Story Parchment Co v. Paterson Parchment Paper Co

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation75 L.Ed. 544,51 S.Ct. 248,282 U.S. 555
Docket NumberNo. 57,57
Decision Date24 February 1931

Messrs. Edward O. Proctor, of Boston, Mass., and Isadore Levin, of Detroit, Mich., for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 556-557 intentionally omitted] Mr. Edward F. McClennen, of Boston, Mass., for respondent.

[Argument of Counsel from page 558 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action arising unde th e Sherman Anti-Trust Act to recover damages resulting from an alleged conspiracy between respondents and West Carrollton Parchment Company, not joined for lack of jurisdiction, to monopolize interstate trade and commerce in vegetable parchment, exclude the petitioner therefrom, and destroy its business in such trade and commerce. A jury returned a verdict for petitioner in the sum of $65,000, but in the alternative for the respondents 'if, as a matter of law, the plaintiff is not entitled to a verdict.' The trial court approved the verdict and rendered judgment for treble the amount of the damages in accordance with section 7 of the act (15 USCA § 15). On appeal to the Circuit Court of Appeals the judgment was vacated and the case remanded to the trial court, with directions to enter judgment for respondents upon the ground that petitioner had not sustained the burden of proving that it had suffered recoverable damages. 37 F.(2d) 537.

Respondents seek to sustain this judgment upon that ground, and also upon the additional ground, which the lower court found against them, that there was no evidence of a conspiracy or combination to monopolize interstate trade. Because there was no cross-petition for certiorari, petitioner insists that the additional ground is not open here for consideration. But respondents do not invoke that ground in order to overthrow the judgment below, but to sustain it; and this they may do. Langnes v. Green, 282 U. S. 531, 51 S. Ct. 243, 75 L. Ed. 520, decided this day.

The point, however, is readily disposed of. There is evidence in the record to the effect that the three companies named, prior to the time petitioner entered the field, had maintained uniform prices and enjoyed a substantial monopoly of the interstate trade in parchment paper. There is also evidence, sufficient to justify the action of the District Court in submitting the issue to the jury, that, after petitioner began business, the three companies combined and conspired to continue this monopoly in violation of section 2 of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, chapter 647, 26 Stat. 209 (15 USCA § 2). The verdict of the jury and the judgment thereon of the District Court have the effect of a finding in favor of petitioner upon that issue; and to that extent the verdict and judgment were sustained by the court below. There is enough evidence in the record to preclude an interference on our part with these concurrent findings. That the petitioner was injured in its business and property as a result of this unlawful combination we think also finds sufficient support in the evidence. Questions in respect of the liability of the wrongdoers to respond in damages alone remain to be considered.

The trial court submitted to the jury for consideration only two items of damages: (1) The difference, if any, between the amounts actually realized by petitioner and what would have been realized by it from sales at reasonable prices except for the unlawful acts of the respondents; and (2) the extent to which the value of petitioner's property had been diminished as the result of such acts.

The view of the Court of Appeals that no recovery could be had in respect of the first item apparently rests upon its conclusions that there was no basis for a reasonable inference that prices in excess of those actually realized would have prevailed if there had been no combination; and that, in any event, there was no damage which could be measure and expressed in figures not based on speculation and conjecture.

There was evidence from which the jury reasonably could have found that, in pursuance of the conspiracy, respondents sold their goods below the point of fair profit, and finally below the cost of production; that petitioner had an efficient plant and sales organization, and was producing a quality of paper superior to that produced by either of the three companies; and that current prices, shown in detail, were higher during a period antedating the unlawful combination and price cutting in pursuance ofit than afterward. It does not necessarily follow, of course, that these higher prices would have continued except for the conspiracy, but it is fair to say that the natural and probable effect of the combination and price cutting would be to destroy normal prices; and there was evidence of the prices received by petitioner before the cut prices were put into operation, and those received after, showing actual and substantial reductions, and evidence from which the probable amount of the loss could be approximated. The trial court fairly instructed the jury in substance that, if they were satisfied that the old prices were reasonable, and that they would not have changed by reason of any economic condition, but would have been maintained except for the unlawful acts of the respondents, the jury might consider as an element of damages the difference between the prices actually received and what would have been received but for the unlawful conspiracy.

Upon a consideration of the evidence, we are of opinion that it was open to the jury to find that the price cutting and the resulting lower prices were directly attributable to the unlawful combination; and that the assumption indulged by the court below, that respondents' acts would have been the same if they had been acting independently of one another, with the same resulting curtailment of prices, must be rejected as unsound.

Nor can we accept the view of that court that the verdict of the jury, in so far as it included damages for the first item, cannot stand because it was based upon mere speculation and conjecture. This characterization of the basis for the verdict is unwarranted. It is true that there was uncertainty as to the extent of the damage, but there was none as to the fact of damage; and there is a clear distinction between the measure of proof necessary to establish the fact that petitioner had sustained some damage and the measure of proof necessary to enable the jury to fix the amount. The rule which precludes the recovery of uncertain damages applies to such as are not the certain result of the wrong, not to those damages which are definitely attributable to the wrong and only uncertain in respect of their amount. Taylor v. Bradley, 39 N. Y. 129, 4 Abb. Ct. App. Dec. 363, 366, 367, 100 Am. Dec. 415:

'It is sometimes said that speculative damages cannot be recovered, because the amount is uncertain; but such remarks will generally be found applicable to such damages as it is uncertain whether sustained at all from the breach. Sometimes the claim is rejected as being too remote. This is another mode of saying that it is uncertain whether such damages resulted necessarily and immediately from the breach complained of.

'The general rule is, that all damages resulting necessarily and immediately and directly from the breach are recoverable, and not those that are contingent and uncertain. The latter description embraces, as I think, such only as are not the certain result of the breach, and does not embrace such as are the certain result, but uncertain in amount.'

Where the tort itself is of such a nature as to preclude the ascertainment of the amount of damages with certainty, it would be a perversion of fundamental principles of justice to deny all relief to the injured person, and thereby relieve the wrongdoer from making any amend for his acts. In such case, while the damages may not be determined by mere speculation or guess, it will be enough if the evidence show the extent of the damages as a matter of just and reasonable inference, although the result be only approximate. The wrongdoer is not entitled to complain that they cannot be measured with the exactness and precision that would be possible...

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