289 U.S. 253 (1933), 643, Young v. Masci

Docket Nº:No. 643
Citation:289 U.S. 253, 53 S.Ct. 599, 77 L.Ed. 1158
Party Name:Young v. Masci
Case Date:April 24, 1933
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 253

289 U.S. 253 (1933)

53 S.Ct. 599, 77 L.Ed. 1158




No. 643

United States Supreme Court

April 24, 1933

Argued March 24, 1933




A state statute making the owner of an automobile liable for personal injuries resulting from its negligent operation by another to whom he has entrusted it is consistent with due process as applied to a nonresident owner who was not in that state when the accident occurred and who had merely lent his machine to one not his agent or engaged on business for him, with express or implied permission to take it there from the the owner's residence, where the bailment occurred and whose laws did not impose such liability. P. 256.

109 N.J.L. 453 affirmed.

Appeal from a judgment affirming a recovery for personal injuries.

Page 255

BRANDEIS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

A New York statute provides:

Every owner of a motor vehicle or motor cycle operated upon a public highway shall be liable and responsible for death or injuries

Page 256

to person or property resulting from negligence in the operation of such motor vehicle or motorcycle, in the business of such owner or otherwise, by any person legally using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner.

Laws N.Y. 1929, Vol. 1, p. 82, Vehicle and Traffic Law § 59.

Masci, a citizen and resident of New York, brought this action in a court of New Jersey against Young, a citizen and resident of the latter state, to enforce liability under the above statute. The case was tried before a jury. It appeared that Young lent his automobile to Michael Balbino for a day without restriction upon its use, the contract of bailment and delivery of the car being made in New Jersey; that Balbino took the car to New York, and that, while driving there, negligently he struck Masci. There was evidence to justify a finding that the car was taken to New York with Young's permission, express or implied. Young moved for a directed verdict on the ground that the bailment was made in New Jersey; that he was not in New York at the time of the accident; that Balbino was not his agent or engaged on business for him, and that to apply the law of New York and so make the defendant responsible for something done by Balbino in New York would deprive the defendant of his property and his liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The presiding judge declined to direct the verdict; ruled that, if negligence was proved, the law of New York was controlling on the question of liability, and charged that the defendant was responsible if the operator "was driving this automobile at the time of the accident with the permission of the defendant, either express or implied." The jury found a verdict for the plaintiff, and the judgment entered thereon was affirmed by the highest court of that state. 109 N.J.Law 453, 162 A. 623.

Young appealed to this Court on the ground, among others, that the statute as applied violates the due process

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clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He does not challenge its constitutionality on the broad ground that an owner cannot be made liable for the driver's negligence unless the relation of master and servant exists. The contrary had been held in New York in respect to this statute. Downing v. New York, 219 A.D. 444, 446, 220 N.Y.S. 76, aff'd, 245 N.Y. 597, 157 N.E. 873; Dawley v. McKibbin, 245 N.Y. 557, 157 N.E. 856. And, in Van Oster v. Kansas, 272 U.S. 465, 467, where it was held that the due process clause does not prevent a state from forfeiting property of an innocent owner for the unauthorized act of one to whom he has entrusted it, the Court states that it is not

uncommon, for the law to visit upon the owner of property the unpleasant consequences of the unauthorized action of one to whom he has entrusted it,

and refers to the legislation of New York "imposing liability on owners of vehicles for the negligent operation by those entrusted with their use, regardless of a master-servant relation." Compare Pizitz Co. v. Yeldell, 274 U.S. 112, 115-116. Statutes of like character have been sustained also by the highest courts of other states.1

[53 S.Ct. 601] Nor does Young question the state's power to regulate the use of motor vehicles of nonresidents on its highways. Compare Hendrick v. Maryland, 235 U.S. 610; Kane v. New Jersey, 242 U.S. 160. He challenges the

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statute only as applied to a nonresident owner who made the bailment outside the State of New York and who was not within it at the time of the accident. The contention is that subjection of the owner to liability under the New York law deprives him of immunity from liability to third parties which he had acquired in New Jersey by virtue of the contract of bailment made there, and that thus the statute deprive him of his liberty to contract and his property without due process of law. If such a contract can be found in the case at bar, the statute does not purport to affect it. The statute neither forbids the making nor alters the terms of any contract. Compare Home Insurance Co. v. Dick, 281 U.S. 397. It does not purport to affect rights as between owner and bailee. Moreover, the contract of bailment could not have conferred upon the owner immunity from liability to third persons for the driver's negligence. Liability for a tort depends upon the law of the place of the injury, and (apart from the effect of the full faith and credit clause, which is not here involved) agreements made elsewhere cannot curtail the power of a state to impose responsibility for injuries within its borders. Compare Bradford Electric Light Co. v. Clapper, 286 U.S. 145, 154. Thus, the essential question is the...

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