« ForrigeFortsett »
strict proof of the averments of the bill respecting the conferences between complainants and their counsel and respecting what was done by them about the preparation of their defense in the action at law, and denied that if the truth of the libelous matter had been pleaded and the evidence of Judge Henderson introduced the result of the trial would have been different; averring that if the pleadings had been such as to admit his testimony the door would have been opened for the admission of other evidence unfavorable to the complainants.
After the filing of this answer the complainants, by leave of the court, amended and supplemented their original bill of complaint by the addition of a considerable amount of new matter. Included in it is an averment that the indictment of Pickford and Walter, as above mentioned, was in fact caused by and through a conspiracy between Talbott and others, with the object of extorting money from the complainants, and that everything done by Talbott in reference to the indictment was done in pursuance of that conspiracy. To this, by a further answer, Talbott entered an unequivocal denial.
Upon these pleadings, and upon proofs submitted by the respective parties in support thereof, the cause was brought to final hearing, with the result already mentioned.
The principles upon which the decision of the case must turn are entirely familiar. In order to warrant the interposition of a court of equity to restrain the enforcement of a judgment at law, it is, of course, not sufficient for the defeated party to show that because of some newly discovered evidence pertaining to an issue in the case, or because of some newly discovered fact that might have been put in issue, he would probably have a better prospect of success on a retrial of the action. He must show something to render it manifestly unconscionable for his successful adversary to enforce the judgment.
As Chief Justice Marshall said: “Without attempting to draw any precise line to which courts of equity will advance, and which they cannot pass, in restraining parties from availing themselves of judgments obtained at law, it may safely be said that any fact which clearly proves it to be against conscience to execute a judgment, and of which the injured party could not have availed himself in a court of law; or of which he might have availed himself at law, but was prevented by fraud or accident unmixed with any fault or negligence in himself or his agents, will justify an application to a court of chancery.” Marine Ins. Co. v. Hodgson, 7 Cranch, 332, 336. Or, as Mr. Justice Curtis expressed it, in Hendrickson v. Hinckley, 17 How. 443, 445: “A court of equity does not interfere with judgments at law, unless the complainant has an equitable defense, of which he could not avail himself at law, because it did not amount to a legal defense, or had a good defense at law, which he was prevented from availing himself of by fraud or accident, unmixed with negligence of himself or his agents.”
One who seeks relief in equity against a judgment at law on the ground that through accident or mistake alone, unmixed with fraud, he has lost the benefit of a defense that would have been available in the court of law, must show entire freedom from fault or neglect on the part of himself and his agents, and must also make it manifest that the judgment against him is wrong on the merits, that he ought in justice to prevail, and that upon a retrial, with the aid of the newly discovered matter of fact or of evidence, it is reasonably certain that he will prevail. Pom. Eq. Jur. (3d ed.) $8 1364, 1365, and notes.
The trial court rested its decision adverse to Talbott upon the theory that if it were true that he had misused his office as State's attorney, and, because of spite or for any other selfish or personal reason, had wrongfully procured an unjust indictment against Pickford and Walter,
he ought not, in equity and good conscience, to be permitted to collect damages against them for publishing his misconduct, because he would thereby be taking advantage of his own wrong. The court recognized that this theory was applicable only if the statements made in the libelous article were true; and, accepting Judge Henderson's testimony as conclusive upon that issue, the court held it to be unconscionable for Talbott to enforce his judgment. We find it unnecessary to test the correctness of the theory, because, like the Court of Appeals, we differ with the trial court upon the question of fact. Under the pleadings, the burden was upon the complainants (now appellants) to prove the official misconduct of Talbott, and this they failed to prove.
