Cochran v. Wilson, No. 21678.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Writing for the CourtWalker
Citation229 S.W. 1050,287 Mo. 210
PartiesCOCHRAN v. WILSON et al.
Docket NumberNo. 21678.
Decision Date07 April 1921
229 S.W. 1050
287 Mo. 210
COCHRAN
v.
WILSON et al.
No. 21678.
Supreme Court of Missouri, Division No. 2.
April 7, 1921.

[229 S.W. 1051]

Appeal from St. Louis Circuit Court; Frank Landwehr, Judge.

Action by Ada J. Cochran against James Wilson and others. From a judgment against the defendant named for an insufficient amount and in favor of the other defendants, plaintiff appeals. Affirmed.

Earl M. Pirkey, of St. Louis, for appellant.

Charles H. Danes, Arthur H. Bader, and H. A. Hamilton, all of St. Louis, for respondent city of St. Louis.

Robert Burkham, of St. Louis, for respondent board of education of city of St. Louis.

Holland, Rutledge & Lashly, of St. Louis, for respondent Wilson.

WALKER, J.


This is an action for personal injuries brought in the circuit court of the city of St. Louis by plaintiff against the board of education, the city of St. Louis, and James Wilson. The board of education demurred to the petition. The demurrer was sustained, and exceptions saved. Upon a trial before a jury a demurrer to plaintiff's testimony filed by the city of St. Louis was sustained, and the court's action in regard thereto was preserved by plaintiff for review on appeal. The result of the trial was a verdict for plaintiff in the sum of $250 against James Wilson. The trial court thereupon entered judgment for plaintiff against him, dismissed the suit as to the city of St. Louis, and entered judgment in favor of the board of education. Plaintiff appealed to this court.

The alleged liability of the city of St. Louis and its joinder as one of the defendants is the basis of this court's appellate jurisdiction.

The defendant James Wilson owned a large theater building in the city of St. Louis called the Odeon. This building, No. 1042, is located on the east side of North Grand avenue. Immediately south, with a driveway or open space between, is located one of the " high school buildings of the city, belonging to and under the supervision of the board of education. The space between these two buildings was covered with granitoid, and near the high school building there were 10 or 12 steps leading from the level of Grand avenue to the grounds of the high school building. The space between these two buildings, affording an opportunity for passage by pedestrians from Grand avenue to School street, or vice

229 S.W. 1052

versa, was used as a thoroughfare by persons in going from one of these streets to the other. The plaintiff having been directed, as she says, by the manager of the Odeon in her efforts to enter the building, was passing over the high school grounds, which were not lighted, when she fell down a flight of steps and received the injuries for which she claims damages. The plaintiff assigns error in the court's sustaining the demurrer of the board of education to her petition, in sustaining the demurrer of the city of St. Louis to plaintiff's evidence, and in entering judgment on a grossly inadequate verdict rendered in her favor against James Wilson. These in their order.

I. As to the first assignment, it Is not a question as to the sufficiency of the formal allegations of the petition, but do those alleged state a cause of action against the board of education? This board is a quasi corporation and bears a like relation to the state or its educational system to that sustained by a school district. Article 13, c. 108, R. S. 1909; article 16, c. 102, R. S. 1919. Even more definite in terms and comprehensive in scope than the laws defining the corporate existence of ordinary school districts is that in relation to such a district as is authorized to be created in a city of 500,000 inhabitants or over, or that at bar. Section 11030 et seq., R. S. 1909; section 11458 et seq., R. S. 1919. The reasons prompting legislative action in the creation of school districts has been judicially defined many times, nowhere perhaps more fully or clearly than in Freel v. School of Crawfordsville, 142 Ind. 27, 41 N. E. 312, 37 L. R. A. 301, in which recovery was sought by a laborer in a suit against a school district for injuries while working on a school building. A demurrer to the petition was sustained, and there was judgment for the defendant. This was affirmed on an appeal to the Supreme Court. In discussing the quasi corporate capacity of the district as a ground of nonliability, the court said, in effect:

