Prudential Ins Co of America v. Cheek, No. 149

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPITNEY
Citation259 U.S. 530,42 S.Ct. 516,66 L.Ed. 1044
Decision Date05 June 1922
Docket NumberNo. 149
PartiesPRUDENTIAL INS. CO. OF AMERICA v. CHEEK

259 U.S. 530
42 S.Ct. 516
66 L.Ed. 1044
PRUDENTIAL INS. CO. OF AMERICA

v.

CHEEK.

No. 149.
Argued and Submitted March 6, 1922.
Decided June 5, 1922.

Page 531

Messrs. John H. Holliday and Thomas W. White, both of St. Louis, Mo., for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Frederick H. Bacon, of St. Louis, Mo., for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice PITNEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Robert T. Cheek sued the Prudential Insurance Company of America in the circuit court of St. Louis to recover damages upon a cause of action set forth in two counts: First, that the company being a New Jersey corporation conducting a life insurance besiness in Missouri under license of the insurance department of that state, and plaintiff having been for more than 10 years continuously employed in its service, and having resigned said employment and left the company's service, plaintiff demanded of defendant's superintendent a letter setting forth the nature and character of the services rendered by him to said corporation and the duration thereof, and truly stating for what cause plaintiff had quit said service; that defendant, acting through its superintendent, without just cause refused to give to plaintiff such a letter, as provided by statute, and because of this plaintiff had been unable to secure employment and had suffered substantial damages. The second count was based upon an alleged unlawful agreement between defendant and two other companies, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, said companies having a monopoly of the industrial life insurance business in St. Louis, to the effect that

Page 532

neither would, for a period of two years after his leaving the employ of either company, employ any man who for any reason had left the service of or had been discharged by either of the other companies, by which means plaintiff had been rendered unable to secure employment and had sustained substantial damages.

The first count was based upon section 3020, Missouri Revised Statutes of 1909, which reads as follows:

'Whenever any employe of any corporation doing business in this state shall be discharged or voluntarily quit the service of such corporation, it shall be the duty of the superintendent or manager of said corporation, upon the request of such employe (if such employe shall have been in the service of said corporation for a period of at least ninety days), to issue to such employe a letter, duly signed by such superintendent or manager, setting forth the nature and character of service rendered by such employe to such corporation and the duration thereof and truly stating for what cause, if any, such employe has quit such service; and if any such superintendent or manager shall fail or refuse to issue such letter to such employe when so requested by such employe, such superintendent or manager shall be deemed suilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punished by a fine in any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.'

A general demurrer interposed to each count was sustained by the trial court, and, plaintiff declining to plead further, judgment was rendered for defendant, from which plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court of the state. That court, construing section 3020, held that it imposed a duty, not upon the superintendent or manager personally, but upon the corporation, acting through its superintendent or other proper officer, to issue the letter; that, the statute having imposed his duty for the public benefit

Page 533

and also for the benefit of the employees of corporations, the public remedy by fine or other penalty was not exclusive, and the plaintiff as a party injured was entitled to recover his damages; overruled various constitutional objections raised by defendant to the validity of section 3020, among others that it deprived the corporation of liberty of contract without due process of law and denied it the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; held that the agreement or combination alleged in the second count gave the corporations a monopoly in their business, contrary to the law and public policy of the state, and, if it prevented plaintiff from obtaining employment, entitled him to recover his damages caused thereby; sustained both counts on all points; reversed the judgment; and remanded the cause for trial. Cheek v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 192 S. W. 387.

Defendant thereupon answered the petition, reiterating in its plea to the first count the constitutional objections to section 3020, and in its plea to the second count averring that to permit a recovery against it by reason of the alleged agreement between the companies would deprive defendant of its property and its right to contract without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On the issues so made up, the case went to trial and resulted in a verdict in favor of plaintiff upon both counts. Defendant having reserved its constitutional points, appealed from the resulting judgment to the Supreme Court, which, however, refused to take jurisdiction on the ground that all constitutional questions had been decided on the former appeal, and that the verdict, being for only $1,500, was less than the jurisdictional amount required by statute, and hence transferred the cause to the St. Louis Court of Appeals for final disposition. Cheek v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 209 S. W. 928. Defendant, treating this decision of the Supreme Court as a final judgment reviewable by writ of error from this court, sued out such a writ, and upon the ground that the judgment

Page 534

was not final under the state law the cause was dismissed March 8, 1920, 252 U. S. 567, 40 Sup. Ct. 343, 64 L. Ed. 719. Thereafter it was submitted to the St. Louis Court of Appeals, whih in conformity to the former opinion of the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment (Cheek v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 223 S. W. Rep. 754), overruled a motion for rehearing, and refused an application for certification of the case to the Supreme Court. A writ of error from this court to the St. Louis Court of Appeals followed, under section 237, Judicial Code, as amended by Act Sept. 6, 1916, c. 448, 39 Stat. 726 (Comp. St. § 1214).

A motion to dismiss the latter writ, based upon the ground that the judgment of the Court of Appeals, is not that of the highest court of the state in which a decision in the suit could be had, because the first decision of the Supreme Court rendered the constitutional questions res adjudicata, and that under the state Constitution the Court of Appeals has no jurisdiction to pass upon questions of that character, manifestly must be denied, and the case considered on its merits.

