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U.S. Supreme Court

New Orleans & Northeastern R. Co. v. Jopes, 142 U.S. 18 (1891)

New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad Company v. Jopes

No. 104

Argued November 24, 1891

Decided December 7, 1891

142 U.S. 18


When a bill of exceptions is signed during the term, and purports to contain a recital of what transpired during the trial, it will be presumed that all things therein stated took place at the trial unless from its language the contrary is disclosed.

The law of self-defense justifies an act done in honest and reasonable belief of immediate danger, and if an injury be thereby inflicted upon the person from whom the danger was apprehended, no liability, civil or criminal, follows.

If an act of an employee be lawful and one which he is justified in doing, and which casts no personal responsibility upon him, no responsibility attaches to the employer therefor.

A railroad company is not responsible for an injury done to a passenger in one of its trains by the conductor of the train if the act is done in self-defense against the passenger and under a reasonable belief of immediate danger.

New Jersey Steamboat Co. v. Brockett, 121 U. S. 637, distinguished.

The Court stated the case as follows:

On July 24, 1886, the defendant in error (plaintiff below) was a passenger on the train of the plaintiff in error. While such passenger, and at Nicholson station, in Hancock County, Mississippi, he was shot by Carlin, the conductor, and seriously injured. For such injury he brought his action in damages in the circuit court of that county. The case was regularly removed to the United States Circuit Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, and a trial resulted in a verdict and judgment on May 15, 1888, in his favor for the sum of $9,500, to reverse which judgment the defendant sued out this writ of error. Of the fact of the shooting by the conductor and the consequent injuries there was no dispute. The testimony in the case was conflicting as to some matters, and there was

Page 142 U. S. 19

testimony tending to show that the plaintiff approached the conductor with an open knife in his hand, and in a threatening manner, and that the conductor, fearing danger, shot and wounded the plaintiff in order to protect himself. The bill of exceptions recited that in its general charge,

"the court instructed the jury that if the evidence showed that the plaintiff was a passenger on the train and that he was shot and wounded by the conductor whilst he was such passenger, and whilst prosecuting his journey, and such shooting was not a necessary self-defense, the plaintiff was entitled to recover compensatory damages; but if the jury believe the plaintiff, when shot, was advancing on the conductor, or making hostile demonstrations to wards him with a knife, in such a manner as to put the conductor in imminent danger of his life or of great bodily harm, and that the conductor shot plaintiff to protect himself, the plaintiff was not entitled to recover; but if it appeared that the conductor shot the plaintiff whilst such passenger and prosecuting his journey, wantonly and without any provocation at the time, then the jury might award exemplary damages."

And further that,

"responding to the request of defendant that the court should instruct the jury that if they believed from the evidence that when Carlin shot the plaintiff, he, Carlin, had reasonable cause to believe from Jopes' manner and attitude that he, Jopes, was about to assault Carlin with the knife, and that it was necessary to shoot him to prevent great bodily harm from Jopes, then that the jury should find for defendant, whether Jopes was intending to do Carlin great bodily harm or not, the court declined to instruct, but instructed that, in that state of the case, if Carlin shot under the mistaken belief from Jopes' actions that he was in danger of great bodily harm then about to be done him by Jopes, when in fact Jopes was not designing or intentionally acting so as to indicate such design, the plaintiff should be entitled to compensatory damages, and not punitive damages."

To this last instruction an exception was taken, and this presented the substantial question for consideration.

Page 142 U. S. 21

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