Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Hillmon

145 U.S. 285, 12 S. Ct. 909 (1892)

 

RULE:

The consolidation of actions for trial, because they appear to the court to be of like nature and relative to the same question, because it will avoid unnecessary cost and delay, and because it is reasonable to do so, is within the discretionary power of the court. 

FACTS:

Plaintiff sought recovery from three separate defendant insurance companies who issued life insurance policies on her husband. Plaintiff claimed that her husband was killed in an accidental shooting and his body was buried following an inquest. Defendants claimed that the body was that of the deceased's travelling companion and not the deceased himself. The United States Supreme Court found that exclusion of defendants' introduction of the travelling companion's letters to his fiance for the purpose of establishing his intent to accompany the insured was error. The Court found that the lower court's allocation of only three peremptory challenges among defendants was error because defendants each had the right to three challenges and consolidation for purposes of judicial economy did not divest them of their individual rights.

ISSUE:

Was the lower’s courts allocation of only three peremptory challenges among defendants at their consolidated trial considered an error?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The order of the Circuit Court that the three actions be consolidated for trial, because they appeared to the court to be of like nature and relative to the same question, because it would avoid unnecessary cost and delay, and because it was reasonable to do so, was within the discretionary power of the court, under section 921 of the Revised Statutes, which provides, in substantial accordance with the act of July 22, 1813, c. 14, § 3, (3 Stat. 21,) that "when causes of a like nature or relative to the same question are pending before a court of the United States, or of any Territory, the court may make such orders and rules concerning proceedings therein as may be conformable to the usages of courts for avoiding unnecessary costs or delay in the administration of justice, and may consolidate said causes when it appears reasonable to do so." Thus, the Court reversed the judgment against defendants because it was error to exclude letters as evidence of a then existing state of mind and error to allocate three peremptory challenges in a consolidated action when each defendant, individually, had the right to three challenges.

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