HEAD V. HARGRAVE, 105 U. S. 45 (1881)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Head v. Hargrave, 105 U.S. 45 (1881)

Head v. Hargrave

105 U.S. 45


1. A "statement" of the case, according to the law regulating civil proceedings in the Territory of Arizona, takes the place of a bill of exceptions when the alleged errors of law are set forth with sufficient matter to show the relevancy of the points taken, and though prepared for and used on a motion for a new trial, it is available on appeal from the judgment when, by stipulation of the parties, it is made a part of the record for that purpose.

2. In an action for legal services, the opinions of attorneys as to their value are not to preclude the jury from exercising their "own knowledge and ideas" on the subject. It is their province to weigh the opinions by reference to the nature of the services rendered, the time occupied in their performance, and other attending circumstances, and by applying to them their own experience and knowledge of the character of such services. The judgment of a witness is not, as a matter of law, to be accepted by the jury in place of their own.

This was an action brought in a district court of Arizona to recover the sum of $2,000 alleged to be owing by the defendants to the plaintiffs for professional services as attorneys and counselors at law in that territory in 1877 and 1878. The complaint alleges that the services were performed in several suits and proceedings, upon a retainer by the defendants, and that they were reasonably worth that sum. The answer is a general denial.

On the trial, one of the plaintiffs testified to the rendition of the services by them in several suits, stating generally the nature of each suit, the service performed, and its value. Five attorneys at law also testified to the value of the services; three of whom were called by the plaintiffs and two by the defendants. They differed widely in their opinions, the highest estimate

Page 105 U. S. 46

placing the value of the services at $5,440, the lowest at $1,000.

The court instructed the jury that in determining the value of the plaintiffs' services, they might consider their nature, the length of time they necessarily occupied, and the benefit derived from them by the defendants; that the plaintiffs were entitled to reasonable compensation for the services rendered, and that the reasonableness of the compensation was a fact to be determined from the evidence as any other controverted fact in the case, and then proceeded as follows:

"The services rendered were skilled and professional, and for the purpose of proving to you the value of that class of services rendered, professional gentlemen, attorneys at law, claiming to be familiar with the value of such services, have testified before you. If you accredit these witnesses with truthfulness, their testimony should have weight with you, and the fact as to what is a reasonable compensation should be determined from the evidence offered, and not from your own knowledge or ideas of the value of that class of services. In other words, you must determine the value of the services rendered from the evidence which has been offered before you, and not from your own knowledge or ideas of the value of such services."

The defendants thereupon asked the court to instruct the jury as follows:

"In determining the value of the plaintiffs' services the jury are not bound by the testimony of the expert witnesses; that testimony may be considered by the jury; but if, in their judgment, the value fixed by those witnesses is not reasonable, they may disregard it, and find the amount which, in their judgment, would be reasonable."

"In determining the value of the plaintiffs' services the jury are not bound by the opinions of the witnesses, unless the jury shall find from all the evidence taken together, including the nature of the services, the time occupied in the performance of them, and the result of them, and the benefit derived by the defendants from the rendition of said services, that said opinions are correct."

The court refused to give these instructions, and an exception

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was taken. The jury thereupon gave a verdict for the plaintiffs for $1,800; upon which judgment was entered. A statement of the proceedings at the trial was then prepared, which, among other things, set forth the alleged errors of law excepted to by the defendants. This statement was used on a motion for a new trial, which was denied, and by stipulation it was embodied in the papers for the appeal to the supreme court of the territory from the judgment, as well as from the order denying the new trial. The order and judgment were both affirmed, and to review the judgment, the case is brought to this Court.

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