Robertson v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co.

Decision Date29 June 1945
Docket NumberNo. 6,June Term, 1945.,6
CourtMichigan Supreme Court


Appeal from Circuit Court, Wayne County; Vincent M. Brennan, judge.

Action by Dr. Tom H. Robertson, M. D., against New York Life Insurance Company and others for conspiracy and slander. From a judgment for named defendant, plaintiff appeals.


Before the Entire Bench.

John F. Jordan, of Detroit, for plaintiff-appellant.

Armstrong, Weadock, Essery & Helm, of Detroit (Richard G. Eubank, of Detroit, of counsel), for New York Life Ins. Co., defendant and appellee.

STARR, Chief Justice.

Plaintiff is a duly-licensed and practicing physician in Detroit. Defendant New York Life Insurance Company is a foreign corporation and maintains an office in Detroit. In March, 1937, the company placed plaintiff and his brother, Dr. Stanley Robertson, on its list of approved medical examiners, their work being the examination of applicants for life insurance. The company could remove them from its approved list at any time. Medical examinations were to be made for a specified fee. They continued as examiners until about November, 1941, when the company removed them from its approved list. Plaintiff and his brother then interviewed defendant Hicks, the supervisor of agencies for the company in Detroit, to ascertain the reason for their removal. Hicks informed them that they had been removed from the approved list because of complaints against them. Subsequently, plaintiff sent more than 100 letters and telegrams to officers, directors, and representatives of the company, seeking information as to the nature and source of the complaints.

In September, 1942, plaintiff began suit against the insurance company and defendants Hicks, Baron, Leitman, Slessinger, and Nutting, representatives of the company in Michigan, and defendants Pratt, Campbell, Fraser, and Harrison, who were officers or representatives in New York City. Process was served on the company and on defendants Hicks, Baron, Leitman, and Slessinger, but not on the other defendants. In his declaration and subsequent amendments thereto plaintiff alleged that defendants conspired to and did damage, defame, and slander him by wrongfully and maliciously publishing certain slanderous statements concerning his professional conduct as a medical examiner for the company. He asked for damages in the amount of three million dollars. The company and the defendants who were served with process severally answered, denying the material allegations as to conspiracy and slander and denying his right to damages. Orders were entered for the taking of the depositions of plaintiff and defendant Hicks under Court Rule No. 41, § 1 (1933). In November, 1943, the insurance company filed motion for a summary judgment, which stated in part:

‘The grounds for this motion are that no slanderous statement has been made by any person authorized by New York Life Insurance Company so to do, and that there has been no ratification of any alleged slanderous statement by anyone authorized so to do on behalf of New York Life Insurance Company and that plaintiff herein does not know of any facts which constitute a cause of action against this defendant.’

This motion for summary judgment was supported by affidavits to the effect that the company had not authorized any person to utter the words and statements complained of and had not ratified their utterance. Plaintiff filed objections to the motion, on the grounds that the pleadings raised issues of fact which could be determined only by a trial on the merits; and that he had had no reasonable opportunity to obtain and file affidavits and depositions controverting the facts alleged in the affidavits supporting said motion. The depositions of plaintiff and defendant Hicks were taken, and Hicks also testified at the hearing on said motion.

The trial court granted defendant company's motion for summary judgment, and on December 23, 1943, judgment was enteredin its favor. Plaintiff's motion to vacate the summary judgment was denied, and he appeals. It should be noted that the individual defendants who were served with process did not move for summary judgment, and the case continues in the trial court as to them.

The principal question before us is whether or not, under Court Rule No. 30, § 7 (1933), defendant company was ‘entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, without deciding any controverted issue of fact.’ Said court rule provides:

Section 7. In any action at law, the defendant may, after issue is joined, move the court for entry of judgment in his favor upon a showing by affidavits or depositions filed in the cause that there is no question of fact to be determined by the court or jury, and that he is entitled to a judgment in his favor. Before judgment is entered, the plaintiff shall be given a reasonable opportunity to obtain and file affidavits and depositions controverting the facts set forth in the affidavits or depositions filed by the defendant. Either party shall be given the further opportunity to cross examine witnesses whose affidavits have been filed or whose depositions have been taken without affording such opportunity of cross examination. Facts set forth in such affidavits or depositions, which it appears the witnesses could not testify to under the rules of evidence prescribed by law shall not be considered. If it appears to the court from such affidavits and depositions that the defendant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, without deciding any controverted issue of fact, the court shall enter such judgment, and the plaintiff may appeal therefrom. Both plaintiff and defendant are to have an equal right to a summary judgment, upon proper proofs.’

