The findings of a master in chancery, concurred in by the court,
are to be taken as presumptively correct, and will be permitted to
stand unless some obvious error has intervened in the application
of the law or some important mistake has been made in the evidence,
neither of which has taken place in this case.
Crawford v. Neal, 144 U. S. 585
affirmed and applied.
The Court stated the case as follows:
In 1887, appellee was in possession of the property of the
Toledo, Columbus and Southern Railway Company, as receiver, having
been duly appointed such receiver by the Circuit Court of the
United States for the Northern District of Ohio, in a foreclosure
suit brought by the American Loan and Trust Company. On October 15,
William Furrer, a young man of about twenty-one years of age,
driving a load of wood along the public highway, crossed the
railroad track, and while making the crossing was thrown from the
wagon, struck by the wheels, and instantly killed. On December 15,
appellant, the administrator of William Furrer, filed his
intervening petition in said circuit court, seeking to recover ten
thousand dollars damages on the ground that the death of his
intestate occurred through the negligence of the receiver in
failing to keep the crossing in good repair. The matter was
referred to a master, who took testimony and reported it to the
court, together with his conclusion that there was no negligence in
respect to such crossing, and therefore no liability on the part of
the receiver. This report was confirmed by the circuit, and the
intervening petition dismissed. From that decision petitioner
appealed to this Court.
Page 145 U. S. 134
MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after stating the facts in the foregoing
language, delivered the opinion of the Court.
As this intervening petition was filed nearly a year after the
passage of the Act of March 3, 1887, 24 Stat. 554, authorizing
suits against receivers without leave of the court appointing them,
it is evident that the petitioner preferred to not exercise his
right to a common law action and a trial by a jury, but rather to
come into a court of equity and have his rights there determined
according to the rules and practice of such courts. In view of such
election, we fail to appreciate his counsel's complaint of the law
in not driving him to a forum which he so carefully avoided.
The gist of this controversy was the alleged negligence of the
receiver in failing to maintain a reasonably safe crossing. This
presented mainly a question of fact. Upon the testimony, both the
master and the circuit court found that there was no negligence,
and, while such determination is not conclusive, it is very
persuasive in this Court. In Crawford v. Neal,
144 U. S. 585
144 U. S. 596
it was said:
"The cause was referred to a master to take testimony therein,
'and to report to this Court his findings of fact and his
conclusions of law thereon.' This he did, and the court, after a
review of the evidence, concurred in his finding and conclusions.
Clearly, then, they are to be taken as presumptively correct, and
unless some obvious error has intervened in the application of the
law, or some serious or important mistake has been made in the
consideration of the evidence, the decree should be permitted to
stand. Tilghman v. Proctor, 125 U. S.
; Kimberly v. Arms, 129 U. S.
; Evans v. State Bank, 141 U. S.
Page 145 U. S. 135
That rule compels an affirmance of the decree in this case. It
appears that the railroad track was raised above the level of the
highway; but the rise was slight and the slope gradual. According
to the testimony of the surveyor who measured the crossing, and the
other witnesses who simply gave estimates substantially
corroborated him, the rise on the one side was 1.4 feet in 30 feet,
and on the other 1.3 in 15, and 1.9 in 30 feet, a rise but a trifle
greater than that from the gutter to the center of the street in
many cities. That certainly carries with it no evidence of
negligence. It appears, also that the receiver had ballasted the
track at the crossing, and it was claimed that some of the stones
within the rails and on the highway just outside of the rails were
unreasonably large, but the master found that "the stones were
broken to a fair size," and that although one or two pieces of
unreasonable size were produced on the hearing, yet "the weight of
the testimony was that the stones in the roadway were of fair size,
and not dangerous to travel." Photographs of the crossing were
presented to the master, to the circuit court, and also to us.
Those photographs make it clear that the ascent on either side was
gradual; that the total rise was slight, and but a few stones on
either side of the track in the roadway. They put an end to any
suspicion of negligence in the crossing, unless it were in the size
of the stones, and the testimony leaves that matter in such
condition that we are not justified in disturbing the finding of
the master, approved as it was by the circuit court.
The decree is therefore