"They are involuntary corporations, organized, not for the purpose of profit or gain, but solely for the public benefit, and have only such limited powers as were deemed necessary for that purpose. Such corporations are but the agents of the state, for the sole purpose of administering the state system of public education. It is the duty of the school trustees of a township, town, or city to take charge of the educational affairs of their respective localities, and, among other things, to build and keep in repair public school buildings. In performing the duties required of them they exercise merely a public function and agency for the public good for which they receive no private or corporate benefit. School corporations, therefore, are governed by the same law in respect to their liability to individuals for the negligence of their officers or agents as are counties and townships. It is well established that where subdivisions of the state are organized solely for a public purpose, by a general law, that no action lies against them for an injury received by a person on account of the negligence of the officers of such subdivision, unless a right of action is expressly given by statute. Such subdivisions, then, as counties, townships, and school corporations, are instrumentalities of government, and exercise authority given by the state, and are no more liable for the acts or omissions of their officers than the state."

The question as to the liability of quasi corporations for the negligence of their directors, officers, or employees has, in regard to other than school districts, been frequently considered by this court. In Reardon v. St. Louis County, 36 Mo. 555, an action was brought by a widow against the county for the death of her husband, alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the county in failing to keep a bridge in repair. A demurrer was sustained to the petition, and upon appeal to this court the judgment was affirmed.

The basis for this ruling, briefly stated, is that counties are quasi corporations, created by law for purposes of public policy, and are not answerable in damages for a failure to perform the duties enjoined on them unless the right of action is given by statute.

In Swineford v. Franklin County, 73 Mo. 279, the plaintiff brought suit against the county for damages caused by the county court ordering the filling up of a millrace which crossed a public highway. By a divided court the plaintiff was held not entitled to recover, on the ground of the nonliability of the county as a quasi public corporation in its control, through the county court, of the public highways.

In Clark v. Adair County, 79 Mo. 536, the county was held not liable in an action for damages caused by the falling of a bridge on a public road. Following the rule in the Reardon and Swineford Cases, supra, the court held that—

"Counties are territorial subdivisions of the state, and are only quasi corporations created by the Legislature for certain public purposes. As such they are not responsible for neglect of duties enjoined on them or their officers unless the right of action for such neglect is given by statute. Such has always been the rule in this state."

In Cunningham v. St. Louis, 98 Mo. 53, 8 S. W. 787, an action was held not maintainable against the city for an injury resulting from its negligence in permitting an unguarded pit to exist adjacent to the approach to the courthouse. In the maintenance of the courthouse the city was held to be occupying the same relation towards the state as that of a county in regard to its courthouse, and on the same ground of nonliability of a county under like circumstances the city was held not to be liable. The reason for this ruling was, as Is evident, the quasi corporate character of the city in its maintenance of the courthouse as a facility for the transaction

229 S.W. 1053

of the state's business, viz. the collection of the revenue.

In Reed v. Howell County, 125 Mo. 58, 28 S. W. 177, 46 Am. St. Rep. 466, citing with approval the foregoing cases, a county was held not liable for damages arising from a wrongful attachment of property. The reason for nonliability in this case is based upon the presumption that, in the absence of any allegation in the petition to the contrary, the officers of the county, `in the institution of the suit on which the attachment was based, were engaged in the performance of those public duties which were enjoined on them by the authority of the statute, and were not undertaken for their private benefit or the emolument of the county.

In Lamar v. Bolivar Road District, 201 S. W. 890, this court ruled that a special road district, being a quasi corporation, is not liable for an injury occurring upon a highway. This ruling was but a reiteration of the doctrine which has been announced in this state since the Reardon Case in 1865.

In Moxley v. Pike County, 276 Mo. 449, 208 S. W. 246, this court ruled that a county was not liable for an injury caused by a defective highway. The reasons for the court's ruling are stated somewhat elaborately and may not inappropriately be quoted in this connection.

"When, for convenience in the administration of its laws, the state, through the Legislature, calls to its aid those territorial organizations sometimes called, with more or less accuracy, quasi corporations, such as counties, townships, and school districts, the question has frequently arisen whether these agencies share, with the state itself, immunity from common-law liability for the negligence of their officers in...

