BAYLIS v. TRAVELERS' INS CO OF HARTFORD, CONN.(1885)
This was an action brought by the plaintiff in error to recover upon a policy of insurance issued by the defendant, whereby it insured William Edward Parker Baylis, the father of the plaintiff, in the sum of $10,000, to be paid to the plaintiff in case said assured should accidentally sustain bodily injuries which should produce death within 90 days. The complaint alleged that the assured 'on or about the twentieth day of November, 1872, did sustain bodily injuries accidentally, to-wit, in that wholly by accident he took certain drugs and medicines, which, as taken by him, were poisonous and deadly, when, in fact, he intended to take wholly a different thing and in a different manner; and that, in consequence of said accident solely, said assured died on said twentieth day of November, 1872.' An issue was made by a denial in the answer of this allega- [113 U.S. 316, 317] tion, so far as it alleged that the poisonous and deadly drugs were taken 'accidentally, or by accident, or with the intent, or under the circumstances stated or mentioned in the complaint.'
The cause came on for trial by jury, when, as appears by the bill of exceptions, the plaintiff put in evidence the policy of insurance, proved the fact and circumstances of death, and notice thereof to the defendant, and it was conceded that the question of suicide was not raised by the evidence. The testimony being closed, the counsel for the defendant moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a verdict. This motion was denied, and thereupon the plaintiff's counsel insisted 'that the evidence presented questions of fact which ought to be submitted to the jury, and asked that the case be submitted to the jury to determine upon the evidence.' The bill of exceptions further states that 'the court refused to submit the cause to the jury, and the plaintiff's counsel duly excepted.' The court then directed the jury to render a verdict for the plaintiff for the full amount claimed, subject to the opinion of the court upon the question whether the facts proved were sufficient to render the defendants liable upon their policy, and the jury accordingly rendered a verdict for the plaintiff for the amount sued for, with interest. The plaintiff moved for judgment upon the verdict, and the defendant moved for judgment in its favor, on the pleadings and minutes of trial. Judgment was accordingly rendered for the defendant upon the opinion of the judge, a copy of which is set out in the record, and is as follows:
To which ruling and conclusion the plaintiff duly excepted.
John L. Hill, for plaintiff in error.
F. E. Mather, for defendant in error.
Mr. Justice Matthews delivered the opinion of the court. He recited the facts as above stated, and continued:
If, after the plaintiff's case had been closed, the court had directed a verdict for the defendant on the ground that the evidence, with all inferences that the jury could justifiably draw from it, was insufficient to support a verdict for the plaintiff, so that such a verdict, if returned, must be set aside, it would have followed a practice sanctioned by repeated decisions of this court. Randall v. Baltimore & O. R. Co. 109 U.S. 478 ; S. C. 3 SUP. CT. REP. 322, and cases there cited. And, in that event, the plaintiff, having duly excepted to the ruling in a bill of exceptions, setting out all the evidence, upon a writ of error, would have been entitled to the judgment of this court, whether, as a matter of law, the ruling against him was erroneous. Or, if in the present case, a verdict having been taken for the plaintiff by direction of the court, subject to its opinion whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain it, the court had subsequently granted a motion on behalf of the defendant for a new trial, and set aside the verdict, on the ground of the insufficiency of the evidence, it would have followed a common practice, in respect to which error could not have been alleged, or it might, with propriety, have reserved the question, what judgment should be rendered, and in favor of what party, upon an agreed statement of facts, and afterwards rendered judgment upon its conclusions of law. But, without a waiver of the right of trial by jury, by consent of parties, the court errs if it substitutes itself for the jury, and, passing upon the effect [113 U.S. 316, 321] of the evidence, finds the facts involved in the issue, and renders judgment thereon.
This is what was done in the present case. It may be that the conclusions of fact reached and stated by the court are correct, and, when properly ascertained, that they require such a judgment as was rendered. That is a question not before us. The plaintiff in error complains that he was entitled to have the evidence submitted to the jury, and to the benefit of such conclusions of fact as it might justifiably have drawn; a right he demanded and did not waive; and that he has been deprived of it, by the act of the court, in entering a judgment against him on its own view of the evidence, without the intervention of a jury. In this particular, we think error has been well assigned.
The right of trial by jury in the courts of the United States is expressly secured by the seventh article of amendment to the constitution, and congress has, by statute, provided for the trial of issues of fact in civil cases y the court without the intervention of a jury, only when the parties waive their right to a jury by a stipulation in writing. Rev. St . 648, 649. This constitutional right this court has always guarded with jealousy. Doe v. Grymes, 1 Pet. 469; D'Wolf v. Rabaud, Id. 476; Castle v. Bullard, 23 How. 172; Hodges v. Easton, 106 U.S. 408 ; S. C. 1 SUP. CT. REP. 307.
For error in this particular the judgment is reversed, and the cause is remanded, with directions to grant a new trial.