souri, should adopt aJ;ld follow, and 'upon this ground we should feel bound to hold the present suit completely barred, independently of the other questions discussed in this opinion. As the defenses of laches and the statute of limitations must be sustained, it would be a waste of time and labor to examine the other questions discussed by counsel at the bar, and therefore, without considering them, we overrule the exceptions to the answer. KREKEL, J.,concurs.
SCARLETT, trading as R. G. DUN & Co.
November 'rerm, 1882.)
(Circuit Court, D. Maryland.
When objection is made to the admissibility of a paper offered in evidence, upon the ground that it is a privileged communication, it is propel' for the court, before permitting said paper to be read to the jury, to allow the party objecting to cross-examine the witness producing it, and also to receive other evidence upon the question of its privileged character, in order to decide as to its admissibility. When a mercantile agency makes a communication to one of its subscribers who has an interest in knowing it, concerning the financial condition of another person, and when such communication is made in good faith, and under circumstances of reasonable caution as to its being confidential, it is Ii protected privileged communication, and an action for libel cannot be founded upon it, even though .the information given thereby was not true in fact, and though the words themselves are libelous.
This was an action for libel, tried December 5, 1882, in the circuit court of the United States for the district ,of Maryland, before Hon. THOMAS J. MORRIS, district judge, ands. jury. The declaration alleged that the plaintiff was a general merchant, conducting a wholesale and retail business at Charlestown, West Virginia, etc., and that the defendants, together with Robert G. Dun, being then engaged in carrying on the business known as a mercantile agency. in the principal cities of the United etc., under the style of R. G. Dun '& Co., on the eleventh day of July, 1881, at the city of Baltimore, wrongfully, injuriously, and maliciously composed and published, etc., a certain false, scandalous,.malicious, and defamatory libel of and concerning the plaintiff, and of and concerning him, in his said business, etc., containing the words following; that is to say: "Trussell, C. W., Charlestown, Jefferson Co., W. Va.,D. G., etc., July 11, '81, has made an assignment for the benefit of his creditors. No. particulars known as yet;"-thereby meaning that the plaintiff had utterly failed in his said business and was unable to carryon the same, and to pay hi,S just debts in their usual and regularcourse, and was insolvent. The declaration alleged special damage, and claimed $10,000 damages. Plea, not guilty.
TRUSSELL V. SOARLETT.
The plaintiff, after proving that on June 11, 1881, he was engaged in business as alleged in the declaration, and had good credit, called as a witness William Devries, who testified that about June 11, 1881, he received from the defendants' office in Baltimore a paper, of which be produced a copy, (the original having been destroyed,) and that such papers, inclosed in an envelope, were usually delivered at witness' office by a boy in the employ of defendant, who took a receipt fOl them. The plaintiff then offered said paper in evidence, but the defendants' counsel contended that before it could be read to the jury they had a right to cross-examine the witness in order to show that it was a privileged communication and therefore inadmissible j citing Maurice v. Worden, 54 Md. 251, in which it was held that where the plaintiff offered in evidence a paper, to the introduction of which the defendant made objection upon the ground that it was a privileged communication, the court properly received' evidence to show its privileged character before permitting it to be read. MarshaU & West, for plaintiff. ' Wm. Reynolds, G. J. Bonaparte, and Saml. Wagner, for defendants. MORBIS, J. It does seem to me a very much better way of conducting the trial that it should be ascertained first whether there is any ground for the action, otherwise, if it should turn Qut that the paper offered in evidence was a privileged communication, we may get into a very long eontroversy,which may be obviated at this stage of the proceedings. The witness then, upon cross-examination: by the defendant, further testified that the firm of William Devries & Co., of which he was a partner, was, at the time of receiving said paper, and had been for a number of years before, a subscriber to the mercantile agency of the defendants; that when they first credited plaintiff, which was probably soon after the close of the war, they made an inquiry of R. G. Dun & Co.; that they were apt to make one,twice a year,-every six months,-may have made balf a dozen during the year; that this paper, or a similar one, came to their office giving this information. Witness, upon being shown a ticket addressed to R. G. Dun & Co., asking information in regard to plaintiff, and dated June 16, 1881, identified it as having come from his office, and upon being asked whether the paper received by him was not in answer to the inquiry contained in said ticket, replied:
"I don't know. I should infer it was. We makeinquiries;everyday in the week. We have an understanding with R. G. DUIL& Co. tl).l;l.tif any. thing occurs to any of our customers they are to immediately inform us."
