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STERLING V. CONSTANTIN, 287 U. S. 378 (1932)

U.S. Supreme Court

Sterling v. Constantin, 287 U.S. 378 (1932)

Sterling v. Constantin

Nos. 11 and 453

Argued November 15, 16, 1932

Decided December 12, 1932

287 U.S. 378


1. The Governor of a state is subject to the process of the federal courts for the relief of private persons when, by his acts under color of state authority, he invades rights secured to them by the federal Constitution. P. 287 U. S. 393.

2. The suit is not a suit against the state. Id.

3. In a suit to restrain a state official from violating federal constitutional rights by action under color of state law, the fact that it may appear that he exceeded his authority under that law does not deprive the district court of jurisdiction. Id.

Page 287 U. S. 379

4. In a suit to restrain a state official from invading property rights under color of state constitutional and statutory provisions, where the validity of such provisions, if construed to authorize the acts complained of, is challenged by the plaintiff under the federal Constitution, the application for an injunction is properly heard by the District Court of three judges. P. 287 U. S. 393.

5. In such a case, the jurisdiction of the three-judge District Court, and of this Court on appeal from a decree of injunction, extends to every question involved, whether of state or of federal law, and enables the court to rest its judgment on the decision of such of the questions as, in its opinion, effectively dispose of the case. P. 287 U. S. 393.

6. Whether or not the constitution and laws of Texas purport to authorize the acts of the Governor complained of in this case is not decided. In disposing of the federal question, such authority is assumed to have existed. P. 287 U. S. 394.

7. The right of a lessee of oil land to extract oil pursuant to his lease, subject to reasonable regulation by the state in the exercise of its power to prevent unnecessary loss, destruction, and waste, is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 287 U. S. 396.

8. The existence of facts justifying an exertion of military power by the Governor of a state is subject to judicial inquiry when there is a substantial showing that such exertion has overridden private rights secured by the federal Constitution. P. 287 U. S. 398.

9. The Governor of Texas proclaimed "martial law" over several oil-producing counties of the state, declaring that insurrection and riot beyond civil control existed there due to wasteful production of oil by some of the operators in defiance of the state conservation law, and to violent public feeling thereby excited. After shutting down all of the wells by military force, he permitted the state commission that administers the conservation law to fix the limit of production, and production was resumed accordingly; but when some of the operators, the plaintiffs in this case, objecting to that limit as infringing their property rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, obtained a restraining order in a suit against the Commission in the federal court, he took military control of all of the wells and restricted production still further.


(1) The question whether an exigency existed justifying such interference with the plaintiffs' rights was not settled exclusively by the Governor's acts and declarations, but was subject to judicial inquiry and determination. Pp. 287 U. S. 398-403.

(2) The facts of the situation (set forth in the opinion) show no such exigency, and the interference as properly enjoined. Id.

Page 287 U. S. 380

10. The fact that a violation of private rights by a state Governor is attributable to a military order does not limit the relief to proceedings calling him to account after the passing of the alleged emergency on which he claims to have acted; an injunction will be granted if essential for protection of the injured party. P. 287 U. S. 403.

11. The general language of an opinion must be taken in connection with the point actually decided, referring to Moyer v. Peabody, 212 U. S. 78. P. 287 U. S. 400.

12. Appeal from an order granting an interlocutory injunction will be dismissed when there is also an appeal from a final decree making the injunction permanent. P. 287 U. S. 386.

No. 11 dismissed; No. 453 affirmed.

Appeals from an order of interlocutory injunction granted by a three-judge District Court, restraining the Governor and certain military officials of Texas from enforcing military orders restricting the production of plaintiffs' oil wells, and from a final decree of the same court making the injunction permanent. The opinion of the court below is reported in 57 F.2d 227.

Page 287 U. S. 386

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