9, that the district court shall have exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, including all seizures under laws of impost, navigation, or trade of the United States, when the seizures are made on waters which are navigable from the sea, by vessels of ten or more tons burden, within their respective districts, as well as upon the high seas; saving to suitors, in all cases, the right of a common law remedy, when the common law is competent to give it.

134. Causes of this kind are to be tried by the district court, and not by a jury. 4 Cranch, 438; 5 Cranch, 281; 1 Wheat. 9, 20: 7 Cranch, 112; 3 Dall. 297.

135. It is the place of seizure, and not the committing of the offence, that, under the Act of September 24, 1789, gives jurisdiction to the court; 4 Cranch, 443 5 Cranch, 304; for until there has been a seizure, the forum cannot be ascertained. 9 Cranch, 289.

136. When the seizure has been voluntarily abandoned, it loses its validity, and no jurisdiction attaches to any court, uuless there be a new seizure. 10 Wheat. 325 1 Mason, 361.

137. - (2.) The. admiralty jurisdiction, expressly vested in the district court, embraces, also, captures made within the jurisdictional limits of the United States. By the Act of April. 20, 1818, 7, the district court shall take cognizance of complaints, by whomsoever instituted, in cases of captures made within the waters of the United States, or within a marine league of the coasts and shores thereof.

138. - 2. The civil jurisdiction of the district court extends to cases of seizure on land, under the laws of the United States, and in suits for penalties and forfeitures incurred under the laws of the United States.

139. The Act of September 24, 1789, 9, gives to the district court exclusive original cognizance of all seizures made on land, and other waters than as aforesaid, (that is, those which are navigable by vessels of ton or more tons burden, within their respective districts, or on the high seas,) and of all suits for penalties and forfeitures incurred under the laws of the United States.

140. In all cases of seizure on land, the district court sits as a court of common law, and its jurisdiction is entirely distinct from that exercised in case of seizure on waters navigable by vessels of ten tons burden and upwards. 8 Wheat. 395.

141. Seizures of this kind are triable by jury; they are not cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. 4 Crauch, 443.

142. - 3. The civil jurisdiction of the district court extends also to cases in which an alien sues for a tort, in violation of the law of nations, or a treaty of tho United States.

143. The Act of September 24, 1789, 9, directs that the district court shall have cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several states, or the circuit courts, as the case may be, of all causes where an alien sues for a tort only, in violation of the law of nations, or of a treaty of the United States.

144. - 4. The civil jurisdiction of this court extends further to suits instituted by the United States. By the 9th section of the Act of September 24, 1789, the district court shall also have cognizance, concurrent as last mentioned, of all suits at common law, where the United States sue, and the matter in dispute amounts, exclusive of costs, to the sum or value of one hundred dollars. And by the Act of March 3; 1815, 4, it has cognizance, concurrent with the courts and magistrates of the several states, and the circuit courts of the United States, of all suits at common law where the United States, or any officer thereof, under the authority of any act of congress sue, although the debt, claim, or other matter in dispute, shall not amount to one hundred dollars.

145. These last words do not confine the jurisdiction given by this act to one hundred dollars, but prevent it from stopping at that sum: and consequently, suits for sums over one hundred dollars are cognizable in the district, circuit, and state courts, and before magistrates, in the cases here mentioned. By virtue of this act, these tribunals have jurisdiction over suits brought by the postmaster-general, for debts and balances due the general post office. 12 Wheat. 147; 2 Pet. 447; 1 Pet. 318.

146.-5. This court has jurisdiction of actions by and against consuls or vice-consuls, exclusively of the courts of the several states, except for offences where other punishment than whipping, not exceeding thirty stripes, a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, is inflicted.

147. For offences above this description formerly the circuit court only had jurisdiction in cases of consuls. 5 S. & R. 545; 2 Dall. 299. But by the Act of August 23, 1842, the district courts shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the circiut courts of all crimes and offences against the United States, the punishment of which is not capital. And by the, Act of February 28, 1839, 5, the punishment of whipping is abolished. See also the Act of 28th Sept. 1850, making appropriations for the naval service, &c.

148. - 6. The jurisdiction of the district court under the bankrupt laws will be found under the title Bankrupt.

149. - 7. The district courts have equitable jurisdiction in certain cases. 150. By the first section of the Act of February 13, 1807, the judges of the district courts of the United States shall have as full power to grant writs of injunctions, to operate within their respective districts, as is now exercised by any of the judges of the supreme court of the United States. under the same rules, regulations, and restrictions, as are prescribed by the several acts of congress establishing the judiciary of the United States, any law to the contrary notwithstanding. Provided, that the same shall not, unless so ordered by the circuit court, continue longer than to the circuit then next ensuing; nor shall an injunction be issued by a district judge in any case, where the party has had a reasonable time to apply to the circuit court for the writ.

