STATE FARM MUT. AUTOMOBILE INS. CO. v. COUGHRAN(1938)
[303 U.S. 485, 486] Messrs. Joseph A. Spray, of Los Angeles, Cal., and Sidney L. Graham, of Bloomington, Ill., for petitioner.
Mr. Raymond G. Stanbury, of Los Angeles, Cal., for respondent.
Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner's policy insured one R. O. Anthony, the owner, against liability for injuries caused by a designated automobile. As the result of alleged negligent and unlawful action by the assured's wife the car collided with a truck June 16, 1934. Respondent Coughran suffered injuries for which he recovered judgment against Anthony, also against his wife. Both were insolvent; a writ of execution against them was returned unsatisfied.
Thereupon respondent commenced this suit to recover of petitioner the amount of his unpaid judgment. He claimed this right under the policy and statute. Answering, the company exhibited the policy and denied liability. As a first separate defense it alleged that Anthony and his wife had not complied with certain terms of the contract. As a second: 'That said accident was an accident for which the defendant under the terms and conditions of said policy is not liable in that: At the time and place of the accident the automobile of the insured was being driven and operated by a person who was not the paid driver of the insured, nor a member of his immediate family, nor a person acting under the direction of the assured. This defendant alleges that the said automobile at the time of the accident was being driven and operated by a person in violation of the laws of the State of California as to age and as to driver's license and further alleges [303 U.S. 485, 487] that the driver of said car was a minor, being a female of the age of approximately 13 years.'
There were other separate defenses.
A jury having been waived, the cause went to the court on the pleadings and evidence. It made findings of fact with conclusion of law and entered judgment for Coughran. Neither side requested other or different findings.
The Circuit Court of Appeals thought findings III and XII were inconsistent 'and to elucidate the truth, a review of the testimony is required.' After such review it ruled that the findings so elucidated were adequate and required affirmation of the challenged judgment. One judge thought otherwise and presented a separate opinion.
Under applicable statutes and repeated rulings here, the matter open for consideration upon the appeal was whether the findings of the trial court supported its judgment. To review the evidence was beyond the competency of the court. 28 U.S.C.A. 773, 875; Walnut v. Wade, 103 U.S. 683 , 688; Stanley v. Board of Supervisors of Albany County, 121 U.S. 535, 547 , 7 S.Ct. 1234; Law v. United States, 266 U.S. 494, 496 , 45 S.Ct. 175, 176.
Two persons were in the insured automobile when the accident occurred. Nancy Leidendeker, a girl of 13 without license to drive, occupied the driver's seat. By her side sat Helen B. Anthony, wife of the assured, an adult holding a driver's license.
The principal point upon which the petitioner now relies is that as the accident occurred when the car was being driven and operated by the young girl contrary to the owner's commands and in violation of California statutes, the policy did not cover his liability.
The policy (incorporated in the findings) under the heading 'Terms and Conditions Forming a Part of This Policy,' provides:
Applicable sections of the California Vehicle Act,-Stats. 1923, pp. 518, 519, 536; Stats.1927, p. 1427; Stats.1931, p. 2108-follow:
Especially pertinent findings by the trial court follow:
When read together no material conflict exists between findings III and XII; there is no real difficulty in understanding the circumstances to which they are addressed. The first contains statements concerning the conduct of one in authority; the second describes in detail what really took place at the moment of collision. The word 'operate' has varying meanings according to the context. Webster's New International Dictionary. One may operate singly with his own hands, or jointly with another, or through one or more agents.
From the findings it appears that when the accident occurred the automobile was not being operated by the assured, his paid driver, a member of his immediate family or a person acting under his direction, within fair intendment of the policy. Contrary to the owner's commands 'insofar as the propulsion of the vehicle was concerned, other than the means of direction, all instrumentalities of said automobile were being physically actuated by said minor' who was inhibited by the statutes from driving or operating a motor vehicle within the State.
Just before the accident, Mrs. Anthony seized the steering wheel and by negligent manipulation of this caused the collision.
If, as found, the automobile was being jointly operated by the wife and the girl the risk was not within the policy. The latter the forbidden by law to operate or drive jointly or singly. If the wife was in control the statute forbade her to permit driving by the girl. In any view, when the [303 U.S. 485, 492] collision occurred the car was being driven or operated in violation of the statutes.
In support of his position respondent relies heavily upon O'Connell v. New Jersey Fidelity & Plate Glass Ins. Co., 201 App.Div. 117, 193 N.Y.S. 911; and Williams v. Nelson, 228 Mass. 191, 117 N.E. 189, Ann.Cas.1918D, 538. These causes, we think, are not in point. They were decided upon facts and circumstances materially different from those here disclosed.
Respondent further submits that petitioner is precluded from any inquiry concerning who actually was driving the car when the accident occurred. He says the entire sequence of events surrounding Nancy Leidendeker was highly material and should have been litigated in the original tort action brought by Coughran against the Anthonys, and based solely upon permissive use. Also, if the facts then known by petitioner had been there revealed, it would have become apparent that the girl lacked permission to drive and that the wife exceeded the terms of her authorization; and that by suppressing these facts petitioner exposed the assured to a liability which otherwise might not have been imposed.
The judgment roll of the tort action is not before us; we are limited to the findings. That action was defended by the petitioner under a nonwaiver agreement; the complaint alleged damages from negligence of the wife as driver and operator imputed to the husband. Defenses now presented by the Insurance Company against liability under the policy were not involved. Joint driving by Mrs. Anthony and the girl was not subject to inquiry.
Moreover, in the circumstances we may not conclude that respondent should prevail because petitioner failed to present facts in the tort action which he says if then presented might have defeated the very judgment upon which he now relies to support his claim. [303 U.S. 485, 493] The judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals must be reversed. The cause will be remanded to the District Court with instructions to enter judgment for the Insurance Company, petitioner here.
Reversed and remanded.
Mr. Justice CARDOZO took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.