(The defendants' counsel then asked the court to exclUde tnt paper offered in evidence by the plaintiff, and the question was fully argued.) Morris, J. If a mercha,nt having an, interest in knowing the ,financia,l of. heproJ,>psElstO deal with, gooato another, q,nd askshlmWl.th regard to tUltt, pers()ll'lil 11.11'l,tucialstanding,and he. hopestly anawerahim. wha;the,.¥.pow6 ,about
. the person inquired of, even if it should turn out to be false, I think it is a privileged communication, upon which an action cannot be founded, even though the words themselves are libelous. If he says, "I have looked into his affiairs, I have informed myself with regard to them for my own benefit, and I believe him to be insolvent," I do not think that such a communication, if made in good faith, is one upon which an action can be founded. The doctrine of the case of White v. Nichols, 3 How. 266, it seems to me, has been again and again held to cover communications made between merchants with regard to the standing of traders, where the party making the inquiry had an interest, and where the party answering the inquiry answered it in good faith. It is conceded in this case that the plaintiff cannot show any want of good faith, and the only question that remains open is whether that doctrine is applicable to a person in the situation of the defendant in this case. It was held in Beardsley v. 1'£lPpan, 5 Blatchf. 4:97, that it was not. That was a case decided some years ago, at a time when companies or corporations, formed for the purpose of collecting information for the benefit of merchants, were very little known. It has never been sanctioned in any higher court; the contrary has been decided in the highest courts of New York and other states, and the contrary was also held in a well·considered opinion by Judge CALDWELL, in the circuit court of the United States for the eastern district of Arkansas, (Erber v. Dun, 12 FED. REP. 526,) covering the facts of this case. If it is permissible for one merchant to inquire of another for his own benefit as to the standing of another merchant, I cannot see how any distinction can be made where one expends money and another receives money for the information, and makes it his business to get the information. The only question, then, is, was this communication, which is offered in evidence here, and which I hold to be a privileged communication, made to William Devries & Co. under circumstances which keep it within the of privileged communications; that is, was it made under circumstances of reasonable caution as to its being confidential? It appears from the evidence that it was intended to be a confidential communication; that the agreement and contract between tpe defendant and Devries & Co. was that it was to be kept to themselves and not disclosed to others; and that it was made to them because they had an interest in knowing the financial situation of the plaintiff. It is, in my opinion, a protected privileged communication, and I therefore exclude the evidence. The plaintiff took a nonsuit.
The first point made in the case before us Is in harmony with many rulIngs on the subject of admissibility. When the admissibility of either a witness or a document is in question. the party the admissibility is entitled, as a preliminary test, to cross-examine 011 this specific issue the witnesses on
TRUSSELL V. SCARLETT.
