MESSINGER t1. NEW ENGLAND MeT. LIFE INS.
A decree will be drawn up in accordance with this opinion, and the rule discharged. The costs will be paid by the receivers, out of the funds in their hands.
MESSINGER T. NEW ENGLAND MDT. LIFE INS. CO.
(Circuit Court, W. D. Pennsylvania.
January 15, 1894:.)
RELEASE AND DISCHARGE-BAR TO ACTION AT LAW-EvIDENCE OF MISTAKE.
In- an action at law in a federal court evidence is not admissible to show that a release, which, on its face, constitutes a complete bar to the action, was given under a mistake of fact, such as, in equity, would require its rescission or cancellation.
At Law. Action by L N. Messinger, administrator d. b. n. of the estate of Joseph C. Raudenbush, against the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company. On motion for a new trial. Denied. D. W. Cox, Lorenzo Everett, and S. C. McCandless, for plaintiff. A. A.. Leiser and Shiras. & Dickey, for defendant. BUFFINGTON, Dis.trict Judge. This is. a motion for a new trial.... The suit was upon a policy issued by the defendant company for $15,000 upon the life of Joseph C. Raudenbush, of whom the plaintiff is. administrator d. b. n. By its terms the "policy shall be void if the assured shall die by his. own hand or act, whether sane or insane, within three years from the date thereof; but the COllipany agrees to pay upon the policy thus voided the net reserve held against it, reckoned according to the legal standard of -Massachusetts." The. decedent died within three years. In defense there was offered and received in evidence a sealed release, executed by the former administrator, and acknowledging receipt of $755 23/100, "in full satisfaction and discharge of all claims and demands under policy" aforesaid. In rebuttal, the plaintiff offered to sl1o\" by the wife of decedent that Raudenbush had not committed suicide, but had died from -a pistol shot accidentally inflicted by himself,. and that the settlement had been mistakenly made by the administrator under the belief he had committed suicide. To this evidence objection was made and sustained, and the evidence was refused on two grounds: First, that the release could not be attacked in an action at law, but only on the equity side of the court; and, secondly, that, if allowable on the law side, the evidence proposed was not sufficient to warrant the cancellation of the release under the facts of the case. Our conclusions were recited in binding instructions· for the defendant, and we see no reason to question the action thus taken. That equitable relief must be sought on the equity side of the federal courts is a proposition too well to require citation of authorities. That rescission or cancellation is the subject of equitable jurisdiction. is equally well established. As the court said in Ivinson v. Hutton, 98 U. 8.-82: V.59F.no.5-34
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,"Cow;ts, Qf,eqult, hltve , , '. \Vas execiItetl or mistake of facts material to its operatl()o" the error may be" 4:lorrected, or the erroneous transaction may be rescinded. ,. · · Power to reform written contracts for fraud or mistake' :Is con" ceded to courts of equity, and It Is equally clear that It is a power which cannot be exercised by common-law courts. Hearne v. Insurance Co., 20 Wall. 490."
The same doctrine is 181d down in the IUsp. Eq. (1 st Ed.).§ 31"p, 41. Such being the law, we inquire whe:ther the paper offered was of a character to require cancellation or rescission. On this point We are clear. The,pbUcy in suit was payable; in case of death, "exeCl1tQrsor administJ,'ators," so that in his adto the ministrator ,was vested the right of action. at his death. By. the death of the insured the question of the company's liability was raised. The cause, mode, at;ld facts concerning his deatp. were necessal'y,subjects for ipquiry. If it was caused by accidental recover the whole amount means, tAe administrator 'was from the'general funds Of.the if by suicide, then the policy was void, ;and a portion of the reserve fund only was' recoverable. Presumably theSe inquiries were duly made, and· an agreement reached by which the administrator received some $700 from the reserve fund, and released all claims arising under the policy; the language of the release being that said sum was received "in full satisfaction and discharge:of all claims and demands under poliey No. 83,4!,1,by reason of the death of Joseph C. Raudenbush, the insured." This instrument, made by thetepresentative of the deceased under, seal, acknowledging and reciting the payment of money thereon,' stailding::al6ne andilnrepudiated, formed'a corn· plete legal defense to any claim under the policy. Manifestly, sneh an instrument must be canceled or rescinded 'before a recovery coUld be had, enforcing cla-ims which' the administrator had once released. Such effort to rescind was never made by the first administrator. .The release remained unimpeached during his life, and for more than a year it was made. Nor did his 'successor in the trust repudiate it by bill filed, or tender back the money paid upon it. Standing thus 'Unimpeached, it formed an insuperable barrier to a re·oovery up()nthe policy in a suit at law. Tl> permit its rescission or cancellation on the law side ()f the court would be to trench upon the exclusive jurisdiction of a court of equity. The motion for a new trial is refused, and the, clerk is directed to enter judgment upon the verdict.
POST PUB. CO. v. HALLAM.
(Circuit Court of. Appeals, Sixth Circuit. December 9, 1893.)
A prior or contemporaneous publication In another newspaper owned by defendant Is competent evidence on the question of malice, although a