151. An injunction may be issued by the district judge under the Act of March 3, 1820, Ssss 4, 5, where proceedings have taken place by warrant and distress against a debtor to the United States or his sureties, subject by 6, to appeal to the circuit court from the decision of such district judge in refusing or dissolving the injunction, if such appeal be allowed by a justice of the supreme court. On which, with an exception as to the necessity of an answer on the part of the United States, the proceedings are to be as in other cases.

152. The Act of September 24, 1789, 14, vests in the judges of the district courts, power to grant writs of habeas corpus, for the purpose of an inquiry into the cause of commitment.

153. Other acts give them power to issue writs, make rules, take depositions, &c. The acts of congress already treated of relating to the privilege of not being sued out of the district of which the defendant is an inhabitant, or in which he is found, restricting suits by assignees, and various others, apply to the district court as well as to the circuit court.

154. Bythe 9th section of the Act of September 24, 1789, the trial of issues in fact in the district courts, in all causes except civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, shall be by jury. Serg. Const. Law, 226, 227.

(2.) The criminal jurisdiction of the district court., *

155. By the Act of August 23, 1842, 3, it is enacted that the district courts of the United States shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit courts, of all crimes and offences against the United States, the punishment of which is not capital.

156. There is a class of district courts of a peculiar description. These exercise the power of a circuit court, under the same regulations as they were formerly exercised by the district court of Kentucky, which was the first of the kind.

157. The Act of September 24, 1789, 10, gives the district court of the Kentucky district, besides the usual jurisdiction of a district court, the jurisdiction of all causes, except of appeals and writs of error, thereinafter made cognizable in a circuit court, and writs of error and appeals were to lie from decisions therein to the supreme court, and under the, same regulations. By the 12th section, authority was given to remove cases from a state court to such court, in the same manner as to a circuit court.

3. The territorial courts

158. The act to establish the territorial government of Oregon, approved August 14, 1848, establishes the judicial power of the said territory as follows: 9. The judicial power of said territory shall be vested in a supreme court, district courts, probate courts, and in justices of the peace. The supreme court shall consist of a chief justice and two associate justices, any two of whom shall constitute a quorum, and who shall hold a term at the seat of government of said territory annually; and they shall hold their offices during the period of four years, and until their successors shall be appointed and qualified. The said territory shall be divided into three judicial districts, and a district court shall be held in each of said districts by one of the just of the supreme court, at such times and places as may be prescribed by law; and the said judges shall after their appointments, respectively, reside in the districts which shall be assigned them The jurisdiction of the several courts herein provided for, both appellate and original, and that of the probate courts and of justices of the peace, shall be as limited by law: Provided, That justices of the peace shall not have jurisdiction of any case in which the title to land shall in anywise come in question, or where the debt or damages claimed shall exceed one hundred dollars; and the said supreme and district courts, respectively, shall possess chancery, as well as common law, jurisdiction. Each district court, or the judge thereof, shall appoint its clerk, who shall also be the register in chancery, and shall keep his office at the place where the court may be held. Writs of error, bills of exception, and appeals, shall be allowed in all cases from the final decisions of said district courts to the supreme court, under such regulations as may be prescribed by law; but in no case removed to the supreme court shall trial by jury be allowed in said court. The supreme court, or the justices thereof, shall appoint its own clerk, and every clerk shall hold his office at the pleasure of the court for which he shall have been appointed. Writs of error and appeals from the final decisions of the said supreme court shll be allowed, and way be taken to the supreme court of the United States, in the same manner, and under the same regulations, as from the circuit courts of the United States, where the value of the property, or the amount in controversy, to be ascertained by the oath or affirmation of either party, or other competent witness, shall exceed two thousand dollars; and in all cases where the constitution of the United States, or acts of congress, or a treaty of the United States, is brought in question; and each of the said district courts shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the constitution of the United States, and the laws of said territory, as is vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States writs of error and appeal in all such cases shall be made to the supreme court of said territory, the same as in other cases. Writs of error and, appeals from the final decisions of said supreme court shall be allowed, and may be taken to the supreme court of the United States, in the same manner as from the circuit courts of the United States, where the value of the property, or the amount in controversy, shall exceed two thousand dollars; and each of said district courts shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the constitution and laws of the United States, as is vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States, and also of all cases arising under the laws of the said territory, and otherwise. The said clerk shall receive, in all such cases, the same fees which the clerks of the district courts of the late Wisconsin Territory received for similar services.