whose testimony the admissibility depends. No document or witness, such is the fundamental principle, is self.prooving. We must fall back, as a basis logically necessary in all cases, on parol proof; and this proof only is effecti ve when exposed to the criticism of cross-examination. This is illustrated by the old practice of examination on voir di1'e. When a witness, in old times, as to whose competency there was any question, was called, he was sworn, not to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing bllt the truth," but .. true answers to make to such questions as should be put to him." These questions related solely to his competency; and the burden of this preliminary examinatiO'l1 fell upon tbe party objecting to competency. In fact, the old practice was, when there was an objection to competency, for the objecting counsel ask for the administering of the voir dire oath, which was granted as a matter of course. The objecting counsel then proceeded to inquire as to the witness' . interest in the case, or other ground of incompetency; the party sustaining the admissibility being then entitled to examine in reply} '£he same distinction is taken with regard to the proof of lost documents. A witness called to prove the contents of a lost document, after his examination by the party calling him on the subject of the loss, and of his knowledge of the document, is open to cross-examination by the opposing counsel; and it is not until the witness has been thus fully probed, and his knowledge on this specific issue drawn out, that the document is received in evidence.2 If it should appear, upon cross-examination, that the witness was not the custodian of the paper, or was not personally famili&r with the fact or nature of its custody, this is decisive against admissibility, unless witnesses who can prove such custody, and can in this way account for the loss of the paper, are produced.3 So is it when a witness declines to answer on the ground of self-crimination. This is a prerogative which is almost always set up on cross-examination; but at Whatever stage of a case a witness declines to answer on this ground, after he states his objection, counsel on both sides are entitled to examine him as to the extent to which the objection is interposed.4 The examination must show, to the satisfaction of the court, that the danger to which the witness would be ex· posed by answering is real and substantial, or else the witness will be compelled to answer. 5 The same line is taken when other phases of priVilege are set up by;\ witness. This is the case where an attorney sets up professional privilege; 6 where a particular fact sought to be proved is alleged to have been the subject-matter of a confidential communication between a party to a suit and his witnesses; 7 where arbitrators or jurors are examined as to the grounds of their award or finding: 8 and where public officers are asked as to state secrets. 9 Hence the ruling in the case in the text is in conformity with tbe analogies in kindred cases of privilege. The point as to the liability of mercantile agencies for libel in case of an
lR. v. mshnrn, 15 East, 67; Quarterman v. Cox. 8 C. &. P. 97; Brockbank v. Anderson, 7 M. & Gr. 295; Fifield v. Smith. 21 Me. 383; Walker v. Sawyer. 13 N. H. 191; Bridge v. Wellington, 1 Mass. 219; Foley v. Mason, 6 Md. 37; Wright v. Mathews, 2 Blackf. 187; Herndon v. Givens, 16 Ala. 261. 28ee Fisher v. Samuda. 1 Camp. 193; Clark v. Honghton, 12 GUY. 38; Richardson v. Robbins, 124 Mass. lU5; Coxe v. England, 65 Pa. St. 212; Rankin T. Crowe, 19 Ill. 626. SHart v. Hart, 1 Hare, 1; R. v. Piddlehlnton, 3 B. & Ad. 460; R. v. Hinckley, 3 's. & S. 885; Richards v. Lewis, 11 C. B. 1035; Plnxton v. Dare. 10 B. & C. 17. iSee Cates v. Hardacre. 3 Tannt. 424; Chestler v. Wortley. i C. B. 410;. Scholleld. Ex parte, L. R. 6 Cb. D. 230; Low v.Mltcbel1,18Me.372; Coborn T. Odel1, 30 N. H. 340; Brown v. Brown, 5 Mass. 320; People T. Kelly, 24 N. Y.74. GOsborn T. Dock Co.10 Exch. 69>; Fernandez, Exparte,10C.B. (N.S.)329; Grannis v. Brandon, 6 Day, 260; People v. Mather, 4 Wend. 229; Ward v. State, 2 Mo. 9S; lo'loyd v. State, 7 Tex. 216. S5ee Greenongh v. Gaskell, 1 M. & R. 98. 7Ross v. Gibbs. L. R. SEq. 622; Hamilton v. Nott, L. R. 16 Eq.l12. 81ohuson v. Dnrant, 4 C. & P. 327; Bucclengh v. Board of Works, L. R. 3 Ex. 306; R. v. Rosser, 7 C. & P. 641\; Howser v. Com. b1 Pa. St. 332. 8 Plnnkett v. Cobbett, 6 Esp. 136; Chubb v. Salomons, 3 C. & K. 75; Hartranft's App. Be Pa. st. 433.
