Scott v. Donald Gardner v. Donald 413

Decision Date18 January 1897
Docket Number412,Nos. 411,s. 411
Citation165 U.S. 58,41 L.Ed. 632,17 S.Ct. 265
PartiesSCOTT v. DONALD (two cases). GARDNER et al. v. DONALD. , and 413
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

In the circuit court of the United States for the district of South Carolina, in February, 1895, two suits at law were brought by James Donald against J. M. Scott, and one by James Donald against Gardner and others, wherein the plaintiff sought to recover damages caused by the action of the defendants, who were state constables of the state of South Carolina, in seizing and carrying away several packages of wines and liquors belonging to the plaintiff, and at the time of the seizure in the possession of railroad companies which, as common carriers, had brought the packages within the state.

It appeared that one of the packages, consisting of a case of domestic California wine, came by rail from Savannah, Ga., whither it had been imported by the plaintiff; another, consisting of a case of whisky, in bottles, made in Maryland, and imported by the plaintiff by way of the Baltimore Steam Packet Line; and another, consisting of one barrel of bottled beer, made at Rochester, N. Y., and imported by the plaintiff into the state of South Carolina by way of the Old Dominion Steamship Line.

Demurrers to the several declarations or complaints were interposed and overruled. Thereupon issues of fact were joined, and, trial by jury having been duly waived, the causes were tried and determined by the court, and resulted in findings and judgments in favor of the plaintiff for the sum of $300 and costs in each case, respec- tively. Writs of error from this court were then sued out and allowed.

Wm. A. Barber, for plaintiffs in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 60-66 intentionally omitted] P. Kennedy Bryan, for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice SHIRAS, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

The records in these cases present the question of the validity, under the constitution of the United States, of the act of the general assembly of the state of South Carolina, approved January 2, 1895, generally known as the 'State Dispensary Law,' and a copy of which is in the margin.1

A preliminary question is raised by the proposition that these are in fact suits against the state of South Carolina, and forbidden by the eleventh amendment. This question is sufficiently disposed of by referring to the late case of In re Tyler, 149 U. S. 164, 13 Sup. Ct. 785, where the conclusion of numerous previous cases was stated to be that, where a suit is brought against defendants, who claim to act as officers of a state, and, under color of an unconstitutional statute, commit acts of wrong and injury to the property of the plaintiff, to recover money or property in their hands unlawfully taken by them in behalf of the state, or for compensation for damages, such suit is not, within the meaning of the amendment, an action against the state.

It is also argued that the amounts involved in the respective suits were not sufficient to give jurisdiction to the circuit court. Although the question of the jurisdiction of the court below has not been certified to us in the manner provided by the fifth section of the judiciary act of March 3, 1891, yet, as the case is before us, in a case in which the law of a state is claimed to be in contravention of the constitution of the United States, under another clause of that statute, we have jurisdiction of the entire case, and of all questions involved in it. Horner v. U. S., 143 U. S. 570, 12 Sup. Ct. 522; Carey v. Railway 150 U. S. 181, 14 Sup. Ct. 63; Chappell v. U. S., 160 U. S. 499, 16 Sup. Ct. 397.

Our inspection of these records does not satisfy us that this objection is well founded. The declaration or complaint alleges, in each case, that the plaintiff has been injured and damaged in the sum of $6,000, and demands judgment for that amount. It is urged that, as the value of the goods and chattels taken was alleged and shown to be but comparatively a few dollars, and as the recovery in each case was only in the sum of $300, we are obliged to infer that the damages alleged and demanded were without just foundation, and in the nature of a fraud upon the jurisdiction of the court.