The argument in support of the contention that the Service Letter Act is repugnant to the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, in brief, is that at common law an employer is under no obligation to give a testimonial of character or clearance card to his employee; that no man is compelled to enter into business relations with another, unless he desires to do so, and upon the dissolution of such relations no man can be compelled to divulge to the public his reasons for such dissolution; that it is a part of every man's civil rights that he be at liberty to refuse business relations with any other person, whether the refusal rests upon reason, or is the result of whim, caprice, or malice, and with his reasons neither the public nor third persons have any legal concern; and that in the absence of a contract either employer or employee may sever the relation existing between them for any reason, or without reason, and may not be compelled to divulge

Page 535

the reason without material interference with his fundamental rights. Assuming the rules of the common law to be as stated, it is obvious that to say they have an unqualified and universal application, unalterable by statute, begs the question at the outset.

Section 3020 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, now a part of the general corporation laws of the state, was derived from an act of April 14, 1905 (Mo. Laws 1905, p. 178), entitled:

'An act for the protection of laboring men by requiring employing corporations to give letter showing service of employe quitting service of such corporation, and providing penalty for violation of this act.'

In giving its genesis the Supreme Court declared (Cheek v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 192 S. W. 389):

'Prior to the enactment of this statute a custom had grown up in this state, among railroad and other corporations, not to employ any applicant for a position until he gave the name of his last employer, and upon receiving the name, it would write to said former employer, making inquiry as to the cause of the applicant's discharge, if discharged, or his cause for leaving the service of such former company. If the information furnished was not satisfactory, the applicant was refused employment. This custom became so sidespread and affected such vast numbers of laboring people it became a public evil, and worked great injustice and oppression upon large numbers of persons who earned their bread by the sweat of their faces. The statute quoted was enacted for the purpose of regulating that custom, not to destroy it (for it contained some good and useful elements, enabling the corporations of the state to ascertain the degree of the intelligence as well as the honesty, capacity, and efficiency of those whom they wished to employ, for whose conduct they are responsible to the public and their fellow employees), and thereby remedy the evil which flowed therefrom.'

And again (192 S. W. 392):

'The statute under consideration imposes no unjust burden or expense upon the respondent or other

Page 536

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83 practice notes
  • Brandywine-Main Line Radio, Inc. v. FCC, No. 71-1181.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • September 25, 1972
    ...L.Ed. 879 (1907) (emphasis in the original). 169 Id., 205 U.S. at 461, 27 S.Ct. at 557. 170 Prudential Insurance Co. of America v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530, 543, 42 S.Ct. 516, 522, 66 L.Ed. 1044 171 268 U.S. 652, 45 S.Ct. 625, 69 L.Ed. 1138 (1925). In this case the Court affirmed Gitlow's convic......
  • Connecticut General Life Ins Co v. Johnson, No. 316
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 31, 1938
    ...1439; Alaska Fish Salting & By-Products Co. v. Smith, 255 U.S. 44, 48, 41 S.Ct. 219, 65 L.Ed. 489. 6 Prudential Insurance Co. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530, 536, 42 S.Ct. 516, 519, 66 L.Ed. 1044, 27 A.L.R. 27; Pembina Consol. Silver Mining & Milling Co. v. Pennsylvania, 125 U.S. 181, 189, 8 S.Ct. ......
  • State v. Kilgore, No. 81020-6.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • September 24, 2009
    ...for further proceedings is not final so long as judicial action is still required in the lower court. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530, 533-34, 42 S.Ct. 516, 66 L.Ed. 1044 (1922). Here the trial court first acted on the remand in 2005; accordingly the judgment became final ......
  • Adamson v. People of State of California, No. 102
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 23, 1947
    ...assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment, United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 23 L.Ed. 588; see also Prudential Ins. Co. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530, 543, 42 S.Ct. 516, 522, 66 L.Ed. 1044, 27 A.L.R. 27; Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454, 27 S.Ct. 556, 51 L.Ed. 879, 10 Ann.Cas. 689; cf.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
83 cases
  • Brandywine-Main Line Radio, Inc. v. FCC, No. 71-1181.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • September 25, 1972
    ...L.Ed. 879 (1907) (emphasis in the original). 169 Id., 205 U.S. at 461, 27 S.Ct. at 557. 170 Prudential Insurance Co. of America v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530, 543, 42 S.Ct. 516, 522, 66 L.Ed. 1044 171 268 U.S. 652, 45 S.Ct. 625, 69 L.Ed. 1138 (1925). In this case the Court affirmed Gitlow's convic......
  • Connecticut General Life Ins Co v. Johnson, No. 316
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 31, 1938
    ...1439; Alaska Fish Salting & By-Products Co. v. Smith, 255 U.S. 44, 48, 41 S.Ct. 219, 65 L.Ed. 489. 6 Prudential Insurance Co. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530, 536, 42 S.Ct. 516, 519, 66 L.Ed. 1044, 27 A.L.R. 27; Pembina Consol. Silver Mining & Milling Co. v. Pennsylvania, 125 U.S. 181, 189, 8 S.Ct. ......
  • State v. Kilgore, No. 81020-6.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • September 24, 2009
    ...for further proceedings is not final so long as judicial action is still required in the lower court. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530, 533-34, 42 S.Ct. 516, 66 L.Ed. 1044 (1922). Here the trial court first acted on the remand in 2005; accordingly the judgment became final ......
  • Adamson v. People of State of California, No. 102
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 23, 1947
    ...assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment, United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 23 L.Ed. 588; see also Prudential Ins. Co. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530, 543, 42 S.Ct. 516, 522, 66 L.Ed. 1044, 27 A.L.R. 27; Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454, 27 S.Ct. 556, 51 L.Ed. 879, 10 Ann.Cas. 689; cf.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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