honest, though erroneous, expression of opinion, is one of more novelty. There is no question of the benefit to business of mercantile agencies, and especially of that which was the defendant in the case in the text. The duties of these agencies, it has been several times laid down, is not that of insuring the intelligence communicated, but of giving conscientious care and diligence to the collection <>f intelligence, and then communicating it to customers accuratelyas received. "The general rule;",said FOROE, J.,l "is that special nce of good businesil men in the paJ;'ticular agents are bound to the dilig 'specialty.' ,The testimony shows that, according to the practice of all mercantile agencies in the United States, such inqUiry (an inquiry as to recorded incumbrances on title) is never undertaken, such information is never given, unless specially asked for, and in .sUch case the cost of making such inquiry is -paid in addition to the usual fees." In McLean v. .Dun, before· the Canada co'un of appealS in 1876,2 we have the following expressions of opinion on the same point: .. If a man," said HAGAltTY, C. J., "hire another for the express purpose of obtaining information as to the standing and credit of certhe individual employed would certainly be bound to reasonabiediligelJce in'doing the work. '-If he report to his employer without having made due inquiries, T think his liability rests wholly on his breach of contract, aildhis breach of duty iathe proximate cause of damage resulting from his carelessness;" By PATTERSON, J., the mode of doing business by the defendants,who wero,the same as in the present suit, is stated: "I do not think the contract provides fori or contemplates the making of, specil}.l iIiquirieson application concerning particular customers. No doubt that might be done, and it might be necessary to do it, if the.application referre!i . to someone concerning Whom there is no recorded report. But looking at the contract only, it seems to have in view that the results of general inquiries pt are to be k on record, and to be communicated on application. From those extended reports the reference-book is compiled, and it is furnished to every subscriber. I do not think the contract extends further than this." In Sprague v. Dttn,:in the:Philadelphin common pleas, in 1876,2 we have an opinion by Judge HARE to the snme general effect: "When the plaintiff paid his subscription he signed a printed document containing inter alia the following words: 'The said R. G. Dun & Co. shall prepare for our use, and place in our keeping, a printed copy of a 'reference-book prepared by them, containingratings or markings of the credit of business men, and all our inqUiries at their office, as also all use made of such reference-book, shall be exclusively confined to the legitimate business of our establisbment.'The defendants requesLed me to charge the jury that the plaintiff was bound by his contract with the defendants to confine his inquiries to the legitimate business of his establishment; and if the jury believed that the plaintiff, being a druggist, used the information for other than his legitimate business, such as the floating of commercial paper, he violated his contract. and the defendants are not bound by it. This point obviously involves two propositions,-one, that the defendants are not liable under the contract for any use which the plaintiff might make of the information furnished by them outside of the legitimate co.urse' of his business; the other, that the plaintiff's indorsements for Getz (the party inquired about) were not within his legitimate business as a druggist, and could not be a ground of recovery in this suit. The inclination of my minl1 is that the defendant was entitled to all affirmative answer under both these heads." From these jUdicial statements of the object and limitations of mercantile agencies it appears that their value is largely dependent on their confidential relations as agents for inquiring and reporting as to the character of business
1 Gibson v. Dun, Conrt C. P. Hamilton Co., Ohio. 1876, pamphlet report. 2 Pamphlet report. SPamphlet report.
men with whom customers Of the agencies are likely to deal. The utility of agencies of this class is very great. To take a much more limited field for illustration, no one can question eith':)r the utility or the confidential nature of intelligence offices for the collecting and communicating information as to the character of domestic servants. Neither the employer nor the employe can well dispense with sucb agencies; and that they are regarded br the law as privileged on the ground of confidence, supposing there be no malice, will be hereafter seen. There is little doubt that intelligence offices are of great benefit, both to masters seeking servants and to servants seeking masters. A servant, especially a stranger, coming to a community with whose ways he is unacquainted, often tinds such an agency essential to the procuring of employment. while even those who are residents in such com· munity are enabled in this way to make their wants and their recommendations known. If so with the servant, still more strongly is this the case with the master. who has no other way of becoming generally acquainted with persons seeking' employment. If this is the case with intelligence offices, still more marked are the benefits in both lines arising from mercantile agencies. There is no question as to the great impulse given by them, and especially by the defendants ill the case before us, to business. I may