Martell v. White

Decision Date01 March 1904
Citation185 Mass. 255,69 N.E. 1085
PartiesMARTELL v. WHITE et al.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
COUNSEL

Charles W. Bartlett and Elbridge

R. Anderson, for plaintiff.

James E. Cotter and John W. McAnarney, for defendants.

OPINION

HAMMOND J.

The evidence warranted the finding of the following facts, many of which were not in dispute: The plaintiff was engaged in a profitable business in quarrying granite and selling the same to granite workers in Quincy and vicinity. About January 1899, his customers left him, and his business was ruined through the action of the defendants and their associates. The defendants were all members of a voluntary association known as the Granite Manufacturers' Association of Quincy, Mass., and some of them were on the executive committee. The association was composed of 'such individuals, firms, or corporations as are, or are about to become manufacturers, quarriers, or polishers of granite.' There was no constitution, and, while there were by-laws, still, except as hereinafter stated there was in them no statement of the objects for which the association was formed. The by-laws provided, among other things, for the admission, suspension, and expulsion of members, the election of officers, including an executive committee, and defined the respective powers and duties of the officers. One of the by-laws read as follows: 'For the purpose of defraying in part the expense of the maintenance of this organization, any member thereof having business transactions with any party or concern in Quincy or its vicinity, not members hereof, and in any way relating to the cutting, quarrying, polishing, buying or selling of granite (hand polishers excepted) shall for each of said transactions contribute at least $1 and not more than $500. The amount to be fixed by the association upon its determining the amount and nature of said transaction.' Acting under the by-laws, the association investigated charges which were made against several of its members that they had purchased granite from a party 'not a member' of the association. The charges were proved, and under the section above quoted, it was voted that the offending parties 'should respectively contribute to the funds of the association' the sums named in the votes. These sums ranged from $10 to $100. Only the contribution of $100 has been paid, but it is a fair inference that the proceedings to collect the others have been delayed only by reason of this suit. The party 'not a member' was the present plaintiff, and the members of the association knew it. Most of the customers of the plaintiff were members of the association, and after these proceedings they declined to deal with him. This action on their part was due to the course of the association in compelling them to contribute as above stated, and to their fear that a similar vote for contribution would be passed, should they continue to trade with the plaintiff. The jury might properly have found, also, that the euphemistic expression, 'shall contribute to the funds of the association,' contained an idea which could be more tersely and accurately expressed by the phrase 'shall pay a fine,' or, in other words, that the plain intent of the section was to provide for the imposition upon those who came within its provisions of a penalty in the nature of a substantial fine. The bill of exceptions recites that 'there was no evidence of threats or intimidation practiced upon the plaintiff himself, and the acts complained of were confined to the action of the society upon its own members.' We understand this statement to mean simply that the acts of the association concerned only such of the plaintiff's customers as were members, and that no pressure was brought to bear upon the plaintiff, except such as fairly resulted from action upon his customers. While it is true that the by-law was not directed expressly against the plaintiff by name, still he belonged to the class whose business it was intended to affect, and the proceedings actually taken were based upon transactions with him alone, and in that way were directed against his business alone. It was the intention of the defendants to withdraw his customers from him, if possible, by the imposition of fines upon them, with the knowledge that the result would be a great loss to the plaintiff. The defendants must be presumed to have intended the natural result of their acts. Here, then, is a clear and deliberate interference with the business of a person, with the intention of causing damage to him, and ending in that result. The defendants combined and conspired together to ruin the plaintiff in his business, and they accomplished their purpose. In all this, have they kept within lawful bounds? It is elemental that the unlawfulness of a conspiracy may be found either in the end sought, or the means to be used. If either is unlawful, within the meaning of the term as applied to the subject, then the conspiracy is unlawful. It becomes necessary, therefore, to examine into the nature of the conspiracy in this case, both as to the object sought and the means used.

