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    DOYLE v. UNION PAC. R. CO., 147 U.S. 413 (1893)

    U.S. Supreme Court

    DOYLE v. UNION PAC. R. CO., 147 U.S. 413 (1893)

    147 U.S. 413

    UNION PAC. RY. CO., (two cases.)

    Nos. 100, 101.

    January 23, 1893

    T. M. Patterson, for plaintiff in error. [147 U.S. 413, 414]   John F. Dillon and Harry Hubbard, for defendant in error.

    Mr. Justice SHIRAS delivered the opinion of the court.

    In the early part of November, A. D. 1883, Marcella Doyle, a widow with a family of six children, agreed with the Union Pacific Railway Company to occupy the company's section house situated on the line of the railroad at or near Woodstock, in the county of Chaffee and state of Colorado, and to board at said section house such section hands and other employes of the company as it should desire at the rate of $4.50 per week, to be paid by the persons so to be boarded, and the company agreed to aid her in collecting her pay for such board by retaining the same for her out of the wages of the employes so to be boarded.

    Mrs. Doyle moved with her children into the section house, and continued in the discharge of her duties as boarding housekeeper until the 10th day of March, A. D. 1884, when a snowslide overwhelmed the section house, injured Mrs. Doyle, and crushed to death the six children residing with her.

    Subsequently, Marcella Doyle brought, in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Colorado, two actions against the Union Pacific Railway Company,-one for her personal injuries; the other for damages suffered by her in the loss of her children,-and which latter action was based on a statute of the state of Colorado.

    The actions resulted in verdicts and judgments in favor of the defendant company, and the cases have been brought to this court by writs of error. As the cases turn upon the same facts and principles of law, they can be disposed of together.

    The record discloses that the facts of the case, as claimed by the respective parties, and certain admission by the defendant company, were stated in a bill of exceptions, and upon which instructions by the court were given which are made the subject of the assignments of error.

    The bill of exceptions was as follows:

    To the answers of the court to the prayers for instructions, and to the charge, the plaintiff has filed 13 assignments of error.

    The twelfth assignment alleges that 'the circuit court erred in charging the jury substantially to the effect that they must find for the defendant;' and in the brief of the plaintiff in error it is asserted that the answers of the court to the several requests for instructions were in effect directions to the jury to find for the defendant.

    Although, in point of fact, the court did not give the jury peremptory instructions to find for the defendant, but left the cases to them on instructions under which they might have found verdicts for the plaintiff, yet the validity of the plaintiff's exceptions to the court's treatment of the cases may be conveniently tested by assuming, for the present, that the [147 U.S. 413, 422]   charge and instructions legally amounted to a direction to find for the defendant. If an examination of the facts and of the principles of law involved warrants us in concluding that the court would have been justified in so doing, it will not be necessary to consider each and every assignment of error, nor to minutely scan isolated expressions used by the court.

    The first question to be determined is, what was the relation between the plaintiff and the railway company? Was Mrs. Doyle a servant or employe of the company, aiding in the transaction of its business and subject to its directions, or was she a tenant at will holding the premises by an occupation during the will of the company? The facts averred by the plaintiff show that the company was not interested, in a legal sense, in the management of the boarding house; did not receive the board money, pay the expenses, take the profits, or suffer the losses. The company could not call upon her for any account, nor could she demand payment from the company for any services rendered by her in carrying on the boarding house. The fact that the company agreed to aid her in collecting what might be due to her from time to time by the boarders, by withholding moneys out of the wages payable to them by the railroad company, did not convert Mrs. Doyle into a servant of the company, or change her relation to the company as a tenant at will of the company's house. Such an arrangement might equally have been made if Mrs. Doyle had been the owner of the house. The court below was not in error in holding that the relation of the parties was that of landlord and tenant.

    If, then, such was the relation of the parties, upon what principle can a liability for the damages occasioned by the snowslide be put upon the company? There was neither allegation nor proof of fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit on the part of the defendant company as to the condition of the premises. Indeed, it was not even pretended that the catastrophe was in any way occasioned by the condition of the house.

    It was, indeed, alleged that the section house was built near the base of a high and steep mountain, and in a place subject [147 U.S. 413, 423]   to snowslides, and dangerous on that account; that the company was aware of said danger; that the plaintiff and her children had never before resided in a region of country subject to snowslides, and had no knowledge of snowslides or of their indications, or of the dangers incident thereto; and that the company did not at any time notify or apprise the plaintiff or her children of the danger of snowslides or of the liability of snowslides at such place where said section then was, or in that locality; and upon this alleged state of facts it was contended that the jury had a right to find that the railway company was guilty of carelessness or disregard of duty towards the plaintiff such as to make it liable in these actions.