159. - 10. There shall be appointed an attorney for said territory, who shall continue in office for four years, and until his successor shall be appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed by the president, and who shall receive the same fees and salary as were provided by law for the attorney of the United States for the late territory of Wisconsin. There shall also be a marshal for the territory appointed, who shall hold his office for four years, and until his successor shall be appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed by the president, and who shall execute all processes issuing from the said courts, when exercising their jurisdiction as circuit and district courts of the United States; he shall perform the duties, be subject to the same regulation and penalties, and be entitled to the same fees, as were provided by law for the marshal of the district court of the United States, for the present [late] territory of Wisconsin; and shall, in addition, be paid two hundred dollars annually as a compensation for extra services.

160. The act to establish a territorial government for Utah, approved September 9, 1850, contains the following provisions relative to this subject. They are the same in most respects with the preceding. Section 9 of this act provides, " That the judicial power of said territory shall be vested in a supreme court, district courts, probate courts, and in justices of the peace. The supreme court shall consist of a chief justice and two associate justices, any two of whom shall constitute a quorum, and who shall hold a term at the seat of government of said territory annually, and they shall hold their offices during the period of four years. The said territory shall be divided into three judicial districts, and a district court shall be held in each of said districts by one of the justices of the supreme court, at such time and place as may be prescribed by law; and the said judges shall, after their appointments, respectively, reside in the districts which shall be assigned them. The jurisdiction of the several courts herein provided for, both appellate and original, and that of the probate courts and of justices of the peace, shall be as limited by law: Provided, That justices of the peace shall not have jurisdiction of any matter in controversy when the title or boundaries of land may be in dispute, or where the debt or sum claimed shall exceed one hundred dollars; and the said supreme and district courts, respectively, shall possess chancery as well as common law jurisdiction. Each district court, or the judge thereof, shall appoint its clerk, who shall also be the register in chancery, and shall keep his office at the place where the court may be held. Writs of error, bills of exception, and appeals shall be allowed in all cases from the final decisions of said district courts to the supreme court, under such regulations as may be prescribed by law; but in no case removed to the supreme court shall trial by jury be allowed in said court. The supreme court, or the justices thereof, shall appoint its own clerk and every clerk shall hold his office at the pleasure of the court for which be shall have been appointed. Writs of error, and appeals from the final decisions of said supreme court, shall be allowed, and may be taken to the supreme court of the United States, in the same manner and under the same regulations as from the circuit courts of the United States, where the value of the property or the amount in controversy, to be ascertained by the oath or affirmation of either party, or other competent witness, shall exceed two thousand dollars, except only that, in all, cases involving title to slaves, the said writs of error or appeals shall be allowed and decided by the said supreme court, without regard to the value of the matter, property, or title in controversy; and except, also, that a writ of error or appeal shall also be allowed to the supreme court of the United States, from the decisions of the said supreme court created by this act, or of any judge thereof, or of the district courts created by this act, or of any judge thereof, upon any writ of habeas corpus involving the question of personal freedom: and each of the said district courts shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the constitution and laws of the United States as is vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States; and the said supreme and district courts of the said territory, and the respective judges thereof, shall and may grant writs of habeas corpus in all cases in which the same are granted by the judges of the United States in the District of Columbia; and the first six days of every term of said courts, or so much thereof as shall be necessary, shall be appropriated to the trial of causes arising under the said constitution and laws; and writs of error and appeal, in all such cases, shall be made to the supreme court of said territory, the same as in other cases. The said clerk shall receive in all such cases the same fees which the clerks of the district courts of Oregon territory now rceive for similar services.

161. "There shall be appointed an attorney for said territory, who shall continue in office for four years, unless sooner removed by the president, and who shall receive the same fees and salary as the attorney of the United States for the present territory of Oregon. There shall also be a marshal for the territory appointed, who shall hold his office for four years, unless sooner removed by the president, and who shall execute all processes issuing from the said courts, when exercising their jurisdiction as circuit and district courts of the United States: he shall perform the duties, be subject to the same regulation and penalties, and be entitled to the same fees as the marshall of the district court of the United States for the present territory of Oregon; and shall, in addition, be paid two hundred dollars annually as a compensation for extra services."

See also:

* From Bouvier's Law Dictionary, 1856 Edition. Please see Bouvier's Legal Abbreviations & Abbreviated References for help with obscure nomenclature & references.

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