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Supreme Court of the United States
April 30, 1877, Decided; OCTOBER, 1876 Term
No Number in Original
[***2] [*457] [**252] MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.
This was an action on a policy of life assurance issued July 25, 1868, on the joint lives of George F. and Franzisca Schaefer, then husband and wife, payable to the survivor on the death of either. In January, 1870, they were divorced, and alimony was decreed and paid to the wife. There was never any issue of the marriage. They both subsequently married again, after which, in February, 1871, George F. Schaefer died. This action was brought by Franzisca, the survivor.
On the trial of the cause, several exceptions were taken by the defendant to the rulings and charge of the court, and this writ of error is brought to reverse the judgment for alleged error in said rulings and charge.
The first exception was for overruling certain testimony offered by the defendant. The plaintiff, having offered herself as a witness, on her cross-examination admitted that she had employed one Harris as her attorney to file her petition for divorce; and being questioned whether she had not stated to [*458] him, to be embodied in the petition, that Schaefer had been a habitual drunkard for a period of more than [***3] three years prior to the date of filing the petition, denied that she had so stated to him. (Had such been the fact, it would have falsified the statement made in the application for insurance.) The defendant called Harris, and asked him whether the plaintiff had not so stated to him on that occasion. The question was objected to and overruled, as calling for confidential communications between attorney and client. The defendant alleges that herein the court erred, because, by the law of Ohio, such communications are not privileged. An examination of the Ohio statutes renders it doubtful whether the law is as the defendant contends. But if it were, the court did right to exclude the testimony. ] The laws of the State are only to be regarded as rules of decision in the courts of the [**253] United States where the Constitution, treaties, or statutes of the United States have not otherwise provided.When the latter speak, they are controlling; that is to say, on all subjects on which it is competent for them to speak. There can be no doubt that it is competent for Congress to declare the rules of evidence which shall prevail in the courts of the United States, not affecting rights [***4] of property; and where Congress has declared the rule, the State law is silent. Now, the competency of parties as witnesses in the Federal courts depends on the act of Congress in that behalf, passed in 1864, amended in 1865, and codified in the Revised Statutes, sect. 858. It is not derived from the statute of Ohio, and is not subject to the conditions and qualifications imposed thereby. The only conditions and qualifications which Congress deemed necessary are expressed in the act of Congress; and the admission in evidence of previous communications to counsel is not one of them. And it is to be hoped that it will not soon be made such. The protection of confidential communications made to professional advisers is dictated by a wise and liberal policy. If a person cannot consult his legal adviser without being liable to have the interview made public the next day by an examination enforced by the courts, the law would be little short of despotic. It would be a prohibition upon professional advice and assistance.
The other exceptions were to the charge of the court, and [*459] relate to two points: first, to the forbearance note given for a portion of the last renewal [***5] premium; and, secondly, to the alleged failure of interest of the plaintiff in the policy, caused by the divorce of the insured parties.
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94 U.S. 457 *; 24 L. Ed. 251 **; 1876 U.S. LEXIS 1889 ***; 4 Otto 457
CONNECTICUT MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY v. SCHAEFER.
Prior History: [***1] ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio.
The facts are set forth in the opinion of the court.
insured, premium, wager, insurable interest, parties, courts, assurance, indemnity, cessation, policies, divorce
Civil Procedure, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Erie Doctrine, Insurance Law, Business Insurance, Marine & Inland Marine Insurance, General Overview, Types of Insurance, Property Insurance, Insurable Interests, Life Insurance, Insurable Interests, Creditors of Insured, Insured Persons, Relatives of Insured, Expectation of Pecuniary Advantage