Argued March 12, 13, 1900. Decided April 9, 1900.
The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States does not control mere forms of procedure in state courts, or regulate practice therein; and all its requirements are complied with provided that in the proceedings which are claimed not to have been due process of law, the person condemned has had sufficient notice, and adequate opportunity has been afforded him to defend. The mere fact that in this case the proceeding to hold the Louisville and Nashville Company liable was by rule does not conflict with due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, since forms of procedure in state courts are not controlled by that amendment, provided the fundamental rights secured by the amendment are not denied. Although the Louisville and Nashville Company appeared in response to the rule, pleaded its set-off, and declared that its answer constituted a full response, no defence personal to itself of any other character except the set-off was pleaded or suggested in any form, and this court cannot be called upon to conjecture that defences existed which were not made, and to decide that proceedings in a state court have denied due process of law because defences were denied when they were not prosecuted.
Mr. Helm Bruce and Mr. James P. Helm for plaintiff in error. Mr. H.W. Bruce was on their brief.
Mr. John G. Simrall and Mr. Edmund F. Trabue for defendant in error. Mr. Temple Bodley, Mr. John C. Doolan, Mr. Benjamin F. Washer and Mr. James S. Pirtle were on their brief.
It is no longer open to contention that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States does not control mere forms of procedure in state courts or regulate practice therein. All its requirements are complied with, provided in the proceedings which are claimed not to have been due process of law the person condemned has had sufficient notice and adequate opportunity has been afforded him to defend. Iowa Central Railway v. Iowa, 160 U.S. 389; Wilson v. North Carolina, 169 U.S. 586.
The claim of the plaintiff in error (the Louisville and Nashville) is that the decree rendered against it did not constitute due process of law, first, because it had no notice of the suit, it not having been summoned as a party defendant; and, second, that as it was not made a nominal party defendant and served with process as such, it had no adequate opportunity to make defence. In support of the second contention various provisions of the Kentucky law have been referred to in the argument, from which it is deduced that the Louisville and Nashville would have been without right in the proceeding brought, not against it, but against the Cincinnati and Lexington, to make defences which may have appertained and been relevant to the Louisville and Nashville, and might not have related to the Cincinnati and Lexington, the party defendant on the record. But the answer to these contentions is that the necessary effect of the opinion and decree of the court of last resort of Kentucky, is to hold, first, as a matter of fact, that, although not a technical defendant, the Louisville and Nashville became voluntarily, in the name of the Cincinnati and Lexington, the real, although not the nominal, defendant in the cause, and during the long years of this protracted litigation was in legal effect an actor in the courts of Kentucky seeking, by every possible means, to defeat the claim of the plaintiff. The conclusions of fact found by the court of last resort of Kentucky are not subject to reexamination by this court. Clearly, also, the inevitable result of the conclusion of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky is that it was the duty of the Louisville and Nashville, having come in voluntarily in the cause to defend its interest, under the name of the technical defendant, if it had defences which were personal to itself, to have made such an appearance on its own behalf as to enable it to make them, and that the statutes of Kentucky not only authorized this course, but obliged the Louisville and Nashville to have followed it. Accepting as we do the interpretation placed by the courts of last resort of Kentucky on the law of that State, the contention of the plaintiff in error is at once demonstrated to be without merit. Besides the conclusiveness of what we have just said, there is another view which is equally decisive. The record shows no offer of any defence whatever, by the Louisville and Nashville, which was refused by the courts below. On the contrary, every defence made is shown to have been entertained, fully considered and to have been ultimately decided. The argument then reduces itself to this: That one who has voluntarily appeared in a cause and actively conducted the defence is to be held to have been denied, by the courts of the State, the right to make a defence which was never presented. Moreover, even if we put out of view altogether all the proceedings had in the original cause during the many years when the suit was pending, and confine our attention solely to the events which took place after the application for the rule to show cause, on the Louisville and Nashville, the same conclusion is rendered necessary. It is undoubted that the Louisville and Nashville was made a party defendant to the rule in the most technical sense, and was actually served. It made answer and asserted its set-off. The mere fact that the proceeding to hold it liable was by rule does not conflict with due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, for, as we have seen, forms of procedure in the state courts are not controlled by the Fourteenth Amendment, provided the fundamental rights secured by the amendment are not denied. But it is argued whilst it is true the effort by rule to enforce responsibility for the judgment did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, and service of the rule was adequate notice, yet no opportunity to defend was afforded, because all right to defend had been cut off by the previous judgment. In effect it is asserted the rule summoned the corporation to show cause why it should not pay a judgment to which, under the previous decree, there was no right on its part to make any defence whatever. In other words, it is said the right to proceed by rule was upheld by the Kentucky court because the Louisville and Nashville was bound by the judgment and therefore the rule rested on an assumption which precluded the setting up of any defence to it. But the answer to this argument is plain. Although the Louisville and Nashville appeared in response to the rule, pleaded its set-off, and declared that its answer constituted a full response, no defence personal to itself of any other character, except the set-off, was pleaded or suggested in any form whatever. The argument, therefore, asks us to say that the Louisville and Nashville in the proceeding in which it was duly served, and to which it responded and as to which it had its day in court, was deprived of defences which it never asserted, and that due process of law was not administered to it because it was unheard in respect to matters concerning which it made no claim. But this court cannot be called upon to conjecture that defences existed which were not made and to decide that proceedings in a state court have denied due process of law because defences were denied, when they were not presented. And especially must that be so where the court of last resort of the State, on review of all the proceedings, has held that full opportunity to make every defence was afforded. True it is that in Rees v. City of Watertown, 19 Wall. 107, 123, it was said: "Whether in fact the individual has a defence . . . is not important. To assume that he has none, and therefore that he is not entitled to a day in court, is to assume against him the very point he may wish to contest." But this truism was stated with reference to a case where it was argued that a condemnation without notice could be justified on the assumption that if notice had been given no defence could have been made. Manifestly, the principle can have no application to a case where there was notice, and the presumption which we are asked to invoke is that although no defences were pressed they may have possibly existed.