SLOCUM V. NEW YORK LIFE INS. CO., 228 U. S. 364 (1913)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Slocum v. New York Life Ins. Co., 228 U.S. 364 (1913)

Slocum v. New York Life Insurance Company

No. 20. Argued April 26, 1912

Decided April 21, 1913

228 U.S. 364


Where a life insurance policy plainly provides for payment of the stipulated premium within a specified period of grace after the due day and as plainly excludes any idea of partial payments distributed between the premium dates, the insured gains nothing by giving an agent a portion of the premium in the absence of authority given him by the company to accept it.

One dealing with an agent knowing that his authority is limited and that his acts transcend the limits cannot hold the principal.

Where there is a method for extending payment of premiums which is known to the insured, who also knows that the agent has no power to extend on any other terms, the insured takes nothing by an attempt to extend in a different manner in which an element of substance in the prescribed method is omitted.

The temporary retention by an insurance company of a partial payment of a premium subject to the direction of the insured held, under the circumstances of this case, not to constitute a waiver of full and timely payment.

The federal courts cannot follow state statutes or practice in opposition to a provision of the federal Constitution.

While the Seventh Amendment is not applicable to proceedings in the courts of the several states, it is controlling in the federal courts, and, although under the practice of the state a judgment may be entered on the evidence non obstante veredicto, the federal court may not do so but must order a new trial where the evidence does not sustain the verdict.

The Constitution, as originally adopted, conferred upon this Court appellate jurisdiction both as to law and fact subject to exceptions and regulations prescribed by Congress, but this, as well as the jurisdiction of the other federal courts, was subsequently restricted by the Seventh Amendment so far as actions at law are concerned.

The power of a federal court to reexamine issues of fact tried by a jury

Page 228 U. S. 365

must under the Seventh Amendment he tested by the rules of the common law.

Under the rules of the common law, an appellate court may set aside a verdict for error of law in the proceedings and order a new trial, but it may not itself determine the issues of fact.

Under the rules of the common law, when the court sets aside a verdict, there arises the same right of trial by jury as in the first instance.

In the trial by jury, the right to which is secured by the Seventh Amendment, both the court and the jury are essential factors.

Whether the facts are difficult or easy of ascertainment is immaterial, the guaranty of the Seventh Amendment operates to require the issues to be settled by the verdict of a jury unless the right thereto be waived.

The rules of the common law in respect to demurrers to evidence and nonsuits furnish no warrant for a federal court's setting aside a verdict and rendering judgment on the evidence without a new trial.

Nothing in Central Transportation Co. v. Pullman's Palace Car Co., 139 U. S. 24, or Coughran v. Bigelow, 164 U. S. 301, tends to show that a federal court has power to reexamine, otherwise than according to the rules of the common law, issues of fact which have been determined by the verdict of a jury.

The terms of the Seventh Amendment and the circumstances of its adoption show that one of its purposes was to require adherence to the rule of the common law that a verdict cannot be disturbed for an error of law occurring on the trial without awarding a new trial.

The right to a new trial on the vacation of a favorable verdict in a case of this nature is a matter of substance, and not of form.

In this case, the circuit court of appeals properly reversed a judgment on a general verdict for the plaintiff on the ground that the defendant's request for a directed verdict should have been granted by the trial court; but, under the Seventh Amendment, the only course was to order a new trial, and as the judgment of the circuit court of appeals directing a judgment to be entered for defendant notwithstanding the verdict for the plaintiff violated that amendment, the action of the Circuit Court of Appeals is modified by substituting for such direction a direction for a new trial.

177 F.8d 2 reversed.

The facts, which involve the construction of a life insurance policy and whether it had expired by reason of nonpayment of premium and also the power of the circuit

Page 228 U. S. 366

court of appeals under the Seventh Amendment to reverse a judgment entered on a verdict of a jury and direct judgment for the other party, in conformity with a state practice, are stated in the opinion.

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