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VAN SANT v. AMERICAN EXPRESS CO.

July 20, 1945

VAN SANT
v.
AMERICAN EXPRESS CO.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WATSON

This is a suit for damages resulting from an alleged willful, unjust and malicious prosecution and imprisonment of the plaintiff by the defendant. The case was tried before the court and a jury. After both parties had rested, and after hearing arguments of counsel on both sides, the court granted the defendant's point for binding instructions, and instructed the jury to find a verdict for the defendant. The case is now before the court on a motion by the plaintiff for a new trial.

The burden was upon the plaintiff to show want of probable cause for the criminal proceedings. If any criminal proceedings were instituted by the defendant they were instituted on March 12, 1941, when the Philadelphia representative of the defendant suggested that a warrant be issued for the arrest of the plaintiff and a warrant was sworn out by Detective Galen of the Philadelphia police.

 After receiving the above mentioned letter of January 30, 1941, from Inspector Monaghan of Pittsburgh advising the defendant that seven people had identified the picture of Edna Van Sant, the defendant received another letter from the same source, about the eighth of February, 1941, advising it that the photograph of the plaintiff had been 'positively identified as the woman who passed the money orders' in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. About February 10, 1941, a letter was received by the defendant from the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia stating that plaintiff's husband was arrested on a charge of passing a forged check. Following a suggestion contained in the letter, James J. Bulger, Inspector of defendant company, communicated with the sheriff of Frederick County, Maryland, requesting specimens of handwriting of the plaintiff. Bulger received information about the charge against plaintiff's husband and was told that though plaintiff was 'apprehended' with her husband, 'since there were no charges against her she was released immediately.' Shortly after this letter was received, defendant received a telegram from the sheriff of Frederick County informing it of plaintiff's address in Baltimore.

 On March 12, 1941, a warrant was sworn out for the arrest of the plaintiff by Detective Galen of the Philadelphia police at the order of Lieutenant Murphy on information received. On March 13, 1941, Bulger came to Philadelphia and he accompanied Detective Galen and a police woman of the Philadelphia police to Baltimore, in which city the plaintiff had been taken into custody by the authorities. Bulger, Galen, the policewoman, and the plaintiff all stopped at plaintiff's apartment to enable the plaintiff to pack her things and then left for Philadelphia, plaintiff having waived extradition. All fares for the trip were paid for by the defendant. Plaintiff was held at City Hall, and the following day, March 14, 1941, seven to ten people who had accepted the forged money orders were present at the request of the police. Of the seven or ten there were four who identified the plaintiff as the person who had passed the money orders.

 With the foregoing evidence before the court, which was uncontradicted, the court, in directing the jury to render a verdict for the defendant, made the following statement to the jury:

 'This Defendant had been reliably informed, which information was uncontradicted:

 '1. That photographs of Frances Van Sant had been identified in January, 1941 by seven victims who cashed money orders, as being photographs of the person who passed the money orders, and that a warrant had been issued in Pittsburgh for her arrest. All of this was before the prosecution was started by this Defendant.

 '2. That Frances Van Sant was identified from her photograph in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, in February, 1941, as the woman who passed some of the American Express Company money orders of the same series and book as those passed in Pittsburgh.

 '3. That, on February 6, 1941, a grand jury, at Pittsburgh, indicted Frances Van Sant for forgery of American Express money orders of the same series and book; and

 '4. That Frances Van Sant and William Van Sant were arrested on October 29, 1940, in the District of Columbia, on a fugitive warrant. William Van Sant was charged with passing a United States Traveler's check in the amount of $ 20. on the Exchange National Bank of New York, a non-existing bank.

 'Therefore, under the law, there is no need for a finding by you as to the facts upon which the existence of probable cause is to be based; and it is the sole function of the trial judge to make this determination.

 'That the plaintiff did not meet the burdent which was upon her to show want of probable cause for the criminal proceedings, I have no doubt; and further, I am of the opinion that, under the evidence, the Defendant ...


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