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American Railway Express Co. v. McDermott

October 31, 1930

AMERICAN RAILWAY EXPRESS CO.
v.
MCDERMOTT



Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Oliver B. Dickinson, Judge.

Author: Davis

Before BUFFINGTON, WOOLLEY, and DAVIS, Circuit Judges.

DAVIS, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the District Court based upon false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.

McDermott, the plaintiff below, was employed by the defendant, American Railway Express Company, from June, 1920, until October 14, 1925. On the latter date he was working as a receiving clerk in the defendant's office at Eighteenth and Market streets, Philadelphia, Pa., in what is known as the cut-off or value room. This is the room to which the deliverymen employed by the company return shipments or packages which they are unable to deliver during the day. The plaintiff's duty was to give receipts to the deliverymen for the undelivered packages which are kept overnight in this room for delivery or other disposition the following day.

On October 14, 1925, the defendant, through its agents and servants, charged plaintiff with opening a sample case, taking an overcoat from it, closing the case, and placing the overcoat on a shelf behind a post in the value room where he was working. He was taken to the sixth floor of the building and was questioned and "grilled" for about two hours, by persons connected with the defendant company, but he stoutly denied the charge. He says that one of the officers of the defendant "attempted to force information from him by the use of force and violence." He was then, between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning, taken by one of the defendant's officers to the city hall in Philadelphia, slated and locked up in a cell, where he remained until 5 o'clock that morning when his father secured his release on bail.

The following day he was given a hearing before Magistrate Edward J. Holland in the central police court in Philadelphia. The case was continued to October 22, 1925. At the conclusion of the hearing on that date, he was discharged for lack of sufficient evidence.

A few days thereafter plaintiff called at the defendant's office for his unpaid wages of $50. He was asked to sign a paper releasing the defendant from liability for his arrest, but he refused, and the defendant refused to pay him. He called several times thereafter and was each time requested to sign a release, but he refused and he was not paid. He then applied to the small claims division of the municipal court of Philadelphia for aid in securing the amount due him. It communicated with the defendant which notified the clerk of the court to have McDermott call at defendant's office on the morning of November 23, 1925, at 9 o'clock and the amount would be paid him. The plaintiff called as requested. He was again asked to sign a release, and, when he refused, he was paid and then arrested by an officer of the company, again locked up in a cell in city hall until 4 o'clock that afternoon when he was released on bail.On the following day he was given a hearing before a magistrate in West Philadelphia, was held under $600 bail, was indicted and on January 25, 1926, was tried in quarter sessions court in Philadelphia and acquitted. He thereupon brought this suit to recover damages for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. The case was tried to the court and jury, and a verdict for $5,000 damages was rendered for the plaintiff, and, from the judgment entered thereon, the defendant appealed to this court.

The learned District Judge in his charge to the jury instructed it that cases of this general character were divided into three classes:

(1) Cases in which there was reasonable ground and probable cause for the prosecution;

(2) Cases in which there was an absence of reasonable ground and probable cause, but in which there was no malice in fact in the sense of evil motive for the prosecution, and

(3) Cases in which there was a like absence of excuse for the prosecution, coupled with actual malice arising out of evil motives.

After defining the third class, he further charged them as follows:

"There is a second class in which probable grounds does not exist or probable cause for prosecution does not exist, and yet the person may have acted from no bad motive. I charge you that in that class of cases if there was no reasonable ground, no probable cause for the prosecution, then the person thus unjustly charged may recover, but in that case they are limited in their claim for damages to what are called 'compensatory damages'; they are entitled to recover for the actual damages, money ...


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