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47 practice notes
  • Murphy v. Kroger Grocery & Baking Co., No. 38280.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • April 6, 1943
    ...p. 537, sec. 1637; Edwards v. Mo. Pac. Ry. Co., 82 Mo. App. 478; Broughton v. S.S. Kresge Co., 26 S.W. (2d) 838; Cochran v. Wilson, 287 Mo. 210, 229 S.W. 1050; Pritchard v. Hewitt, 91 Mo. l.c. 540, 4 S.W. 437, 60 Am. St. Rep. 265; Fischer v. St. Louis, 189 Mo. 567, 88 S.W. 82, 107 Am. St. R......
  • Zoll v. St. Louis County, No. 34970.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • February 8, 1939
    ...Moxley v. Pike County, supra (208 S.W. l.c. 247); Zummo v. Kansas City, 285 Mo. 222, 225 S.W. 934, l.c. 935; Cochran v. Wilson et al., 287 Mo. 210, 229 S.W. 1050, l.c. In Householder et al. v. Kansas City, 83 Mo. 488, it was held that, under Section 21, Article II of the Constitution, the g......
  • Kirst v. Clarkson Const. Co., No. 8467
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • October 12, 1965
    ...the admission or exclusion of evidence. Stone v. Farmington Aviation Corp., 360 Mo. 1015, 1021, 232 S.W.2d 495, 499(4); Cochran v. Wilson, 287 Mo. 210, 228, 229 S.W. 1050, 1056(5). See McCormack v. McNamee, Mo., 274 S.W.2d 272, 279(10). 3 But, aside from that principle, Page 491 it is cryst......
  • Rawle v. Mcilhenny
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • November 15, 1934
    ...Hosp. Ass'n, 122 Minn. 444, 142 N.W. 705; Stroh South Covington, etc., Ry. Co., 25 Ky.L.R. 1868, 78 S.W. 1120. See, also, Cochran Wilson, 287 Mo. 210, 229 S.W. 1050 and Adams Anderson, etc., Co., 127 Wash. 678, 221 Pac. 993, modifying opinion in 124 Wash. 356, 214 Pac. 835; Corn Novelty Co.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
47 cases
  • Murphy v. Kroger Grocery & Baking Co., No. 38280.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • April 6, 1943
    ...p. 537, sec. 1637; Edwards v. Mo. Pac. Ry. Co., 82 Mo. App. 478; Broughton v. S.S. Kresge Co., 26 S.W. (2d) 838; Cochran v. Wilson, 287 Mo. 210, 229 S.W. 1050; Pritchard v. Hewitt, 91 Mo. l.c. 540, 4 S.W. 437, 60 Am. St. Rep. 265; Fischer v. St. Louis, 189 Mo. 567, 88 S.W. 82, 107 Am. St. R......
  • Zoll v. St. Louis County, No. 34970.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • February 8, 1939
    ...Moxley v. Pike County, supra (208 S.W. l.c. 247); Zummo v. Kansas City, 285 Mo. 222, 225 S.W. 934, l.c. 935; Cochran v. Wilson et al., 287 Mo. 210, 229 S.W. 1050, l.c. In Householder et al. v. Kansas City, 83 Mo. 488, it was held that, under Section 21, Article II of the Constitution, the g......
  • Kirst v. Clarkson Const. Co., No. 8467
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • October 12, 1965
    ...the admission or exclusion of evidence. Stone v. Farmington Aviation Corp., 360 Mo. 1015, 1021, 232 S.W.2d 495, 499(4); Cochran v. Wilson, 287 Mo. 210, 228, 229 S.W. 1050, 1056(5). See McCormack v. McNamee, Mo., 274 S.W.2d 272, 279(10). 3 But, aside from that principle, Page 491 it is cryst......
  • Rawle v. Mcilhenny
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • November 15, 1934
    ...Hosp. Ass'n, 122 Minn. 444, 142 N.W. 705; Stroh South Covington, etc., Ry. Co., 25 Ky.L.R. 1868, 78 S.W. 1120. See, also, Cochran Wilson, 287 Mo. 210, 229 S.W. 1050 and Adams Anderson, etc., Co., 127 Wash. 678, 221 Pac. 993, modifying opinion in 124 Wash. 356, 214 Pac. 835; Corn Novelty Co.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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