Claflin v. Commonwealth Ins. Co.
110 U.S. 81 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Claflin v. Commonwealth Ins. Co., 110 U.S. 81 (1884)

Claflin v. Commonwealth Insurance Company

Argued and submitted October 16, December 17, 1883

Decided January 14, 1884

110 U.S. 81

Syllabus

1. It appearing on examination of the record after argument that the jurisdiction of the Court over the cause is in doubt, the court of its own motion took notice of the question and ordered it argued.

2. § 1, c. 137, Act of March 3, 1875, 18 Stat. 470, confers upon circuit court of the United States original jurisdiction in controversies between citizens of different states or citizens of a state and foreign states, citizens or subjects, where the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of costs, the sum of $500, and further provides as follows:

"Nor shall any circuit or district court have cognizance of any suit founded on contract in favor of an assignee unless a suit might have been prosecuted in such court to recover thereon if no assignment had been made, except in cases of promissory notes, negotiable by the law merchant, and bills of exchange."

§ 2 of that act authorizes the removal of similar causes as to parties and amounts from state courts to circuit courts of the United States, but without imposing the restriction as to assignees and assignments. Held that the restriction upon the commencement of suits contained in § 1 does not apply to the removal of suits under § 2.

3. When this Court has given a construction to relative provisions in different parts of a statute, and Congress then makes a new enactment respecting the same subject matter, with provisions in different sections bearing like relations to each other, and without indicating a purpose to vary from that construction, the Court is bound to construe the two provisions in the different sections of the new statute in the same sense which, in previous statutes, had uniformly been given to them, and not invent a new application and relation of the two clauses.

4. A policy of insurance against loss by fire contained a clause to the effect that in case of loss, the assured should submit to an examination under oath by the agent of the insurer, and that fraud or false swearing should forfeit the policy. The assured, after loss, submitted to such examination and made false answers under oath respecting the purchase and payment of the goods assured. Although it appeared that the statements

Page 110 U. S. 82

were not made for the purpose of deceiving the insurer, but for the purpose of covering up some false statements previously made to other parties, held that the motive which prompted them was immaterial, since the questions related to the ownership and value of the goods, and were material, and that the attempted fraud was a breach of the condition of the policy and a bar to recovery.

Suits on three policies of insurance made by the several defendants in favor of one Frances E. Barrio on a stock of goods, and by her assigned to one Murphy with consent of defendants after an alleged sale of the goods to him. After loss, Murphy assigned to the plaintiffs. The answers set up fraud in procuring insurance on the goods in excess of their value, and in false representations as to their ownership; denied the injury to the amount claimed; set forth that the respective policies required the assured, in case of loss, to submit to examination under oath, and that fraud or attempt at fraud by false statements in such examination should cause a forfeiture of all claims under the policy, and averred that Murphy had been guilty of making such false statements, and that the claims under the policies respectively were forfeited. The plaintiffs were citizens of New York. One of the defendants was a corporation created under the laws of Massachusetts; one a corporation created under the laws of the Dominion of Canada, and one a corporation created under the laws of Missouri.

The suits were begun in a state court of Minnesota, and were removed thence on motion of the defendants to the Circuit Court of the United States for that district. In each case, judgment was rendered for the defendant and a writ of error sued out by the plaintiff. The errors assigned referred to the matters set forth in the following extract from the record:

"These causes, having been duly ordered to be tried before the same jury by the court, came on for trial before the Hon. Samuel F. Miller and the Hon. Renesselaer R. Nelson, judges of said court, presiding at said trial at a general term thereof begun and held at St. Paul, Minnesota, on the third Monday in June, A.D. 1880."

