Lake Shore Ry Co v. Prentice

Citation13 S.Ct. 261,147 U.S. 101,37 L.Ed. 97
Decision Date03 January 1893
Docket NumberNo. 58,58
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

147 U.S. 101
13 S.Ct. 261
37 L.Ed. 97



No. 58.
January 3, 1893,

Action by Chalmer M. C. Prentice against the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway Company to recover damages for unlawful arrest of plaintiff, while a passenger, by the conductor of one of the company's trains. Verdict and judgment for plaintiff. Defendant brings error. Reversed.

Statement by Mr. Justice GRAY:

This was an action of trespass on the case, brought October 19, 1886, in the circuit court of the United States for the northern district of Illinois, by Prentice, a citizen of Ohio,

Page 102

against the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway Company, a corporation of Illinois, to recover damages for the wrongful acts of the defendant's servants.

The declaration alleged, and the evidence introduced at the trial tended to prove, the following facts: The plaintiff was a physician. The defendant was engaged in operating a railroad, and conducting the business of a common carrier of passengers and freight, through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other states. On October 12, 1886, the plaintiff, his wife, and a number of other persons were passengers, holding excursion tickets, on a regular passenger train of the defendant's railroad, from Norwalk, in Ohio, to Chicago, in Illinois. During the journey the plaintiff purchased of several passengers their return tickets, which had nothing on them to show that they were not transferable. The conductor of the train, learning this, and knowing that the plaintiff had been guilty of no offense for which he was liable to arrest, telegraphed for a police officer, an employe of the defendant, who boarded the train as it approached Chicago. The conductor thereupon, in a loud and angry voice, pointed out the plaintiff to the officer, and ordered his arrest; and the officer, by direction of the conductor, and without any warrant or authority of law, seized the plaintiff, and rudely searched him for weapons, in the presence of the other passengers, hurried him into another car, and there sat down by him as a watch, and refused to tell him the cause of his arrest, or to let him speak to his wife. While the plaintiff was being removed into the other car, the conductor, for the purpose of disgracing and humiliating him with his fellow passengers, openly declared that he was under arrest, and sneeringly said to the plaintiff's wife, 'Where's your doctor now?' On arrival at Chicago, the conductor refused to let the plaintiff assist his wife with her parcels in leaving the train, or to give her the check for their trunk; and, in the presence of the passengers and others, ordered him to be taken to the station house, and he was forcibly taken there, and detained until the conductor arrived; and, knowing that the plaintiff had been guilty of no offense, entered a false charge against him of disorderly conduct, upon which he gave bail and was

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released, and of which, on appearing before a justice of the peace for trial on the next day, and no one appearing to prosecute him, he was finally discharged.

The declaration alleged that all these acts were done by the defendant's agents in the line of their employment, and that the defendant was legally responsible therefor; and that the plaintiff had been thereby put to expense, and greatly injured in mind, body, and reputation.

At the trial, and before the introduction of any evidence, the defendant, by its counsel, admitted 'that the arrest of the plaintiff was wrongful, and that he was entitled to recover actual damages therefor;' but afterwards excepted to each of the following instructions given by the circuit judge to the jury:

'If you believe the statements which have been made by the plaintiff and the witnesses who testified in his behalf, (and they are not denied,) then he is entitled to a verdict which will fully compensate him for the injuries which he sustained, and in compensating him you are authorized to go beyond the amount that he has actually expended in employing counsel; you may go beyond the actual outlay in money which he has made. He was arrested publicly, without a warrant, and without cause; and if such conduct as has been detailed before you occurred, such as the remark that was addressed by the conductor to the wife in the plaintiff's presence, in compensating him you have a right to consider the humiliation of feeling to which he was thus publicly subjected. If the company, without reason, by its unlawful and oppressive act, subjected him to this public humiliation, and thereby outraged his feelings, he is entitled to compensation for that injury and mental anguish.'

'I am not able to give you any rule by which you can determine that; but, bear in mind, it is strictly on the line of compensation. The plaintiff is entitled to compensation in money for humiliation of feeling and spirit, as well as the actual outlay which he has made in and about this suit.'

