Union Pac. R. Co. v. Syas

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Citation246 F. 561
Docket Number4811.,4810
PartiesUNION PAC. R. CO. v. SYAS (two cases).
Decision Date02 November 1917

John Q Dier, of Denver, Colo. (N. H. Loomis, of Omaha, Neb., and C C. Dorsey and R. L. Stearns, both of Denver, Colo., on the brief), for plaintiff in error and appellant.

Omar E Garwood, of Denver, Colo. (William W. Garwood and George O Marrs, both of Denver, Colo., on the brief), for defendant in error and appellee.

Before CARLAND, Circuit Judge, and AMIDON and MUNGER, District Judges.

CARLAND Circuit Judge.

James Syas, hereafter called plaintiff, commenced this action to recover of the railroad company, hereafter called defendant, damages for personal injuries received by him through the alleged negligence of the defendant. Among other defenses pleaded by the defendant was a release and satisfaction executed by the plaintiff of all claims for damages growing out of personal injuries received. In his reply to this defense the plaintiff alleged:

'With reference to the allegations contained in the fifth affirmative defense of said answer, this plaintiff says: He denies that on or about the 5th day of March, 1915, or at any other time, he made any settlement of his claim against the defendant, or that he made, executed, or delivered to the defendant any valid written release in full settlement or discharge of his claim, or at all, and denies that he ever released or discharged the defendant of any claims or demands whatsoever, either on account of said accident or otherwise; and he denies that the defendant's liability for said accident has in any way been extinguished, but, on the contrary, he avers that the defendant fraudulently, and with intent to deprive the plaintiff of his legal remedies on account of said accident, took advantage of the plaintiff when he was suffering from his injuries, and when he was sick and in great distress of body and mind, and wrongfully and fraudulently promised and assured the plaintiff, and gave plaintiff to understand, that if he would sign a certain paper, the contents of which were and are to him unknown, but which he is informed and believes, and so avers, is substantially the same as that set out in the fifth defense of defendant's answer, the defendant would give him lucrative employment for the remainder of his life, in which employment he could earn a livelihood, and at the time of signing said paper the defendant's claim agent positively stated to the plaintiff that the signing of said paper was a mere formality, and that the defendant company would, without fail, give him regular employment in which he could earn a livelihood, and he signed said paper relying upon such assurances, and believing that the defendant would not fail to give him employment from which he could earn a livelihood, and it was not until some time thereafter that plaintiff learned that the defendant never intended to give any employment, or to enable him to earn a livelihood from any employment with the defendant. Plaintiff admits that he received the consideration mentioned in said instrument, but he avers that the same was wholly inadequate and unconscionable, and was given to plaintiff only for actual expenses incurred in the treatment and care of his injuries.'

On the filing of the reply counsel for defendant petitioned the court that all issues both of law and fact arising out of the pleadings with reference to the release should be heard and determined upon the equity side of the court prior to the trial of the other issues in the case arising on the complaint, answer, and reply. This petition was denied, and an exception allowed. The case subsequently came on for trial, and counsel for defendant again at the opening of the trial requested that the court, sitting as a chancellor, determine the equity issues raised by the pleadings with reference to the release prior to the trial of the case at law for damages. This request was refused, and an exception allowed. The case was then tried to the court sitting with a jury upon all the issues made by the pleadings, both legal and equitable. After the close of all the evidence counsel for defendant filed a written request that the court sitting as a court of chancery make findings of fact and law, and enter a decree thereon disposing of the issues raised by the pleadings in relation to the release, in favor of the defendant; said request being accompanied by specific findings. This request does not seem to have been formally ruled upon, except by the court submitting the equitable issues to the jury. The court, in charging the jury, among other things said:

'Now, the defendant insists that that raises an equitable issue-- the question as to whether or not the release is voidable for fraud-- to be tried only by the court, and in that the court at the request of the defendant acquiesces; but it has a right to present to you for its guidance as advisory to the court only that issue, and take from you your verdict on that issue, and therefore this case presents itself to you, as it will be submitted to you by the court, in a double aspect-- that is, there are two issues. The first, the validity or invalidity of that release, and that you must determine first; and if that release is held valid and binding and, was not obtained by fraud, as the plaintiff claims, that is the end of this case-- he cannot recover. If, on the other hand, as already said to you, it should be determined by the court that that release was obtained by fraud on the part of White, the agent who got it, then it does not stand in the way of his right to recover damages here; it will be set aside, and you can then consider whether or not, and how much, he is entitled to recover in the way of damages; and thus on the first issue, on which I take your verdict as advisory to the court, there will be submitted to you two forms of verdict, one of which is in this language: 'We, the jury, on our oath do say we find that no fraudulent representations or promises were made by defendant which induced him to agree to and sign the release offered in evidence.' If you should so find he cannot recover, I take it that you will then sign a verdict in favor of the defendant, the form of which is attached to this same verdict: 'We, the jury, find the issues in favor of the defendant.' On the other hand, if on that issue you should find to the contrary, you will use this form of verdict: 'We, the jury, on our oath do say we find that plaintiff was induced to execute the written release, offered in evidence, by fraudulent representations and promises made to plaintiff by the witness White; that said representations and promises were material, were believed and relied on by the plaintiff, and induced the plaintiff to sign the release; and that he would not have agreed to and signed said release but for his belief and reliance on said representations and promises.' If you find that verdict, I assume, necessarily, that you will then find in favor of the plaintiff on the question of damages. You may or you may not, but that we will consider later. In that event there is a form of verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Insert the amount of damages which you decide, if you find in his favor, that he should recover. * * *
'Counsel for plaintiff has said in his argument that, if you find for the plaintiff, you will deduct from the gross sum, which you find constituted damages, the $750 which he has already received. You are instructed, on account of the request of the defendant that the equitable feature of this case be kept separate from the law feature, not to do that. If the release is held to be fraudulent, and judgment entered in the records of the court setting it aside for that reason, that judgment will provide that the plaintiff must pay back that $750 to the defendant. If you find a verdict in his favor, for instance, $5,000, he will have a judgment for $5,000, and then the $5,000 judgment in his behalf will be satisfied to the extent of $750 in behalf of the defendant. So, if you find for the plaintiff, you will state in your verdict the full amount, regardless of the $750 which he has received, that in your judgment, under the evidence in this case, you believe he is entitled to recover.'

Counsel for defendant, after the charge was given, again excepted to the refusal of the court to try the equitable issues as requested. The jury returned two verdicts, as follows:

'We, the jury, on our oath do say we find that the plaintiff was induced to execute the written release, offered in evidence, by fraudulent representations and promises made to plaintiff by the witness White; that said representations and promises were material, were believed and relied on by the plaintiff, and induced the plaintiff to sign the release; and that he would not have agreed to and signed said release but for his belief in and reliance on said representations and promises.'
'We, the jury in the above-entitled case, upon our oath do say we find the issues herein joined in favor of the plaintiff, and assess his damages at the sum of ($7,500.00) seven thousand five hundred dollars.' Upon which verdicts the following judgment was rendered:
'And thereupon the court, sitting as a chancellor, adopts as its findings the finding of facts made by the jury as to the fraudulent representations and promises made to plaintiff by which he was induced to sign the release and settlement of date March 5, 1915, and set up as a fifth defense in the answer herein, and finds that said release and settlement was fraudulently obtained as alleged and pleaded in the reply to said answer.
'Wherefore it is considered by the court that the release and settlement made, executed, and delivered by the
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