Burley v. German-American Bank

Court Case Details
  • Case Name: Burley v. German-American Bank
  • Court: Supreme Court of the United States
  • Filed: April 07, 1884
  • Precedential Status: Published
  • Citations: 111 U.S. 216, 4 S. Ct. 341, 28 L. Ed. 406, 1884 U.S. LEXIS 1777
  • Docket #: 283
  • Judges: Blatchford
Court Case Opinion
111 U.S. 216 (1884)

BURLEY, Receiver,
v.
GERMAN-AMERICAN BANK.

Supreme Court of United States.

Argued March 28th, 1884.
Decided April 7th, 1884.
IN ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK.

*219 Mr. Henry Decker for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Edward Saloman for defendant in error.

MR. JUSTICE BLATCHFORD delivered the opinion of the court. After stating the facts in the foregoing language he continued:

The admissibility of the evidence must be tested by the rules established in the courts of the State of New York. The Code of Civil Procedure of New York (§ 500) provides as follows: "The answer of the defendant must contain: 1. A general or specific denial of each material allegation of the complaint, controverted by the defendant, or of any knowledge or information thereof sufficient to form a belief. 2. A statement of any new matter constituting a defence or counterclaim, in ordinary and concise language, without repetition." The contention on the part of the plaintiff is, that if an answer alleges new facts as an affirmative defence, it must be a confession and avoidance, and it cannot at the same time be a denial; that this answer does not deny generally the material facts set forth in the complaint, nor state matters that are properly in confession and avoidance; that a general denial would have raised an issue of fact as to title; that this answer is not a general denial of title in the Cook County Bank; that a denial, general or special, cannot contain any affirmative allegation of facts, as a defence, by way of confession and avoidance; that, although the answer was to be accepted at the trial at its value, it amounted, at most, to a special traverse of the allegation of title in the Cook County Bank; and that the testimony for the defendant should have been restrained within the limits of the allegations in such special traverse.

The counsel for the plaintiff is mistaken in treating the two branches of § 500 as in the alternative. A defendant is not limited to the one or the other. He may in his answer embody both a denial, general or special, and a statement of new matter constituting a defence. Such is the express language of the statute.

*220 The complaint in this case avers that the three notes were, at the date when they were paid, the property of the plaintiff. This was a fact which, on a general denial, it was necessary for the plaintiff to prove. The answer does not aver that Bowen owned the notes, but only that he borrowed the money and transferred the notes to the defendant, he then having the legal title to them, and claiming, and the defendant believing him, to be the owner; and that the defendant received the surplus money, and, believing it to belong to Bowen, applied it in the manner stated. There is no statement of ownership in Bowen, or in any other person, at any time, and no admission of ownership in the plaintiff when the notes were paid, which is the only allegation as to ownership in the complaint. Therefore, when the answer then goes on to deny each and every allegation in the complaint except as before in the answer stated or admitted, it necessarily denies the allegation of the complaint as to ownership in the plaintiff. The same thing is true as to the averments in the second defence. They conclude by saying, not that at all times Bowen was the owner, but that the defendant at all times believed him to be the owner; and then a like denial is made as to the second defence. There was no ambiguity about this, and there could be no doubt or surprise. The averment of the complaint as to the plaintiff's ownership was thereby denied, the issue as to that was made, and the defendant had a right to prove anything which went to contradict such ownership, by showing ownership in Bowen or Allen or any one else.

It is provided by § 519 of the Code of Civil Procedure, that the allegations of a pleading must be liberally construed, with a view to substantial justice between the parties; and § 546 provides that where one or more denials or allegations, contained in a pleading, are so indefinite or uncertain that the precise meaning or application thereof is not apparent, the court may require the pleading to be made definite and certain, by amendment. The remedy is by motion, The People v. Ryder, 12 N.Y. 433; and it must be made before trial, in a case like the present, where the objection is that a denial is indefinite or uncertain, and the remedy is not by excluding *221 evidence at the trial. Greenfield v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, 47 N.Y. 430, 437.

