New York Company v. Winter's Admistrator/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

143 U.S. 60

New York Company  v.  Winter's Admistrator


There were 11 assignments of error originally, based upon certain exceptions to the rulings of the court during the progress of the trial, but in the brief of counsel for plaintiff in error they have been reduced to 8. As the only one of these exceptions that was properly saved, under our rules, was that relating to the admission of evidence as to what the ticket agent at Boston said to the plaintiff when he purchased his ticket, we would, perhaps, be justified in limiting our consideration to that point. Aside from this informality or defect in the exceptions saved, however, and as the assignments of error all refer either directly or remotely to that point, and thus relate to but one subject, we shall consider them, not separately, but shall, for convenience, treat them together. It is urged that the court erred (1) in allowing the plaintiff to testify as to what was said by the agent in Boston when he bought his ticket; (2) in its instructions to the jury upon this point, and with respect to the rules and regulations of the road relative to stop-over checks; (3) in not giving certain instructions asked for by the defendant, upon the question of stop-over checks; and (4) in not telling the jury, in effect, that it was their duty, under all the evidence in the case, to bring in a verdict for the defendant.

The grounds upon which it is insisted that the evidence referred to was inadmissible are that the ticket itself, and the rules and regulations of the road with respect to stop-over checks, constitue the contract between the passenger and the road, and the only evidence of such contract, and that no representations made by a ticket seller could be received to vary or change the terms of such contract. This contention cannot be sustained, and is opposed to the authorities upon the subject. While it may be admitted, as a general rule, that the contract between the passenger and the railroad company is made up of the ticket which he purchases and the rules and regulations of the road, yet it does not follow that parol evidence of what was said between the passenger and the ticket seller from whom he purchased his ticket, at the time of such purchase, is inadmissible, as going to make up the contract of carriage, and forming a part of it. In the first place, passengers on railroad trains are not presumed to know the rules and regulations which are made for the guidance of the conductors and other employes of railroad companies as to the internal affairs of the company, nor are they required to know them. Hufford v. Railroad Co., 61 Mich. 631, 31 N. W. Rep. 544. In this case there is no evidence, as already stated, that notice or knowledge of the existence of the rules of the defendant company, or what they were, with respect to stop-over privileges, was brought home to the plaintiff at the time he purchased his ticket, or at any time thereafter. There was nothing on the face of the ticket to show that a stop-over check was required of the passenger as a condition precedent to his resuming his journey from Olean to Salamanca, after stopping off at the former place. It is shown by the evidence that Olean was a station at which stop-over privileges were allowed. Under such circumstances, it was entirely proper for the passenger to make inquiries of the ticket agent, and to rely upon what the latter told him with respect to his stopping over at Olean. Hufford v. Railroad Co., supra; Palmer v. Railroad Co., 3 S.C.. 580: Burnham v. Railroad Co., 63 Me. 299; Murdock v. Railroad Co., 137 Mass. 293; Arnold v. Rairoad Co., 115 Pa. St. 135, 8 Atl. Rep. 213.

Upon this question, and also with respect to the action of the first conductor, and the regulations of the road relative to stop-over privileges, the court gave to the jury the following instructions: 'That, if the plaintiff's testimony was true in regard to what took place between himself and the ticket agent in Boston, and afterwards with the first conductor on the defendant's train, and if the plaintiff, when he bought his ticket in Boston, informed the ticket agent of his wish to stop off at the Olean station, and was then told by the ticket agent that he would have to speak to the conductor about that, and between Binghamton and Olean the plaintiff informed the conductor that he wished to stop over at Olean, and the conductor, instead of giving the plaintiff a stop-over ticket, punched the plaintiff's ticket, and told him that was sufficient to give him the right to stop over at Olean and afterwards to use the punched ticket between Olean and Salamanca, then, whatever the rules and regulations of the road were, the plaintiff was rightfully a passenger on the train at the time of his expulsion, and the conductor had no right to put him off for not paying his fare, and the company was liable for the act of the conductor; that if, on the other hand, the plaintiff did not notify the conductor of his wish to stop over at Olean, and received no such assurance from the conductor or from the ticket agent as he has testified, then the punched ticket gave him no right to ride as a passenger on the train between Olean and Salamanca without paying his fare, and, if he refused to pay his fare when demanded, the conductor was justified in putting him off, and his offer to pay his fare after the train was stopped was too late, and did not give him the right to ride on the train, and the conductor was justified in expelling him, notwithstanding the offer.'