"The respective causes were brought by the plaintiffs on certain policies of insurance bearing date as follows: that of the

Page 110 U. S. 83

Commonwealth Insurance Company of Boston bearing date of 11th of January, 1877; that of the Western Assurance Company of Toronto, Canada, bearing date of 27th of December, 1876, and that of the Franklin Insurance Company of St. Louis, bearing date of 29th of December, 1876, the two latter being for $5,000 each, and the former for $2,500, insuring one Frances E. Barritt against loss or damage by fire on her stock of dry goods or other merchandise pertaining to her business, contained in the three-storied store, metal-roofed building, situated No. 37 East Third Street, St. Paul, Minnesota, for a period of three months after their respective dates, with the condition that $35,000 other insurance shall be allowed. The respective policies were assigned by Frances E. Barritt, the assured, to one William Murphy on the 7th day of February, 1877, with the consent and approval of the respective companies."

"On the 25th day of February, 1877, said stock of goods was damaged by fire to the amount of $11,804.72, as found and determined by the arbitrators appointed by the assured and the respective companies. The policy of the Western Assurance Company of Toronto, Canada, contained, among other things, the following provision:"

" The assured shall, if required, submit to an examination or examinations under oath by any person appointed by the company, and subscribe thereto when the same is reduced to writing,"

"and also"

" all fraud or attempt at fraud, by false swearing or otherwise, shall forfeit all claim on this company and be a perpetual bar to any recovery under this policy."

"That of the Franklin Insurance Company of St. Louis contained, among others, the following provision, viz.,"

" And the insured shall, if required, submit to an examination under oath by the agent or attorney of this company and answer all questions touching his, her, or their knowledge of anything relating to such loss or damage, or to their claim thereupon, and subscribe such examination, the same being reduced to writing,"

"and the further provision, to-wit:"

"All fraud or false swearing shall cause a forfeiture of all claims on the insurers, and shall be a full bar to all remedies against the insurer on the policy."

"That of the defendant, the Commonwealth Insurance Company of Boston, contained, among others, the following provision, to-wit:"

" All fraud or attempt at fraud, by false swearing or otherwise, shall cause a forfeiture of all claims on this company under this

Page 110 U. S. 84

policy,"

"and the further provision, viz.,"

" The assured shall, if required, submit to an examination or examinations, under oath, by any person appointed by the company, and subscribe to such examinations when reduced to writing."

"Upon the trial of said causes, there was evidence tending to show that the respective defendants required the assured, William Murphy, to appear before their appointed agent and submit to an examination under oath and answer all questions touching his knowledge of anything relating to such loss or damage and his claim thereupon, and to subscribe such examination, the same being reduced to writing, which the said Murphy did, as required, and that upon said examination the question of the ownership of said goods by said Murphy was made by the defendants, and said Murphy examined at length upon the same, and he answered certain questions relating to the manner in which he paid on Frances E. Barritt for said stock at the time of his alleged purchase thereof falsely, and there was evidence tending to show that he answered thus with no purpose to deceive and defraud the insurance companies, but for the purpose of showing himself, upon the examination consistent with a statement that he had made about it a day or two subsequent to the purchase of said stock, to R. G. Dunn & Co.'s commercial agency at St. Paul, Minnesota, with a view of obtaining a large commercial credit in eastern cities. There was evidence tending to show that on the 9th day of February, 1877, said William Murphy went to said agency and reported that he had bought the stock of Frances E. Barritt for $35,484.20; that he had paid for the same in cash and securities, and plaintiffs claimed that if the false statements were made to the agents of the insurance company upon examination, even though made upon a material question without intent to deceive or defraud the insurance companies, it would not prevent a recovery upon the policies, and requested the court upon that point to charge as follows:"

" If you find from the evidence that any incorrect statements made by William Murphy upon his examination were made for the purpose of protecting himself against the statements made by him to the commercial agency for the purpose of obtaining more credit than he was actually entitled to, and not for the purpose of deceiving and defrauding the defendants, then such statements constitute no defense to this action,"

"and also"

" No false statements

Page 110 U. S. 85

made by Murphy on his examination, under oath or otherwise, constitute a defense to this action unless the same were made upon material issues between him and the defendants, and unless you are satisfied, from the evidence, that Mr. Murphy made them knowingly and willfully, with intent thereby to deceive and defraud the defendants."

