Williams v. Pullman Co.

Decision Date19 March 1915
Docket NumberNo. 18961[179].,18961[179].
Citation151 N.W. 895,129 Minn. 97
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court


Appeal from District Court, Ramsey County; Olin B. Lewis, Judge.

Action by George T. Williams against the Pullman Company. Verdict for plaintiff, and from denial of motion for judgment or new trial, defendant appeals. Reversed, and judgment ordered for defendant.

Syllabus by the Court

In an action to recover damages for malicious criminal prosecution, proof of an acquittal upon a trial for the crime charged is not prima facie evidence of want of probable cause for the institution of the prosecution.

What facts, and whether particular facts, constitute probable cause, is for the court.

The facts in this case upon plaintiff's own testimony do not prove want of probable cause for his arrest and prosecution upon the charge of drunk and disorderly.

Denegre & McDermott, of St. Paul, for appellant.

W. T. Francis and Edwin S. Thompson, both of St. Paul, for respondent.


Action for malicious arrest and criminal prosecution, in which plaintiff had a verdict. Defendant appeals from an order denying its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial.

[1] In an action to recover damages for a malicious criminal prosecution plaintiff must prove want of probable cause. All our decisions, from the early case of Chapman v. Dodd, 10 Minn. 350 (Gil. 277), to Cox v. Lauritsen, 126 Minn. 128, 147 N. W. 1093, are to that effect. The acquittal in the criminal prosecution if not evidence of want of probable cause for its institution. Chapman v. Dodd, supra; Shafer v. Hertzig, 92 Minn. 171, 99 N. W. 796;Hanowitz v. Great Northern Ry. Co., 122 Minn. 241, 142 N. W. 196. It is the rule in this state that the discharge by an examining magistrate of the person accused of crime is, ordinarily, prima facie evidence of want of probable cause to enter the complaint or cause the arrest. Chapman v. Dodd, supra; Cole v. Curtis, 16 Minn. 182 (Gil. 161); Fiola v. McDonald, 85 Minn. 147,88 N. W. 437;Blazek v. McCartin, 106 Minn. 461, 119 N. W. 215. The reason for the distinction is obvious, for in the case of a preliminary examination the accused is entitled to a discharge ‘if it shall appear that no offense has been committed, or that there is no probable cause for charging the prisoner with it,’ whereas upon the trial of the accused for a criminal offense he is entitled to an acquittal if no more than probable cause is proven against him. The instigator of the prosecution may have a strong case of probable cause, nevertheless on a trial upon an indictment or criminal complaint an acquittal results because the state is unable to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Probable cause is all that is required to protect the one who institutes a criminal prosecution.

[2] What facts, and whether particular facts, constitute probable cause, is for the court. This proposition is firmly settled. Burton v. St. Paul, etc., Ry. Co., 33 Minn. 189, 22 N. W. 300;Moore v. Northern Pacific Ry. Co., 37 Minn. 147, 33 N. W. 334;Gilbertson v. Fuller, 40 Minn. 413, 42 N. W. 203;Smith v. Munch, 65 Minn. 256, 68 N. W. 19;Baldwin v. Capitol Steam Laundry Co., 109 Minn. 38, 122 N. W. 460;Mundal v. Minneapolis & St. Louis Ry. Co., 92 Minn. 26, 99 N. W. 273,100 N. W. 363;Hanowitz v. Great Northern Ry. Co., 122 Minn. 241, 142 N. W. 196; and Lammers v. Mason, 123 Minn. 204, 143 N. W. 359.In the last-cited case is reiterated the rule that:

‘When the question of probable cause comes before us, we consider the evidence as if heard here, and weigh it in order to determine the correctness of the determination below.’

[3] The only facts upon which must rest the claim of want of probable cause are found in plaintiff's own testimony. Therefrom it appears that plaintiff was in the employ of defendant as a porter on one of its sleeping cars operated by the Great Northern Railroad Company between St. Paul and Seattle. On his return to St. Paul, in the morning of March 26, 1913, the assistant superintendent, Mr. Healy, told him to go out with the coast train due to leave at 10:45 in the evening. Porters were required to be at their car 1 hour and 45 minutes ahead of the leaving time. Plaintiff was 15 or 20 minutes late. One W. C. Williams was in the employ of defendant as night superintendent of its sleeping car porters at the station. Plaintiff was well acquainted with him, knew that his authority was to see that everything pertaining to the cars and the employés thereon was in proper order that he had power to assign porters to cars, to take them off any particular car, and to hire and discharge them. Shortly after 9:15 p. m., while plaintiff was in the...

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