The declarations contain allegations which, if true, bring the cases within the well-settled doctrine that exemplary damages may in certain cases be assessed. After alleging that the plaintiff, in importing for his own use the articles men- tioned, was in the exercise of his legal rights guarantied by the constitution of the United States, it is averred, in the several declarations, that the defendants were notified that any seizure of said goods, under any pretense of authority, would be a grievous trespass, and in disregard of constitutional rights, for which they would be held responsible; that the defendants, notwithstanding such notice, and claiming to act as constables of the state of South Carolina, forcibly seized and carried away the sald packages; and that, in committing the said unlawful acts, the said defendants acted knowingly, willfully, and maliciously, and with intent to oppress and humiliate and intimidate the plaintiff, and make him afraid to rely upon the constitution and laws of the United States, and the judicial power thereof, for his protection in the rights, privileges, and immunities secured to him by the constitution and laws of the United States; and that the defendants well knew, when they made said seizures and committed said trespasses, that said acts were unlawful, and forbidden by the laws and constitution of the United States, but that they so acted, trusting and believing that they would be shielded and protected from all harm by their official superiors in the state of South Carolina; and that they made such seizures and committed such trespasses willfully and maliclously, with the purpose and intent to trample on the plaintiff's rights under the law, and to do him all the injury in the power of the defendants.

These allegations must, for the purpose of disposing of the present question, be accepted by us as true, or, at least, as susceptible of proof.

Damages have been defined to be the compensation which the law will award for an injury done, and are said to be exemplary and allowable in excess of the actual loss where a tort is aggravated by evil motive, actual malice, deliberate violence, or oppression. While some courts and text writers have questioned the soundness of this doctrine, it has been accepted in England, in most of the states of this Union, and has received the sanction of this court.

In the case of Wilkes v. Wood, Lofft, 19, which was an action of trespass for breaking into the plaintiff's house, and seizing his papers, under color of a general warrant by a secretary of state, Chief Justice Pratt, in charging the jury, and in replying to the contention of the solicitor general that demages nominal or merely compensatory were all that could be allowed, said: 'Notwithstanding what the solicitor general has said, I have formerly delivered it as my opinion on another occasion, and I still continue 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.' The jury found a verdict with 1,000 damages.

In the case of Huckle v. Money, 2 Wils. 205, there was a motion for a new trial, on the ground that the jury had allowed excessive damages. It was proved on the trial that the plaintiff was a journeyman printer, and was taken in custody by the defendant, under the general warrant of a secretary of state, upon suspicion of having printed a certain libelous paper; that the defendant kept him in custody about six hours, but used him very civilly, by treating him with beefsteaks and beer, so that he suffered very little or no damages. The jury gave him a verdict in 300 damages. In disposing of the motion the Lord Chief Justice Pratt said: 'That, if the jury had been confined by their oath to consider the mere personal injury only, perhaps twenty pounds damages would have been thought sufficient; but the small injury done to the plaintiff, or the inconsiderableness of his station and rank in life, did not appear to the jury in that striking light in which the great point of law touching the liberty of the subject appeared to them at the trial. * * * I cannot say what damages I should have given if I had been upon the jury, but I directed and told them they were not bound to any certain damages. Upon the whole, I am of opinion, the damages are not excessive, and that it is very dangerous for the judges to intermeddle in damages for torts. It must be a glaring case, indeed, of outrageous damages in a tort, and which all mankind at first blush must think so, to induce a court to grant a new trial for excessive damages.'

In Day v. Woodworth, 13 How. 371, which was an action of trespass charging the defendants with tearing down and destroying the plaintiff's milldam, this court, through Mr. Justice Grier, said:

'It is a well-established principle of the common law that, in actions of trespass and all actions on the case for torts, a jury may inflict what are called 'exemplary,' 'punitive,' or 'vindictive' damages upon a defendant, having in view the enormity of his offense rather than the measure of compensation to the plaintiff. We are aware that the propriety of this doctrine has been questioned by some writers, but, if repeated judicial decisions for more than a century are to be received as the best exposition of what the law is, the question will not admit of argument. By the common, as well as by the statute, law, men are often punished for aggravated misconduct or lawless acts, by means of a civil action, and the...

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