The Court of Appeals, correctly considering that most of the evidence was wholly irrelevant to the issues, and that substantially the only material evidence in support of the bill was that of Judge Henderson, and reviewing his testimony in extenso, came to the conclusion that it not only did not conclusively establish the truth of the matters alleged in the libelous article, but did not render it clear beyond reasonable doubt that it would produce a verdict favorable to the complainants if a new trial of the libel suit should be had. Attention was called to the fact that Judge Henderson testified to a conversation had with Talbott about nine years before, of which he had no memorandum to refresh his memory; that his examination showed his memory to be not entirely reliable; that Talbott expressly denied making the incriminatory statements attributed to him; that it was improbable that a lawyer of his standing, holding the important office of State's attorney, would, without apparent motive, deliberately make an admission to any one, much less to the judge of his circuit, that he was using the powers and opportunities of his office for private gain; and that it was improbable that such an admission, if made under such circumstances,
would go unrebuked at the time. With this view we agree.
All question of fraud in the procurement of the judgment at law is thus eliminated. Indeed, counsel for appellants disavow any reliance upon fraud as a ground of relief. To quote from the brief: “The bill makes no averment whatever as to any fraud on the part of the appellee, plaintiff in the law suit, in procuring the judgment in question; the ground on which relief is prayed is accident, as distinguished from fraud.”
Next, we agree with the Court of Appeals that, assuming the newly discovered evidence elicited from Judge Henderson would otherwise be sufficient ground for restraining the enforcement of the judgment, it was incumbent upon the appellants under the pleadings in the present action to prove that their failure to discover evidence of the truth of the libel and plead the same by way of defense in the action at law was not attributable to their own want of diligence. The bill alleges that they made diligent but unsuccessful efforts to discover such evidence, both before and after the filing of their plea. The answer calls for strict proof of this. But the averment is left entirely unsupported by the proofs in the case. Neither Pickford nor Walter nor their counsel in the libel suit gave any evidence tending to show any effort, diligent or otherwise, to discover evidence of the truth of the libel.
We do not hold them negligent merely because of not having sooner discovered that Judge Henderson was available as a witness. He himself testified to the effect that, because of the character of the communication, he was careful not to reveal what was said by Mr. Talbott to him until after the conclusion of the libel suit. But, assuming that what was charged against Mr. Talbott in the newspaper article was true, it is not to be assumed that diligent efforts would have discovered no other evidence of its truth. All of Talbott's dealings with the insurance
companies and with the other persons concerned in his alleged misconduct were within the range of investigation, had diligence been exercised.
Again, one of the peculiar features presented by this case is the following: Appellants, coming into equity for relief on the basis of Judge Henderson's evidence, rely upon it not as newly discovered evidence alone, but as evidence of a newly discovered fact. · Merely as evidence it would not have been admissible on the former trial, justification not having been pleaded. It is upon the fact alleged to have been disclosed by Judge Henderson-the fact being Mr. Talbott's alleged misconduct, and not merely his alleged admission of it—that appellants are relying as a newly discovered defense to the action for libel. Now, the settled rule in equity is that a defense is not to be deemed “newly discovered,” or as lost by “accident or mistake,” if it was or ought to have been within the knowledge of the party when he was called upon for his defense in the action at law. As Lord Hardwicke said, "As to relieving against verdicts, for being contrary to equity, those cases are, where the plaintiff knew the fact of his own knowledge to be otherwise than what the jury find by their verdict, and the defendant was ignorant of it at the trial.” Williams v. Lee, 3 Atk. 223, 224. Chancellor Kent said: “The general rule is, that this court will not relieve against a judgment at law, on the ground of its being contrary to equity, unless the defendant below was ignorant of the fact in question, pending the suit, or it could not have been received as a defense.” Lansing v. Eddy, 1 Johns. Ch. 49, 51. See also Taylor v. Nashville & C. Railroad Co., 86 Tennessee, 228, and cases cited.
But how can the appellants be heard to say that when making their defense at law they were ignorant of the truth of the matters charged against Talbott in the newspaper article, when they themselves were the authors of those charges? Not only do the verdict and judgment in