But, it is well settled, in New York, that a denial in the form here in question is proper. The form is, that every allegation is denied "except as hereinbefore stated or admitted." In Youngs v. Kent, 46 N.Y. 672, material allegations in a complaint, which, if controverted, presented an issue of fact for trial, were not expressly admitted, and were not alluded to in the statement of special facts alleged in the answer, and it was held that they were to be regarded as controverted under a denial of each and every allegation of the complaint not "herein admitted or stated." In Allis v. Leonard, 46 N.Y. 688, fully reported in 22 Albany Law Journal, 28, the same principle was applied to an answer which admitted certain allegations in a complaint and denied all except those expressly admitted. We regard it as the rule in New York, that a denial such as is found in the answer in this case, in connection with the rest of the answer, is a sufficient denial to raise an issue as to the plaintiff's ownership of the notes and to warrant evidence to show any other ownership. Under such a denial a defendant has a right to prove anything that will show the allegation covered by the denial to be untrue. Wheeler v. Billings, 38 N.Y. 263; Hier v. Grant, 47 Id. 278; Greenfield v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Id. 430, 437; Weaver v. Barden, 49 Id. 286.

The plaintiff also objects that certain testimony brought out on the cross-examination of the witness Blennerhasset was not responsive to anything elicited on his direct examination. But no objection was taken at the trial on that ground. The objection taken was that the testimony was irrelevant, meaning that it was not admissible under the answer, because it tended to prove that Allen owned the notes.

Under the objection of the defendant, the court, at the trial, excluded entries made in the books of the Cook County Bank in June, 1875, after the plaintiff was appointed receiver, and after the notes were paid and after the surplus was appropriated. The exclusion of these entries was proper. The rights of the defendant could not be varied by entries thus *222 made, because they were not contemporaneous entries, made in the due course of the business, as a part of the res gestæ, but were made by one of the parties after the rights of the other party had become fixed.

There is but one more point for consideration. The plaintiff introduced in evidence a deposition of Allen, taken in February, 1879, to the effect that he for himself individually had procured Bowen to obtain the loan from the defendant, and that he used the money, although he did not provide the collaterals, and that he gave no instructions to transfer the three notes or their proceeds to any other account. The plaintiff also put in a second deposition of Allen, taken in December, 1879, in which he stated that these notes belonged to the Cook County Bank when the loan was obtained; that it was obtained for the use of that bank; that he was mistaken in his first deposition, because he had not then carefully considered the matter and was without books and papers to refresh his memory; that the proceeds of the loan went to the credit and benefit of the Cook County Bank; that the surplus of the notes belonged to that bank; and that the reason he believed so was that he never used or attempted to use the surplus, and never gave any direction for its application to any purpose. Afterwards, Bowen, on his examination, was asked by the defendant to state whether Allen gave him any direction as to the use of such surplus. The plaintiff objected generally to the evidence, and the court allowed it as competent in contradiction of the testimony of Allen on the subject. Bowen then testified that Allen told him to appropriate the surplus on the note of Allen indorsed by Bowen, on which it was applied. It is plain that this evidence was competent. It was not offered in impeachment of Allen, as going to show that on some occasion he had told Bowen that he had given instructions to appropriate the surplus of the notes. In such a case it would have been necessary to ask Allen in advance whether he had not told Bowen that he had given such instructions, in order to direct his attention to the specific person to whom it was alleged that he had made a statement that he had given such instructions, when he was now testifying that he had not given such instructions. But *223 the evidence offered was not of that character. The issue on trial was, whether the notes belonged to Allen or the Cook County Bank. To prove they did not belong to Allen, the plaintiff had procured Allen to testify that the reason he believed that the surplus of the notes belonged to the Cook County Bank was because he had never given any directions to apply the surplus to any purpose. The answer stated that the defendant had applied the surplus by direction of Bowen. Then, when Bowen was afterwards examined by the defendant to show that Allen owned the three notes, he testified that Allen told him to apply the surplus on a note of his, indorsed by Bowen, which the defendant had. This was direct proof on a direct issue in the case, and not proof on a collateral matter.

The judgment of the Circuit Court is affirmed.