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STERN v. SOUTH CHESTER TUBE CO.

decided: April 22, 1968.

STERN
v.
SOUTH CHESTER TUBE CO.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Warren, Black, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Fortas, Marshall.

Author: Black

[ 390 U.S. Page 606]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a resident of New York, who owned stock worth $10,000 or more in the respondent South Chester Tube Company, a corporation, brought this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where respondent was incorporated and maintained its business headquarters. Alleging that the corporation had many times denied petitioner's requests to inspect its books and records as authorized by Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 15, § 2852-308B (1958),*fn1 the complaint requested

[ 390 U.S. Page 607]

     the court to enter an order directing the corporation to permit such an inspection. Jurisdiction was invoked under 28 U. S. C. § 1332 (a), which vests jurisdiction in the district courts where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum of $10,000 and where the parties are citizens of different States. The respondent answered, admitting parts of the allegations of the complaint and denying others. Respondent also moved to dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction of the subject matter on the two following grounds:

"1. The only relief sought in this diversity action is an order to compel the defendant company to allow the plaintiff, a minority shareholder, to inspect certain corporate records. Such an order is in the nature of a writ of mandamus. Under the All Writs Act, this United States District Court does not have jurisdiction to issue an order in the nature of a writ of mandamus in a case in which that writ is the only relief sought.

"2. . . . That right of inspection is not subject to any monetary valuation. Since diversity jurisdiction depends upon the existence of an amount in controversy which is capable of such monetary valuation [in excess of $10,000], no jurisdiction exists in this Court."

The District Court dismissed on the first ground of the motion, 252 F.Supp. 329 (D.C. E. D. Pa. 1966), and the Court of Appeals affirmed on the same ground, 378 F.2d 205 (C. A. 3d Cir. 1967). For reasons to be stated we hold that these rulings on the mandamus point were erroneous and reverse the judgment below.

[ 390 U.S. Page 608]

     The courts below viewed petitioner's complaint as in effect a plea for a writ of mandamus and relied on a long line of cases which have interpreted the All Writs Act*fn2 to deny power to issue this writ when it is the only relief sought. A writ of mandamus, so these cases hold, can issue only in aid of jurisdiction acquired to grant some other form of relief. See M'Intire v. Wood, 7 Cranch 504 (1813); Rosenbaum v. Bauer, 120 U.S. 450 (1887); Covington Bridge Co. v. Hager, 203 U.S. 109 (1906). We think, however, that the courts below erred in concluding that the relief sought here is "mandamus" within the meaning of these cases. Practically all the cases relied on by respondent and the courts below involved mandamus in its original sense -- a suit against a public officer to compel performance of some "ministerial" duty. Although the word "mandamus" is also frequently used to describe orders that compel affirmative action by private parties, the considerations that come into play here certainly differ from the problems involved when the courts seek to compel action by public officials.

So far as we are aware, there is only one case in which this Court has held a federal district court without jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus against a private party. In Knapp v. Lake Shore R. Co., 197 U.S. 536 (1905), the Interstate Commerce Commission had filed a "petition for mandamus" in the federal court, seeking to compel a railroad company to file certain reports as required by § 20 of the Interstate Commerce Act. The Court applied the principle of the earlier cases involving public officers and held that ...


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