We think these instructions perfectly correct, and that, upon these points, they embodied substantially the whole law of the case. The gravamen of this action is the wrongful conduct of the conductor who ejected the plaintiff from the train. Whether the plaintiff told nothing but the truth with reference to what occurred on the train between him and the conductor before he was put off and at the time he was put off, or whether the jury believed all he testified to with reference to those matters, is not the question to be determined. But, taking the case in this particular most strongly in favor of the defendant, under the evidence submitted, it must be admitted that the action of the conductor was inexcusable. He testified, among other things, (1) that he thought the plaintiff's ticket was a limited one, and so reported it to his company, when in truth and in fact it was unlimited, thus showing carelessness and negligence in a most pronounced degree; (2) that he knew, or had good reason for knowing, that the Binghamton-Salamanca coupon had not been used to the latter place because it had been punched by Conductor Hurty, who had charge of the next preceding train to the one of which he had charge; so that it was impossible for him to believe that the plaintiff was trying to ride on a ticket that had once been used over that part of the road. But he tries to justify his conduct in this particular by saying that he would not have been anthorized to carry the plaintiff on his train, any way, without his having a stop-over check procured from the conductor of the train on which he had ridden to Olean. It may be true that the regulations of the road were substantially to that effect, and it may also be admitted that thr road had the right to make such regulations, subject, of course, to the reasonable interests, convenience, and comfort of the traveling public. But the testimony of a very high official of the road was that stop-over checks were not absolutely necessary, and that other arrangements might be, and sometimes were, made. And the very fact that the plaintiff afterwards, on the next morning, did travel from Olean to Salamanca on one of the defendant's trains without producing any stop-over check, or any other ticket save and except the one which had been refused the night before, demonstrates clearly that the regulations of the road with respect to stop-over checks were not unbending and inviolable.

Another circumstance, in this connection, is worth noting: The conductor of the train on which the piaintiff rode from Olean to Salamanca was not called as a witness, nor was his absence accounted for. It was not shown that he was not still in the employ of the defendant. If accessible, his testimony would have gone far towards showing the practice of the defendant with respect to stop-over checks; and his not being called by the defendant makes against its theory that the plaintiff had no right to be carried on the train from which he was ejected without having a stop-over check.

Furthermore, if the evidence of the plaintiff was to be believed, (and in this respect the charge of the court below was sufficiently guarded,) he did all that he was required to do before reaching Olean to entitle him to the privilege of stopping over at that place, and resuming his journey the next day. In fact, his course in this respect was in literal conformity with the regulation of the company, which reads thus: 'Timely notice of desire to stop over must be given by the passenger to the company.' The plaintiff testifies that he told the conductor that he desired to stop off at Olean, and take a train south to Portville, and then, upon returning to Olean, resume his journey to the west on another train; and that the conductor told him he would fix him all right. Even under the regulations of the road with reference to stop-over checks (although not brought to his knowledge) he had the right to rely upon the statement of the conductor that he would 'fix him all right,' and had a right to suppose that nothing further was required to be done by him than was done to entitle him to a stop-over privilege. The conductor, after receiving 'timely notice from the passenger of his desire to stop over' at Olean, and afterwards take another train for the remainder of his journey, (as he had the right to do on an unlimited ticket,) was thereupon bound to furnish the passenger with a stop-over check without the passenger asking him, in so many words, for one. Under the circumstances of the case, as testified to by the plaintiff, the conductor of the first train was derelict in his duty in not providing the passenger with a stop-over check when the latter stated to him that he desired to stop off at Olean, (as he had the right to do,) if such check was necessary to enable the passenger to complete his journey to Salamanca. If the jury believed the evidence of the plaintiff in this matter, they were justified in finding negligence on the part of the first conductor. And upon the case as made by the defendant itself, with reference to what took place between the plaintiff and the conductor who ejected him from the train, leaving out of sight the disputed facts in that matter, it is very clear to our minds that the action of that conductor was unwarranted under the law, and that the charge of the court thereon was as favorable to the defendant as it had the right to demand. The authorities above cited abundantly sustain this view. The reason of such rule is to be found in the principle that where a party does all that he is required to do under the terms of a contract into which he has entered, and is only prevented from reaping the benefit of such contract by the fault or wrongful act of the other party to it, the law gives him a remedy against the other party for such breach of contract.

