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FARMERS' AND MERCHANTS' INSURANCE COMPANY v. DOBNEY.

decided: April 6, 1903.

FARMERS' AND MERCHANTS' INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
DOBNEY.



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEBRASKA.

Author: White

[ 189 U.S. Page 302]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

Having been adjudged to pay the amount of a fire policy written on the dwelling house of the defendant in error, which was totally destroyed by fire, the plaintiff in error prosecutes this writ. The judgment was for $861.40 with interest, costs, and $150 as a reasonable attorney's fee. This latter amount was fixed under authority conferred on the court by sections 43, 44 and 45 of chapter 43 of the Compiled Statutes of Nebraska, which are a reproduction of chapter 48 of the laws of Nebraska for 1899. The sections in question are reproduced in the margin.*fn1 The allowance of the attorney's fee is the basis of the Federal right asserted. It is moved to dismiss the writ on the ground that the Federal right was not specially set up

[ 189 U.S. Page 303]

     below as required by Rev. Stat. 709, or was in any event alleged too late to enable the Supreme Court of Nebraska to consider it. Among the assignments of error contained in the petition in error filed before the hearing in the Supreme Court of Nebraska was the following:

"Section 45 of chapter 43 of te Compiled Statutes, under which the court assumed to allow and order an attorney fee to be taxed, is unconstitutional and void for want of mutuality of the provisions and for excluding defendant from the benefits and privileges thereby given to plaintiff, and for depriving defendant of the equal protection of the laws; in each of which particulars the said section is in conflict with section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment ot the Constitution of the United States,d and in conflict with section 3 of article 1 and section 15 of article 3 of the constitution of Nebraska."

The case was considered by commissioner appointed pursuant to the Nebraska law to aid the Supreme Court of the State in the discharge of its duties. The commission in an elaborate opinion recommended the affirmance of the judgment. In such opinion the assignment of error concerning the attorney's fee, above quoted, was considered and numerous cases decided by the Supreme Court of Nebraska sustaining its allowance under the statute in question were referred to. It was said in the opinion that the legality of the attorney's fee "was not an open question in this State" because the right to allow the fee had been previously sustained by the Supreme Court of the State in many cases. A passage from the case of Lancashire Insurance Company v. Bush, 60 Nebraska, 116, expressly declaring that the statute concerning the allowance of the attorney's fee was consistent both with the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Nebraska, was approvingly cited, the passage in question being as follows:

"These decisions are vigorously attacked, but we are convinced, as the result of further investigation of the subject, that they are sound and should be adhered to. There is nothing in the Constitution of the United States, or of this State, which forbids classification of subjects for the purpose of legislation."

The Supreme Court of Nebraska, for the reasons stated in

[ 189 U.S. Page 304]

     the report of the commission, affirmed the judgment. 62 Nebraska, 213. It results that not only was the Federal question relied upon specially called to the attention of the Supreme Court of the State of Nebraska, but it was by that court expressly decided. The grounds upon which the motion to dismiss is predicated are, therefore, without merit, and it is overruled.

All the grounds relied upon to demonstrate that the statute allowing a reasonable attorney's fee in case of the unsuccessful defence of a suit to enforce certain insurance policies is repugnant to the equality clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, are embraced in the following propositions: First, because it arbitrarily subjects insurance companies to a liability for attorney's fees when other defendants in other classes of cases are not subjected to such burden; second, because whilst the obligation to pay attorney's fee is imposed on insurance companies in the cases embraced by the statute, no such burden rests on the plaintiff in favor of the insurance companies where the suit on a policy is successfully defended; and, third, because the statute arbitrarily distinguishes between insurance policies by allowing an attorney's fee in case of a suit on a policy covering real estate, where the property has been totally destroyed, and excluding the right to such fees in suits to enforce policies on other classes of property or where there has not been a total destruction of the property covered by the insurance. Each and all of these propositions must rest on the assumption that contracts of insurance, generically considered, do not possess such distinctive attributes as to justify their classification separate from other contracts, and that contracts of insurance as between themselves may not be classified separately depending upon the nature of the insurance, the character of the property covered, and the extent of the loss ...


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