TENNESSEE V. CONDON, 189 U. S. 64 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Tennessee v. Condon, 189 U.S. 64 (1903)

Tennessee v. Condon

No. 209

Argued March 12-13, 1903

Decided April 6, 1903

189 U.S. 64


It is the duty of this Court to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it.

When, pending an appeal, it becomes, without any fault on the part of the defendant, impossible for this Court to grant any effectual relief to the plaintiff in error even if it should decide the case in his favor, the appeal will be dismissed. Mills v. Green, 159 U. S. 651, followed.

Page 189 U. S. 65

This was a bill filed in the Chancery Court of Knox County, Tennessee, under the statute in that behalf, in the name of the state, "on the information of" T. A. Rambo and G.L. Maloney, G. H. Strong, S. L. England, Sam Vance, J. E. C. Harrell, and R. L. Peters against Stephen P. Condon, T. T. McMillan, and James Rich, and H. C. Anderson, representing

"that, at the January Term, 1898, G. H. Strong and T. A. Rambo were duly and legally elected by the County Court of Knox County, Tennessee, members of the Pike Commission of Knox County for the term of four years, which would make their terms of office expire in January, 1902, and G.L. Maloney, who is the judge of Knox County, Tennessee, is by operation of the law, ex officio chairman of said commission. The said Sam Vance and J. F. C. Harrell were duly elected members of the said Workhouse Commission by the said County Court of Knox County, Tennessee at its January Term, 1901, which would make their terms of office expire in 1903. The said S. L. England and I. N. White were duly elected Workhouse Commissioners of Knox County, Tennessee at its January Term, 1900, which would make their terms of office expire in 1902, and the said G.L. Maloney as judge of the county is ex officio chairman of the said commission. The said R. L. Peters was elected Superintendent of the Workhouse in January, 1898, which would make his term of office expire in January, 1902. All of said officers were duly and legally elected, and inducted into their respective offices, and assumed the duties thereof, and up to the time of the qualification of defendants, to-wit, on March 2, 1901, continued to perform the duties and exercise the functions and receive the emoluments pertaining to said offices."

The bill then averred that, on February 8, 1901, an act of the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee was approved by the Governor, and went into effect, entitled:

"An Act to Create a Board of Public Road Commissioners, to Regulate the Laying Out and Working of Public Roads in this state, in Counties Having a Population of Not Less than 70,000 and Not More than 90,000 under the federal Census of the Year 1900, or any Subsequent federal Census, and to Provide a Method for the Management

Page 189 U. S. 66

and Control of County Workhouses in Counties Coming under the Provisions of this Act."

That, in pursuance of the act, the Governor of Tennessee, on February 16, 1901, appointed Stephen P. Condon, James Rich, and T. T. McMillan as the Board of Public Road Commissioners; that Condon was appointed Superintendent of Public Roads, and the other two associate members of the Road Commission; that the Governor had issued to defendants commissions as such Public Road Commissioners, and that they gave bond and qualified March 2, 1901, "and are now attempting to perform the duties of the said offices."

That defendants had in fact ousted the pike commissioners, the workhouse commissioners, and superintendent from their respective positions, and deprived them of their privileges and powers, and the H. C. Anderson had been elected by defendants manager of the workhouse.

Complainants further represented that the Act of February 8, 1901, was in plain violation of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, illegal, null, and void, and

"not effective to deprive the said parties of the several offices aforesaid, to which they were regularly elected, or of the rights, powers, privileges, and emoluments thereof,"

and that defendants

"are unlawfully holding and exercising said offices of Public Road Commissioners and Superintendent of Roads and associate members, and that they are usurpers of said offices."

The prayer was (1) for process; (2)

"that the said defendants may be enjoined from holding the said offices of Public Road Commissioners, or Superintendent of Public Roads, or associate members of said Road Commission, or manager of the workhouse, or from exercising any of the powers and rights which the said act of February 8, 1901, attempts to confer upon them, and that they may be enjoined from receiving any of the emoluments appertaining to the said offices under and by virtue of the said unconstitutional and void act, and that, upon final hearing, said injunction may be made perpetual;"

(3) that the defendants be required to execute a bond to indemnify and hold harmless; (4)

"that, upon final hearing, a decree may be rendered declaring that the said act of February

Page 189 U. S. 67

8, 1901, is unconstitutional, null, and void, and that the same confers no right upon the defendants, and that the defendants are not entitled to exercise any of the powers and privileges therein contained or to enjoy any of the rights and emoluments therein given to them, and that they be required to surrender same and turn over all the powers, property, and privileges thereof to the rightful owners aforesaid;"

(5) and for general relief.

On March 21, 1901, an application for injunction was denied, and on March 23d, the bill was amended by striking out the third clause of the prayer. Defendants filed a demurrer March 29, 1901, which on the next day was sustained and the bill dismissed. The case was then carried to the Court of Chancery Appeals, and it was there contended, on errors assigned, that the Act of February 8, 1901, was invalid because in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as of the state constitution. The Court of Chancery Appeals affirmed the judgment of the chancellor, August 29, 1901, and an appeal was prosecuted to the supreme court of the state, where it was again alleged, in the assignment of errors, that the act in question was in violation of the state constitution and of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court held, on November 15, 1901, that the statute was not in violation of either, and affirmed the decrees of the chancellor and of the Court of Chancery Appeals. 108 Tenn. 82. Thereupon, a writ of error was sued out from this Court, and the record was filed and the cause docketed December 10, 1901. No motion was made to advance the case, and it came on for argument and was argued March 12 and 13, 1903.

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