The case presents one phase of a general subject which gravely concerns the interests of the business world, and, indeed, those of all organized society, and which in recent years has demanded and received great consideration in the courts and elsewhere. Much remains to be done to clear the atmosphere, but some things, at least, appear to have been settled; and certainly at this stage of the judicial inquiry it cannot be necessary to enter upon a course of reasoning or to cite authorities in support of the proposition that, while a person must submit to competition, he has the right to be protected from malicious interference with his business. The rule is well stated in Walker v. Cronin, 107 Mass. 555, 564, in the following language: 'Every one has a right to enjoy the fruits and advantages of his own enterprise, industry, skill, and credit. He has no right to be protected against competition, but he has a right to be free from malicious and wanton interference, disturbance, or annoyance. It disturbance or loss come as a result of competition, or the exercise of like rights by others, it is damnum absque injuria, unless some superior right by contract or otherwise is interfered with. But if it come from the merely wanton or malicious acts of others, without the justification of competition or the service of any interest or lawful purpose, it then stands upon a different footing.' In a case like this, where the injury is intentionally inflicted, the crucial question is whether there is justifiable cause for the act. If the injury be inflicted without just cause or excuse, then it is actionable. Bowen, L. J., in Mogul Steamship Co. v. McGregor, 23 Q. B. D. 598, 613; Plant v. Woods, 176 Mass. 492, 57 N.E. 1011, 51 L. R. A. 339, 79 Am. St. Rep. 330. The justification must be as broad as the act, and must cover not only the motive and the purpose, or, in other words, the object sought, but also the means used.

The defendants contend that, both as to object and means, they are justified by the law applicable to business competition. In considering this defense, it is to be remembered, as was said by Bowen, L. J., in Mogul Steamship Co. v. McGregor, L. R. 23 Q. B. D. 598, 611, that there is presented 'an apparent conflict or antinomy between two rights that are equally regarded by the law [69 N.E. 1087] --the right of the plaintiff to be protected in the legitimate exercise of his trade, and the right of the defendants to carry on their business as seems best to them, provided they commit no wrong to others.' Here, as in most cases where there is a conflict between two important principles, either of which is sound, and to be sustained within proper bounds, but each of which must finally yield, to some extent, to the other, it frequently is not possible by a general formula to mark out the dividing line with reference to every conceivable case, and it is not wise to attempt it. The best and only practicable course is to consider the cases as they arise, and, bearing in mind the grounds upon which the soundness of each principle is supposed to rest, by a process of elimination and comparison to establish points through which, at least, the line must run, and beyond which the party charged with trespass shall not be allowed to go.

While the purpose to injure the plaintiff appears clearly enough the object or motive is left somewhat obscure, upon the evidence. The association had no written constitution, and the by-laws do not expressly set forth its objects. It is true that from the by-laws it appears that none but persons engaged in the granite business can be members, and that a member transacting any business of this kind with a person not a member is liable to a fine, from which it may be inferred that it is the idea of the members that, for the protection of their business, it would be well to confine it to transactions among themselves, and that one, at least, of the objects of the association is to advance the interests of the members in that way. The oral testimony tends to show that one object of the association is to see that agreements made between its members and their employés, and between this association and similar associations in the same line of business, be kept and 'lived up to.' Whether this failure to set out fully in writing the objects, is due to any reluctance to have them clearly appear, or to some other cause, is, of...

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2 cases
  • Udelavitz v. Idaho Junk House
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • 7 Junio 1928
    ... ... 455; Baker-Whitley Coal Co. v. Baltimore & O. Ry ... Co., 176 F. 632; Virtue v. Creamery Package ... Co., 179 F. 115, 102 C. C. A. 413; Martell v. White, 185 ... Mass. 255, 102 Am. St. 341, 346, 69 N.E. 1095, 64 L. R. A ... Where ... the witness was president and secretary of the ... ...
  • Loughery v. Central Trust Co.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 6 Enero 1927
    ...188. The plaintiff contends that the gist of the action is the conspiracy. We have held in Willett v. Herrick, 242 Mass. 471 , Martell v. White, 185 Mass. 255 , Pickett v. Walsh, 192 Mass. 572 , that, in some circumstances, if persons who possess peculiar powers of coercion or who stand in ......
1 books & journal articles
  • Satellite digital radio searching for novel theories of action.
    • United States
    • The Journal of High Technology Law Vol. 1 No. 1, January 2002
    • 1 Enero 2002
    ...RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS [sections] 766C (1979). (142.) PROSSER, LAW OF TORTS, supra note 98, at 1021. (143.) See Martell v. White, 69 N.E. 1085 (Mass. 1904) (claiming free competition in best interests of (144.) See RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS [sections] 768 (1979). (145.) Tuttle v.......

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