be, for instance, a trader in a small conntry town, and may be desirous of obtaining goods from a wholesale house in New York. Under the old system I would be obliged to send a check in advance, which I might feel a hesitancy in doing when dealing with a stranger, or which I might, in the eXigencies of local trade, lind inconvenient. Now. however, it is sufficient for me simply to order the goods, and they are sent to me if my credit is good enough to obtain for me a favorable report from the inercantile agency-to whom the seller resorts. So, on the otJler hand, if I am a wholesale dealer, I can fill orders promptly and freely without the delay and expense of making personal inquiries as to customers. It may be in general stated that in the affording facilities and business, mercantile agencies come next in the rank of importance to railroads and telegraphs. But with their utility their confidential character is closely bound up. Were they not confidential,-in other words, were the information they collect published to the world,-mercantile agencies would soon cease to exist. The policy of the law not only tolerates. but approves, such confidential communication of information as tends to the securing of employment, or the }juying and seIling of goods. But the policy of the law not only would not tolerate, but would extirpate, agencies for the publishing to the world at large of information as to the private affairs of individuals. 'fhe utility of mercantile agencies being unquestionable. and their utility being dependent on their confidential limitations, it is not strange that these limitations should be not only maintained. but insisted on, by the. courts. And this is in two ways. If the limitations of confidence are thrown off by the agencY,-in other words, if it publishes-to the world the information it collects,-then it is liable in damages to parties whose characters it disparages, or whose standing it impugns. On the other hand, if it confines itself to the confidential communication of such information to its customers, then if it acts bona fide, and without malice or recklessness. these communications are privileged, and the defendant, if sued for a libel in making such communications, would be entitled to a verdict. Meddlesomeness, it should be remembered, is an important test to be kept in mind in cases of this class. If a communication 'be merely meddlesome, if it be not dictated by a lawful business obligation or by a lawful personal duty, then privilege cannot be invoked. 1 In other words, as is stated by Sir JAMES STEPHEN, "the publication of a libel is not a misdemeanor if the defamatory matter pUblitlhed is honestly believed to be true by the person publishing it, and if the relation between the parties by
1Shipley v. Todhunter, 7 C. & P. 680.
and to whom the publication is made, is such that the person publishing it is under any legal, moral, or social duty to pUblish such matter to the persoll to whom the publication is made,or has a legitimate personal interest in so publishing it, provided that the publication does not exceed, either in extent or in manner, what is reasonably sufficient for its occasions." 1 'I'he leading cases in this line, and the firi:lt precedent for the position here maintained, are thoSf\ in which suits were bronght by servants, alleging that they had been injured by information given as to their character by their former or present employers. In tl\ese cases it has been held that a master applied to for the character of a servant is privileged to give what he COIlceives to be a correct answerj and no action lies for the answer if it turns out to be incorrect, supposing it to have been honestly given. It is otherwise, however, where a false answer is given maliciously.2 It has also been held that confidential communications between Qfficers of trusts as to servants and customers are in like manner and with the like limitations privileged. s But privilege in such cases is lost by publication to the world.4 In respect to mercantile agencies the same distinctions are applied. not only in the case in the text, and in E1'ber v. J)un,D there cited, but in several state rulings. ThUS, in Com. v. Stacey,6 ALLISON, J., said: "A business such as that conducted by the defendant, if properly managed, may be of the greatest service to the business men of the country; but if carried on with a reckless disregard of the rights of others, may be converted into an evil against which no man can protect himself. '" '" '" There is no great hardship imposed on an agency of this kind, if they are required to know beforehand that their statements are true, and that the persons to whom they are sent ha'De an interest in 1'ece'ivingthe irlj'ormation." 'rhat such commuuications, when given under these limitations, are privileged, is held also in New York and Wiseonsin,7 though it is conneded that geneml pUblication destroys the privilege.8 And it has been held that" a confidential relationship clearly exists where the parties are principal and agent, solicitor and client, guardian and ward, partners, or even intimate friends; in short, wherever any trust or confidence is reposed by one in the other." 9 At the same time, it has been decided that a circular letter sent by the secretary to the members of a society for the protection of trade against swindlers, such letter being volunteered, and sent to all members generally, is not privileg:ed.10 It is otherwise when the communication is in response to a specific question by the party interested. ll FRANCIS WHARTON.
