Brief Fact Summary. Defendants, the Mottleys, were issued a free lifetime pass for use on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Several decades later, Defendants sued Plaintiff Louisville for refusing to honor the free pass pursuant to an act of Congress making free passes unlawful.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Subject matter jurisdiction, based on a suit arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States is established only when the plaintiff’s statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon those laws or the Constitution.
Issue. Whether federal question jurisdiction is established where the only reference to federal law in the complaint is the plaintiff’s allegation of what he anticipates will be the defense to his cause of action.
Held. No. The judgment of the trial court was reversed and the case was remanded to the circuit court with instructions to dismiss for want of jurisdiction. A suit arises under the United States Constitution and laws of the United States only when the plaintiff’s statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon those laws or the Constitution. It is not enough for a plaintiff to allege an anticipated defense to his cause of action and assert that the defense is invalidated by some provision of the United States Constitution
Although such allegations show that very likely, in the course of the litigation, a question under the Constitution would arise, they do not show that the suit, that is, the plaintiff's original cause of action, arises under the Constitution.View Full Point of Law