These observations dispose of the questions raised touching the conversation between the plaintiff and the ticket-agent the rules and regulations of the company in the matter of stop-over checks, the acts of the several conductors in charge of the trains upon which the plaintiff traveled between Binghamton and Salamanca, and the conduct of the plaintiff himself in those transactions. If he was rightfully on the train as a passenger, he had the right to refuse to be ejected from it, and to make a sufficient resistance to being put off to denote that he was being removed by compulsion and against his will; and the fact that, under such circumstances, he was put off the train, was of itself a good cause of action against the company, irrespective of any physical injury he may have received at that time, or which was caused thereby. English v. Canal Co., 66 N. Y. 454; Brown v. Railroad Co., 7 Fed. Rep. 51; Railroad Co. v. Rice, 64 Md. 63, 21 Atl. Rep. 97.

It follows from what we have said that there was no error in the action of the court in refusing to direct the jury, in effect, to return a verdict in favor of the defendant. Neither was there any error prejudicial to the defendant in any part of the charge, above quoted, which the court gave to the jury upon the questions we have been considering.

With respect to the instructions requested by the defendant upon these points, which the court declined to give, except as embodied in the general charge, very little need be said. They are as follows:

'(1) The regulation of the defendant corporation that the several conductors of its trains shall require of each passenger a valid ticket or to pay the established fare is a necessary and proper regulation, and if the plaintiff in this case, having, as he says, taken defendant's train at Olean for Salamanca, did not, when thereto requested, present to the conductor a valid ticket, but only a ticket that had been canceled, and refused to pay his fare, then the conductor had the lawful right to stop the train at an intermediate station or near to a dwelling-house, and put the plaintiff off the train, using only such force as was necessary for that purpose.

'(2) The regulation of the defendant that a passenger who desires to stop over at an intermediate station and resume his passage by a later train must, before leaving the first train, require of the conductor a stop-over check, is a reasonable regulation; and since in this case it appears by the plaintiff's own testimony that his ticket from Binghamton to Salanmanca was canceled before he left the train, and he did stop over at Olean, an intermediate place, and resumed his passage the next day, and presented no stop-over check, but only the canceled ticket, and refused to pay his fare when requested, and persisted in that refusal, the conductor had the lawful right to stop the train at the intermediate station, as he did, and put the plaintiff off the train.'

What we have said above virtually disposes of these requests. In so far as they are correct, the substance of them had been given by the court in its general charge, and there was no error, therefore, in refusing to give them in the language requested. Railroad Co. v. McDade, 135 U.S. 554, 10 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1044; Insurance Co. v. Ward, 140 U.S. 76, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 720. In fact, it is much the better practice to refuse to give instructions to the jury, the substance of which has already been stated in the general charge, than to repeat the same charge in different language, although the charge requested may be technically correct as an abstract proposition of law; for a multitude of instructions, all stated in different language, and meaning the same thing, tends rather to confuse than to enlighten the minds of the jury.

Whether the verdict was excessive is not our province to determine on this writ of error. The correction of that error, if there were any, lay with the court below upon a motion for a new trial, the granting or refusal of which is not assignable for error here. As stated by us in Insurance Co. v. Ward: 'It may be that, if we were to usurp the functions of the jury, and determine the weight to be given to the evidence, we might arrive at a different conclusion. But that is not our province on a writ of error. In such a case we are confined to the consideration of exceptions, taken at the trial, to the admission or rejection of evidence, and to the charge of the court and its refusals to charge. We have no concern with questions of fact, or the weight to be given to the evidence which was properly admitted.' 140 U.S. 91, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 720, citing numerous cases.

It would subserve no useful purpose to go more into detail as to the assignments of error presented. What we have already said virtually disposes of all of them. We think the evidence objected to was properly admitted; that the charge of the court as given was correct, and embodied the entire law of the case; that its refusal to give the instructions requested, under the circumstances, was not error; and that in no other respect, so far as this record discloses, was any error committed to the injury of the railroad company.

Judgment affirmed.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).