ISteph. Dig Cr, Low,' 278. 2 Hargrave v. Le Breton, 4 Burr, 24,25; Patti. sou v.Jones,3 Mfln. & R.lOI; 8 B.& 0.578; Child v. Aftleck, 9 B. & C. 4l!3; 4 MaD. & R. 338 ; Kelly v. Parttngton, 4 B. & Ad. 700; Carrol v, BIrd. 3 Esp. 21\1; Dale v. Harris, 109 Ma.s. 19'01. See Uardner V. Slade, 13 Q. B. 796; Fowler v. Tiffany, 30N. Y.20. SBlackburn v. Blackburn, 4 Bing. 395; 3 C. & p, 146; GreeD v. ChapmAn, 6 Scott,340; " Bing. N. C. 92, 'Philadelphia R. R. v. Quigley, 21 How. 202. 612 Fed. Rep. 5'<tI. 6S Pbil·· Rep. 611. TOrm.by v. Douglass, 37 N. Y. 47(; State v. Lonsdale. 48 Wis. 348. 8 Sunderlin v. Bradstreet, 46 N. Y. 188, See Robshaw v. Smith, 28 L. T. 423, cited Odgers, Libel, 201. 'Odgers, Libel, 210; cItIng Davis v. Reeves, t> II'. C. L. R. 79, where it was held that a regnlar solicitor was priVileged to give such information to his client in all mutters concerning his cllent'. Interest. 10 Taylor v. Church, " 8cld. 452; Sunderlin v. Bradstreet, 46 N. Y. 188; Beardsley v. Tappan, 4 8eld.462, Uld.. Ormsb1 Y. Douglass, 37 N. Y.477.
SEOOBD V. ST. PAUL. H. of;
M. & M. By. Co.
October 9, 1883.)
(Girc'Uit Oourt, D. Minnesota.
PERSONAL INJURy-WHO IS A PASSENGER.
The plaintiff, while traveling in a freight train on the defendant's road, was injured by a collision. The defendant provided a surgeon, but there is a conflict of testimony as to the advice and treatment rendered the plaintiff by him. The plaintiff seeks compensation for the injury. The only question at issue is the amount of damages for which the defendant is liable. 'l'he court, in charging the jury, held, that if the plaintiff was on the car in which thc defendant allowed people to travel, with the knowledge of the defendant or of any of its agents, for the purpose of being transported, and was properly there, he was a passenger; and the defendant was bound to use all fair means in its power tq transport him safely. Whether the plaintiff had a ticket or not was immaterial. The defendant is liable for any negligence on its part whereby the plaintiff was not transported safely. .
SAME-NEGLIGENCE OF ATTENDING SURGEON-RESPONSIBILITY OF RAILWAY COMPANY.
A railroad company having assumed to furnish a surgeon for passengers injured thereby, its duty to the plaintiff is discharged when it provides a surgeon possessing only ordinary skill; and for an)' damage caused the plaintiff by the negligence of such surgeon, the surgeon, and not the defendant, would be responsible. That for any neglect of the plaintiff after the injury sustained, additional damage to himself, the defendant would not be liable. The burden of proving contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff is upon the ,deiendant.
CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE-BuRDEN OF PROOF.
4. MEASURE OF DAMAGES.
That in estimating damages the jury should consider the loss of time and the suffering caused the plaintiff in the pa,;t,and that which will probably be caused him by the injury in the future; also, the injury to his health and bodily strength, including in the latter the eilect the injury might have had upon his ability to labor, both in the past and in the future.
This was an action brought to recover damages for injuries received by plaintiff in a collision which occurred on the defendant's road. There was no dispute as to the fact of the <101lision, nor that the plaintiff was injured thereby; but the conflict arose as to the amount of injury to the plaintiff for which the defendant was liable. The testimony upon that point was in conflict. The plaintiff's testimony was to the effect that his collar-bone was broken in the collision, and was set by a surgeon sent there for that purpose by the railroad company; that in .obedience to the orders of the said surgeon he went the next day to St. Paul, and remained under his care for the space of 19 days; that at the end of that time, believing that the bones were not united, he went to the said surgeon's office, who, after examination, said it was all right, and that the injured shoulder was as good as the other one.· Plaintiff then asked him if he could return to his home in Canada the next day, a two-days' journey, and the doctor answered in the affirmative; that relying on all these statements he left St. Paul the next day, and on arriving home consulted his physician, who found that there was no bony union formed; that he· has sufiered