National Life Ins. Co. v. National Life Ins. Co.
209 U.S. 317 (1908)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

National Life Ins. Co. v. National Life Ins. Co., 209 U.S. 317 (1908)

National Life Insurance Company of the United

States of America v. National Life Insurance Company

No. 162

Argued March 9, 1908

Decided April 6, 1908

209 U.S. 317

Syllabus

Even if the power to review the determination of an executive department exists, where the complainant is merely appealing from the discretion of the department to the discretion of the court, the court should not interfere by injunction where the complainant has no clear legal right to the relief sought.

Where a corporation has taken the same name as that of an older corporation, the fact that it has a greater quantity of mail matter does not justify the court in interfering with a special order of the Post Office Department directing the delivery of matter not addressed by street and number in accordance with Par. 4 of § 645 of the General Regulations of 1902 to the one first adopting the name in the place of address.

The appellant commenced this suit in equity against the defendants on the eighteenth day of July, 1905, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois,

Page 209 U. S. 318

Eastern Division, for the purpose of obtaining an injunction against the corporation defendant restraining it and its manager, the defendant D. G. Drake at Chicago, Illinois, from receiving, and the Chicago postmaster and the letter carriers named as defendants from delivering, mail matter directed to "National Life Insurance Company, Chicago, Illinois," to the company so designated, on the ground that, in fact such mail matter was intended for the complainant, even though not addressed to it. An answer of the corporation defendant and that of its manager was duly filed and served, to which the complainant filed a replication. After a hearing, it was adjudged by the circuit court

"that the defendant National Life Insurance Company is entitled to have delivered to it such mail as may come to the post office at Chicago addressed 'National Life Insurance Company, Chicago, Illinois,' unless such mail shall also bear the street number of the office of the National Life Insurance Company of the United States of America, or shall be in some other way designated, upon the exterior of the envelope or wrapper containing such mail matter, or otherwise, as designed for the National Life Insurance Company of the United States of America, and not for the National Life Insurance Company. Wherefore, it is further ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the bill of complaint herein, as amended, be and the same is dismissed for want of equity."

This judgment was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals.

Upon the trial, among others, the following facts were agreed upon:

An insurance company known as the National Life Insurance Company of the United States of America was duly incorporated by special act of Congress in the year 1868. Its chief office and place of business was, by its charter, located in the City of Washington, District of Columbia. The corporation thereupon entered upon the life insurance business and continued to transact that business and to seek new business of that kind until 1881.

Page 209 U. S. 319

The company was duly admitted to do business in the State of Illinois on or about August 16, 1868, and in the year 1874 it established in the City of Chicago, Illinois, what is denominated its principal branch office, and thereafter continuously transacted in the City of Chicago nearly all of the business usually transacted at the home office of an insurance company.

In 1881, the company ceased to solicit or to write any new business, and such omission continued until 1900, and during that period the business transacted by it at its principal branch office in Chicago was such as was incident to the care and preservation of the business written prior to 1881. Between those years, the company was suffering a natural liquidation, its outstanding policies decreasing from 5,966 in number to 1,317, while its policies in Illinois had decreased from 394 to 100. In the year 1900, the company again began to solicit new business, and up to March, 1904, transacted at its principal branch office in Chicago all of the business usually transacted at the chief or national office of an insurance company.

In March, 1904, the complainant was incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois, with its principal office and place of business in the National Life Building at 159 La Salle street, in the City of Chicago, and the complainant forthwith took over all the property and business of the Washington, District of Columbia, corporation, and continued thereafter to transact the business theretofore transacted by the latter corporation. Prior to this time (March, 1904), the Washington company had taken over the business of two other life insurance companies and one trust company, all of which had become merged in the Washington company when the complainant took over its business. The Washington corporation still preserves its corporate entity, but, since March, 1904, has transacted no business except such as was incident to carrying out the contracts by which the complainant took over its property and business.

The average number of pieces of mail received by the complainant at its chief office in Chicago, intended for it, during

Page 209 U. S. 320

the year 1905 and up to May 1, 1906, was about 200 per day for each business day.

