Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Ry. Co. v. Prentice,
147 U.S. 101 (1893)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Ry. Co. v. Prentice, 147 U.S. 101 (1893)

Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company v. Prentice

No. 58

Argued November 23, 1892

Decided January 3, 1893

147 U.S. 101


A railroad corporation is not liable to exemplary or punitive damages for an illegal, wanton and oppressive arrest of a passenger by the conductor of one of its trains which it has in no way authorized or ratified.

This was an action of trespass on the case, brought October 19, 1886, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois by Prentice, a citizen of Ohio,

Page 147 U. S. 102

against the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company, a corporation of Illinois, to recover damages for the wrongful acts of the defendant's servants.

The declaration alleged, and the evidence introduced at the trial tended to prove, the following facts: the plaintiff was a physician. The defendant was engaged in operating a railroad and conducting the business of a common carrier of passengers and freight through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other states. On October 12, 1886, the plaintiff, his wife, and a number of other persons were passengers, holding excursion tickets, on a regular passenger train of the defendant's railroad from Norwalk, in Ohio, to Chicago, in Illinois. During the journey, the plaintiff purchased of several passengers their return tickets, which had nothing on them to show that they were not transferable. The conductor of the train, learning this, and knowing that the plaintiff had been guilty of no offense for which he was liable to arrest, telegraphed for a police officer, an employee of the defendant, who boarded the train as it approached Chicago. The conductor thereupon, in a loud and angry voice, pointed out the plaintiff to the officer and ordered his arrest, and the officer, by direction of the conductor and without any warrant or authority of law, seized the plaintiff and rudely searched him for weapons in the presence of the other passengers, hurried him into another car, and there sat down by him as a watch, and refused to tell him the cause of his arrest or to let him speak to his wife. While the plaintiff was being removed into the other car, the conductor, for the purpose of disgracing and humiliating him with his fellow passengers, openly declared that he was under arrest, and sneeringly said to the plaintiff's wife, "Where's your doctor now?" On arrival at Chicago, the conductor refused to let the plaintiff assist his wife with her parcels in leaving the train, or to give her the check for their trunk, and, in the presence of the passengers and others, ordered him to be taken to the stationhouse, and he was forcibly taken there, and detained until the conductor arrived; and, knowing that the plaintiff had been guilty of no offense, entered a false charge against him of disorderly conduct, upon which he gave bail and was

Page 147 U. S. 103

released, and of which, on appearing before a justice of the peace for trial on the next day, and no one appearing to prosecute him, he was finally discharged.

The declaration alleged that all these acts were done by the defendant's agents in the line of their employment, and that the defendant was legally responsible therefor, and that the plaintiff had been thereby put to expense, and greatly injured in mind, body, and reputation.

At the trial, and before the introduction of any evidence, the defendant, by its counsel, admitted "that the arrest of the plaintiff was wrongful, and that he was entitled to recover actual damages therefor," but afterwards excepted to each of the following instructions given by the circuit judge to the jury:

"If you believe the statements which have been made by the plaintiff and the witnesses who testified in his behalf, and they are not denied, then he is entitled to a verdict which will fully compensate him for the injuries which he sustained, and in compensating him you are authorized to go beyond the amount that he has actually expended in employing counsel; you may go beyond the actual outlay in money which he has made. He was arrested publicly, without a warrant and without cause, and if such conduct as has been detailed before you occurred, such as the remark that was addressed by the conductor to the wife in the plaintiff's presence, in compensating him you have a right to consider the humiliation of feeling to which he was thus publicly subjected. If the company, without reason, by its unlawful and oppressive act, subjected him to this public humiliation, and thereby outraged his feelings, he is entitled to compensation for that injury and mental anguish."

"I am not able to give you any rule by which you can determine that; but bear in mind it is strictly on the line of compensation. The plaintiff is entitled to compensation in money for humiliation of feeling and spirit, as well as the actual outlay which he has made in and about this suit."

"And further, after agreeing upon the amount which will fairly compensate the plaintiff for his outlay and injured feelings,

Page 147 U. S. 104

you may add something by way of punitive damages against the defendant, which is sometimes called 'smart money,' if you are satisfied that the conductor's conduct was illegal (and it was illegal), wanton, and oppressive. How much that shall be the court cannot tell you. You must act as reasonable men, and not indulge vindictive feelings toward the defendant."

"If a public corporation, like as individual, acts oppressively, wantonly, abuses power, and a citizen in that way is injured, the citizen, in addition to strict compensation, may have, the law says, something in the way of smart money; something as punishment for the oppressive use of power."

The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the sum of $10,000. The defendant moved for a new trial, for error in law, and for excessive damages. The plaintiff thereupon, by leave of court, remitted the sum of $4,000, and asked that judgment be entered for $6,000. The court then denied the motion for a new trial and gave judgment for the plaintiff for $6,000. The defendant sued out this writ of error.

Page 147 U. S. 106

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.