'And, further, after agreeing upon the amount which will fairly compensate the plaintiff for his outlay and injured feel-

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ings, you may add something by way of punitive damages against the defendant, which is sometimes called 'smart money,' if you are satisfied that the conductor's conduct was illegal, (and it was illegal,) wanton, and oppressive. How much that shall be the court cannot tell you. You must act as reasonable men, and not indulge vindictive feelings towards the defendant.'

'If a public corporation, like as individual, acts oppressively, wantonly, abuses power, and a citizen in that way is injured, the citizen, in addition to strict compensation, may have, the law says, something in the way of smart money; something as punishment for the oppressive use of power.'

The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the sum of $10,000. The defendant moved for a new trial, for error in law, and for excessive damages. The plaintiff thereupon, by leave of court, remitted the sum of $4,000, and asked that judgment be entered for $6,000. The court then denied the motion for a new trial, and gave judgment for the plaintiff for $6,000. The defendant sued out this writ of error.

Geo. C. Greene, for plaintiff in error.

W. A. Foster, for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 104-106 intentionally omitted]

Page 106

Mr. Justice GRAY, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

The only exceptions taken to the instructions at the trial, which have been argued in this court, are to those on the subject of punitive damages.

The single question presented for our decision, therefore, is whether a railroad corporation can be charged with punitive or exemplary damages for the illegal, wanton, and oppressive conduct of a conductor of one of its trains towards a passenger.

This question, like others affecting the liability of a railroad corporation as a common carrier of goods or passengers, such as its right to contract for exemption from responsibility for its own negligence, or its liability beyond its own line, or its liability to one of its servants for the act of another person in its employment,—is a question, not of local law, but of general jurisprudence, upon which this court, in the absence of express statute regulating the subject, will exercise its own judgment, uncontrolled by the decisions of the courts of the several states. Railroad Co. v. Lockwood, 17 Wall. 357, 368; Liverpool & G. W. Steam Co. v. Phenix Ins. Co., 129 U. S. 397, 443, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 469; Myrick v. Railroad Co., 107 U. S. 102, 109, 1 Sup. Ct. Rep. 425; Hough v. Railway Co., 100 U. S. 213, 226.

The most distinct suggestion of the doctrine of exemplary or punitive damages in England before the American Revolution is to be found in the remarks of Chief Justice Pratt (afterwards Lord Camden) in one of the actions against the king's messengers for trespass and imprisonment, under general warrants of the secretary of state, in which, the plaintiff's counsel having asserted, and the defendant's counsel having denied, the right to recover 'exemplary damages,' the chief justice instructed the jury as follows: 'I have formerly delivered it as my opinion on another occasion, and I still continue

Page 107

of the same mind, that a jury have it in their power to give damages for more than the injury received. Damages are designed, not only as a satisfaction to the injured person, but likewise as a punishment to the guilty, to deter from any such proceeding for the future, and as a proof of the detestation of the jury to the action itself.' Wilkes v. Wood, Lofft, 1, 18, 19, 19 Howell, St. T. 1153, 1167, See, also, Huckle v. Money, 2 Wils. 205, 207; Sayer, Dam. 218. 221. The recovery of damages, beyond compensation for the injury received, by way of punishing the guilty, and as an example to deter others from offending in like manner, is here clearly recognized.

In this court the doctrine is well settled that in actions of tort the jury, in addition to the sum awarded by way of compensation for the plaintiff's injury, may award exemplary, punitive, or vindictive demages, sometimes called 'smart money,' if the defendant has acted wantonly, or oppressively, or with such malice as implies a spirit of mischief or criminal indifference to civil obligations; but such guilty intention on the part of the defendant is required in order to charge him with exemplary or punitive damages. The Amiable Nancy, 3 Wheat. 546, 558, 559; Day v. Woodworth, 13 How. 363, 371; Railroad Co. v. Quigley, 21 How. 202, 213, 214; Railway Co. v. Arms, 91 U. S. 489, 493, 495; Railway Co. v. Humes, 115 U. S. 512, 521, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 110; Barry v. Edmunds, 116 U. S. 550, 562, 563, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 501; Railway Co. v. Harris, 122 U. S. 597, 609, 610, 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1286; Railway Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U. S. 26, 36, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 207.

Exemplary or punitive damages, being awarded, not by way of compensation to the...

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