The defendant F. E. Coyne was the postmaster at Chicago up to the eighth of January, 1906, since the commencement of this suit, and on that date, Fred A. Busse was appointed, and has since acted as such postmaster. The other individual defendants are the mail carriers in that city for the territory in which the complainant's place of business is situated.

The corporation defendant was organized and incorporated by an act of the Legislature of Vermont on the thirteenth day of November, 1848, under the name of "National Life Insurance Company of the United States." By another act of the legislature, approved October 7, 1858, the name of the company was changed to "National Life Insurance Company," and since that time its name has been continuously and is now "National Life Insurance Company."

The company was duly admitted to do business in the State of Illinois on the fifth of October, 1860, and has done business in that state continuously from that time to the present. It has maintained since some time prior to 1868 a branch office in the City of Chicago, and has done business continuously at that branch office since its establishment up to the present time. That office, since March 1, 1895, has been in charge of the defendant D. G. Drake, as its manager. During the period from 1881 to 1900, the business of this corporation in the State of Illinois increased from 190 policies to 3,846 policies. It has in all more than 70,000 policyholders, and the average number of pieces of mail matter received by it and D. G. Drake, its manager at the office of the company, in the Marquette Building, in Chicago, and intended for them, or one of them, during the year 1905, and up to May 1, 1906, was about 23 pieces per day for each business day.

There had been received for some years prior to 1905 at the Chicago post office numerous pieces of mail matter every day addressed simply "National Life Insurance Company, Chicago, Illinois." During the year 1905. the average number

Page 209 U. S. 321

of such pieces of mail matter was about five per day. Prior to the nineteenth of January, 1905, substantially all such mail matter thus addressed had been delivered to D. G. Drake, as manager for the defendant National Life Insurance Company, and from day to day Drake opened or caused to be opened the pieces of mail matter thus addressed, and those not found to be intended for the company defendant would be marked by him "Not for National Life Insurance Company," would then be redeposited in the United States mail and subsequently delivered to the National Life Insurance Company of the United States of America.

The complainant was dissatisfied with this condition of things, and contended that all the mail thus addressed should be delivered to the complainant. Various letters passed upon the subject between the complainant and the postmaster at Chicago, and the manager of the defendant corporation, and also the authorities of the Post Office Department at Washington. For the purpose of settling the question, it was suggested from Washington that the postmaster at Chicago should direct a representative of the two companies to appear at his office daily for a period of ten days and open the mail in the presence of an employee of the office, designated by the postmaster, and that a record should be kept of the mail received, and the proportion thereof intended for each company. If it then appeared that a great majority of the mail was really intended for the complainant, delivery should be made to that company. On the other hand, if the contention that the greater part of the mail so addressed belonged to the complainant was not supported by the facts, the existing conditions should be continued, and should either party decline to assent to these conditions, delivery should then be made to the other. The defendant corporation did not agree to this examination of the mail, and asked (January 17) for delay for further communications, but the postmaster at Chicago, on account of this refusal, and also acting under advices from the Postmaster General's Department at Washington, directed, under date

Page 209 U. S. 322

of January 18, 1905, that thereafter the mail should, until otherwise directed, be delivered to the complainant. Under this order, the mail was so delivered from January 19, 1905, until July 12, 1905. During that time, the complainant received 794 letters addressed "National Life Insurance Company, Chicago, Illinois," and of that number 778 were found to be intended for the complainant and related to its business; 2 letters were intended for the defendant and related to its business, and the remaining 14 pieces consisted of circular letters relating to bonds, mortgages, and other securities and investments, advertising, catalogues, and statistics, in regard to which it was impossible to tell from the inspection of the envelope and contents whether they were intended for the complainant or the defendant.

On the twenty-first of June, 1905, the Post Office Department altered its directions and directed the Chicago postmaster to thereafter deliver mail addressed "National Life Insurance Company, Chicago, Illinois," to the National Life Insurance Company, a Vermont corporation at its offices in the Marquette Building, Chicago, Illinois.

This order has ever since been obeyed by the Chicago postmaster, and for the purpose of obtaining relief therefrom, the present suit was commenced.

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