In considering a summary judgment entered on defendant's motion, in the case of American Employers' Ins. Co. v. H. G. Christman & Bros. Co., 284 Mich. 36, 40, 278 N.W. 750, 752, we said:

‘The decisive question before us on plaintiff's appeal is whether defendants were ‘entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, without deciding any controverted issue of fact.’ Michigan Court Rule No. 30, § 7 (1933). See, also, Dempsey v. Langton, 266 Mich. 47, 253 N.W. 210;McDonald v. Staples, 271 Mich. 590, 261 N.W. 86; and Maser v. Gibbons, 280 Mich. 621, 274 N.W. 352.'

See, also, Terre Haute Brewing Co., Inc., v. Goldberg, 291 Mich. 401, 289 N.W. 192;Laughery v. County of Wayne, 307 Mich. 316, 11 N.W.2d 902.

Therefore, we review the record for the purpose of determining whether or not there were issues of fact requiring consideration by a court or jury. Plaintiff's claim for damages is based on his allegation that defendants conspired to and did defame and slander him. He testified that in November, 1941, defendant Hicks informed him and his brother that their names had been removed from the list of approved examiners, because complaints against them had been received at the New York office of the company. Defendant Hicks testified regarding his interview with plaintiff and his brother as follows:

He (plaintiff) seemed to be there for the purpose of finding out who was responsible for taking his name off the examining list, * * * and I told them that I was. * * * The next thing he * * * demanded to know why I had taken this action, and I explained that the company felt that they had the right to put a man on the list as an examiner, and take him off at will, and he pressed me as to * * * what reason they would have for doing it, and I told him that I did not know, but that I had been in New York a number of months before that, and while I was eating lunch with some of the officers of the company, one of the doctors, I believe it was Dr. Pratt, had stopped by the table * * * and in passing, mentioned that some complaint had come in regarding one of the Robertson brothers, and * * * it was * * * stated then that some woman had complained, but other than that, I knew nothing about it.’

The law is established in this State that a corporation is not liable for slanderous statements uttered by its agents, unless it is affirmatively shown that the agent was expressly authorized to make such statements or that the corporation ratified their utterance. In Flaherty v. Maxwell Motor Co., 187 Mich. 62, 67, 153 N.W. 45, 46, we said:

‘Our examination of the cases satisfies us that the great weight of the authorities holds that a corporation is not liable for slander uttered by its servants unless it affirmatively appears that the agent was expressly authorized to speak the words in question or the corporation subsequently ratified the utterance.’

Therefore, upon a trial on the merits, plaintiff could not recover damages against defendant company, unless he affirmatively showed that the company either authorized or subsequently ratified the alleged slanderous statements. The question as to the validity of the summary judgment in the present case depends upon whether or not the pleadings, depositions, and testimony taken, presented a question of fact as to whether the company had authorized or later ratified the alleged statements. If an...

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9 cases
  • Poledna v. Bendix Aviation Corp.
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • 6 Junio 1960
    ...defendant corporation is not liable for the actions of defendant Bare. In support of this contention, they cite Robertson v. New York Life Ins. Co., 312 Mich. 92, 19 N.W.2d 498, and Flaherty v. Maxwell Motor Co., 187 Mich. 62, 153 N.W. 45. In this latter case, 187 Mich. at page 67, 153 N.W.......
  • Hunt v. Briggs
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
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    ...uncontroverted, and must be taken as true if not contradicted by other opposing affidavits or proof. Robertson v. New York Life Ins. Co., et al., 312 Mich. 92, 19 N.W.2d 498 (1945); Leszczynski v. Surges, 30 Wis.2d 534, 141 N.W.2d 261 (1966); Caraway v. Leathers, et al., 58 Wis.2d 321, 206 ......
  • Grist v. Upjohn Co., s. 27
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • 31 Diciembre 1962
    ...time. However, after plaintiff's appendix and both briefs on appeal were filed with this Court, the rule of Robertson v. New York Life Ins. Co., 312 Mich. 92, 97, 98, 19 N.W.2d 498--on which the trial judge properly relied--was overruled by Poledna v. Bendix Aviation Corp., 360 Mich. 129, 1......
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    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • 19 Abril 1965 amend as to the Upjohn Company'. On January 6, 1960, the trial court denied such last mentioned motion, basing its decision upon the Robertson case, and ruling further that the proposed amendment offered after 'the statute of limitations had now run,' introduced a new, statute-barred cau......
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