"The court (his honor Judge Miller addressing the jury) refused to give said instructions, but told the jury in its charge that the said questions relating to the manner in which Mr. Murphy paid said Frances E. Barrit for said stock at the time of his alleged purchase thereof were upon a material point, upon which the defendants had a right to interrogate Mr. Murphy, and were material questions, to which they had a right to true answers from Murphy in said examinations, and upon the point in controversy upon which the said instructions were asked, charged the jury as follows, to-wit:"

" It is said here, and the point is urged with a good deal of force, that unless Mr. Murphy made these false statements, if they were false, and it is conceded that they were false, with the intent to deceive and defraud these corporations, and if he made them with the intent to deceive and defraud some one else, that is immaterial to this issue. I do not think that is the law. I do not think it was necessary in order to avoid the policy that the statements made by Mr. Murphy should have been solely, or even partly, with a view to get money wrongfully out of the companies; however, that is a point I wish to draw your attention to. If these statements had been wholly immaterial, that doctrine may be right; if it was a matter that the company had no right to inquire into or interrogate him about, if he did swear falsely and intend to deceive someone else, that does not interfere with the policy; but these companies had a right to have from him the truth about every matter that was material as evidence to show whether he owned these goods or not; they had a right to have the truth from him whatever his intentions might have been -- that is, as far as the truth was material, and so far as his testimony before the notary had a tendency to mislead the companies on an important matter, it was false swearing and false testimony within the meaning of the policy, and would avoid the policy. If he stated that which was intended for their action, and which would probably influence their action, and these statements were false, then he swore falsely within the meaning of the

Page 110 U. S. 86

policy, though he did not intend to cheat them, but intended to cheat somebody else, for, without looking to his motives, the company had a right to an honest statement from him to all questions that went to show whether he was the owner of these goods or not."

"To which refusals to charge as requested and to said charge as given plaintiff's counsel thereupon duly excepted, and after the rendition of the verdict for the defendants, moved for a new trial on account thereof and said motion was duly argued by John B. Sanborn, Esq., counsel for the plaintiff, and Cushman K. Davis, Esq., counsel for the defendant, and after due consideration thereof, the court denied the motion, and upon the question as to whether said instructions should be given to the jury as requested, or the jury instructed as in the said charge of the court, the opinions of the said judges were opposed."

"Whereupon, on motion of the plaintiffs, H. B. Claflin & Co., by counsel, that the points on which the disagreement hath happened may, during the term, be stated under the direction of the judges, and certified under the seal of the court to the supreme court, to be finally decided."

"It is ordered that the foregoing state of the evidence and cases, and the questions on which the disagreement of opinion hath happened, which is made under the direction of the judges, be certified according to the request of the plaintiffs, by their counsel, and the law in that case made and provided."

The question raised by the assignment of errors was argued on the 16th of October, 1883, and on the 5th of the following November, MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE announced as follows:

These suits were begun in a state court of Minnesota by the present plaintiffs in error, citizens of New York, against the several defendants, corporations of Massachusetts, Canada, and Missouri, respectively, upon policies of fire insurance issued to Frances E. Barritt, and by her assigned, with the consent of the companies, to William Murphy. After a loss, Murphy assigned his claims against the several companies under the policies to the plaintiffs. The suits were removed by the defendants to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Minnesota. The record shows sufficiently that the

Page 110 U. S. 87

plaintiffs and defendants were citizens of different states, but the citizenship of Murphy, the assignor of the plaintiffs, is nowhere stated. The question is therefore presented whether the circuit court had jurisdiction of the suits. This question was not alluded to by counsel wither in their oral or written arguments. As it is one we do not feel authorized to overlook, counsel will be heard upon it either orally or by printed arguments, as may best suit their convenience, at any time they may desire on or before the third Monday in December next.

Each party then filed a brief on the question of jurisdiction, and the cause was submitted.

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