    It is, however, well settled that the law does not imply any warranty on the part of the landlord that the house is reasonably fit for occupation; much less does it imply a warranty that no accident should befall the tenant from external forces, such as storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, or snowslid s. The law is thus stated in a well-known work on Landlord and Tenant:

    The principles applicable to the present case have been well stated in the recent case of Bowe v. Hunking, 135 Mass. 380. The syllabus states the case and decision as follows:

    The judge directed a verdict for defendants, and the supreme court sustained this ruling. Field, J., giving the opinion of the court, said, ( page 383:)

    This rule of caveat emptor has been applied also in many other cases, some of which we now refer to.

    Keates v. Earl of Cadogan, above cited, was an action on the case. The declaration stated in substance that the defendant knew that the house was in such a ruinous and dangerous state as to be dangerous to enter, occupy, or dwell in, and was likely to fall, and thereby do damage to persons and property therein; that the plaintiff was without any knowledge, notice, or information whatever that the said house was in said state or condition; that the defendant let the house to plaintiff without giving plaintiff any notice of the condition of the house; and [147 U.S. 413, 426]   that plaintiff entered, and his wife and goods and business were injured. Defendant demurred to the declaration, and the court unanimously sustained the demurrer. Jervis, C. J., giving the opinion, said, (page 600:)

    The rule of caveat emptor was also applied in the recent case of Woods v. Cotton Co., 134 Mass. 357. Defendant was owner of a tenement house fitted for four families, and plaintiff was tenant at will, or wife of tenant at will. There were three stone steps leading down from the yard to the street, on which ice and snow had accumulated, and on which plaintiff slipped and received the injury complained of. There was evidence tending to prove that, at the time plaintiff was injured she was in the exercise of due care. The jury viewed the premises. Plaintiff contended that the steps were of such material, and constructed in such manner, that they occasioned the accumulation of snow and ice thereon improperly, and that the defendant's omission to place a rail on either side, or to take other reasonable measures to prevent one from falling, was such negligence as would render the defendant liable; but the trial court held there was no evidence to go to the jury, and directed a verdict for defendant, and the supreme court sustained this ruling. Field, J., giving the opinion, says, (page 359:)

    Hazlett v. Powell, 30 Pa. St. 293, was an action of replevin, in which an apportionment of rent was claimed by the tenant of an hotel, on the ground that he had been partially evicted by the act of an adjoining owner in building so that the tenant's light and air from one side of his hotel were shut off or obstructed, and, as a result, that the hotel was rendered pro tanto unfit for the purpose for which it was intended to be used. There was an offer to prove certain facts, (page 294,) which the court states as follows, (page 297:)

    In the recent case of Viterbo v. Friedlander, 120 U.S. 712 , 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 962, Mr. Justice Gray, who delivered the opinion of the court, said, in contrasting the doctrines of the common and civil law: 'By that law (the common law, unlike the civil law) the lessor is under no implied covenant to repair, or even that the premises shall be fit for the purpose for which they are leased.'

    The plaintiff's evidence failed wholly to show that there was any special and secret danger from snowslides which was known only to the railway company, and which could not have been ascertained by the plaintiff. It was, indeed, alleged [147 U.S. 413, 430]   that 'the section house was in a place of danger from snowslides;' but this was plainly the danger that impended over any house placed, as this one necessarily was, on a mountain side in a country subject to heavy falls of snow. The danger referred to was that incident to the region and the climate, and, in the eye of the law, as well known to the plaintiff as to the defendant.

    On a careful reading of the plaintiff's evidence we are unable to see that the jury could have been permitted to find any positive act of negligence on the part of the railroad company, or any omission by it to disclose to the plaintiff any fact which it was the company's duty to disclose.

    If, then, the plaintiff's case, as it appeared in her evidence, would not have justified a verdict on the ground of negligence or a fraudulent suppression of facts, and as the determination of the nature of the relation between the parties, as that of landlord and tenant, was clearly the function of the court, there would, in our opinion, have been no error if the court had really given a peremptory instruction to the jury to find for the defendant.

    However, the record discloses that the court permitted the cases to go to the jury. It is true that the remarks made by the judge must have indicated to the jury that his own view was against the plaintiff's right to recover; but it has often been held by this court that it is not a reversible error in the judge to express his own opinion of the facts, if the rules of law are correctly laid down, and if the jury are given to understand that they are not bound by such opinion. Baltimore & P. R. Co. v. Baptist Church, 137 U.S. 568 , 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 185; Simmons v. U. S., 142 U.S. 148 , 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 171.

    It is not necessary for us to review in detail the criticisms made in the several instructions, for, as we have seen, even if such instructions had amounted, in a legal effect, to a direction to find for the defendant, no error would have been committed.

    It is obvious that these views of the case of Marcella Doyle, claiming for her personal injuries, are equally applicable to her suit, under the statute, for the loss of her children. The [147 U.S. 413, 431]   latter must be regarded as having entered under their mother's title, and not by reason of any invitation, express or implied, from the railway company; and hence they assumed a like risk, and are entitled to no other legal measure of redress.

    No error being disclosed by these records, the judgment of the court below is in each case affirmed.

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