Pythias Knights' Supreme Lodge v. Beck
181 U.S. 49 (1901)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pythias Knights' Supreme Lodge v. Beck, 181 U.S. 49 (1901)

Pythias Knights' Supreme Lodge v. Beck

No.194

Submitted March 13, 1901

Decided April 8, 1901

181 U.S. 49

Syllabus

Patton v. Texas & Pacific Railway Company,179 U. S. 658, sustained and followed as to the relations of the trial court to the jury in regard to its finding.

The question whether the deceased did or did not commit suicide was one of fact, and after the jury had found that he did not, and its finding had been approved by the trial court and by the court of appeals, this Court would not be justified in disturbing it.

On April 5, 1895, a certificate of membership in the amount of $3,000 was issued by the Supreme Lodge to Frank E. Beck, payable on his death to his widow, Mrs. Lillian H. Beck. The application for membership contained

Page 181 U. S. 50

this stipulation:

"It is agreed that, if death shall result by suicide, whether sane or insane, voluntary or involuntary, or if death is caused or superinduced by the use of intoxicating liquors or by the use of narcotics or opiates, or in consequence of a duel, or at the hands of justice, or in violation of or attempt to violate any criminal law, then there shall be paid only such a sum in proportion to the whole amount of the certificate as the matured life expectancy at the time of such death is to the entire expectancy at date of acceptance of the application by the board of control."

It was on the conduct of Beck before he committed suicide an instruction was asked for, which the trial court, in its charge to the jury referred to as follows:

"Here is an instruction asked, which I refused, and I wish to state here that is the instruction that, if Frank E. Beck was violating any law at the time he was killed, why under the policy, he cannot recover -- under the bylaws. As I understand that bylaw, it must be a case where a man is in the act of violating the law. For instance, if a man in breaking into a house is killed in the act, he cannot recover. If a man is in a quarrel and gets killed, he cannot recover. But if a man contemplating that he was going to kill his wife if she didn't go home with him, but was not in the act and doing that at the time lie was killed, that clause of the policy does not apply."

Held that this instruction correctly states the law.

The plaintiff, in her proofs of loss, stated that the deceased came to his death by suicide, and to that effect was the verdict of the coroner's jury. With respect to this, the court charged that there was no estoppel; that the plaintiff could explain the circumstances under which she signed the statement, and that while, standing alone, it would justify a verdict for the defendant, yet, if explained, and the jury were satisfied that the death did not result from suicide, she was not concluded by this declaration. Held that there was no error in this ruling.

On April 5, 1895, a certificate of membership, in the amount of $3,000, was issued by the plaintiff in error to Frank E. Beck, payable on his death to his widow, Lillian H. Beck. The application for membership contained this stipulation:

"It is agreed that, if death shall result by suicide, whether sane or insane, voluntary or involuntary, or it death is caused or superinduced by the use of intoxicating liquors or by the use of narcotics or opiates, or in consequence of a duel, or at the hands of justice, or in violation of or attempt to violate any criminal law, then there shall be paid only such a sum in proportion to the whole amount of the certificate as the matured life expectancy at the time of such death is to the entire expectancy at date of acceptance of the application by the board of control. "

Page 181 U. S. 51

On October 31, 1896, he was killed by the discharge of a gun at the time held in his hands. After his death, a coroner's jury found that he died

"by shooting himself in the head with a double barrel shotgun, with the purpose and intent of committing suicide, while temporarily insane, due probably to the use of intoxicants. The the shooting was done in the outside water-closet of the premises now occupied by the family of C. B. Nolan, and that he threatened to kill his wife before killing himself."

Proofs of death were furnished by his widow, in which question 14 and answer were as follows: "14. Was death caused by suicide or violence or from other than natural causes? A. Suicide."

On April 13, 1897, an action was commenced in the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Montana, in and for the County of Lewis and Clark, by his widow to recover $3,000, the amount of the insurance. This action was removed by the defendant to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Montana. The answer set up specifically that the insured died from "self-destruction and suicide," and, further, "that, prior to said Beck's taking his own life, said Beck was attempting to and did violate the criminal laws of the State of Montana." In the circuit court a trial was had which resulted in a verdict and judgment for plaintiff. The judgment was taken by the defendant to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and by that court affirmed May 16, 1899, 94 F. 751, to reverse which judgment of affirmance this writ of error was sued out.

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