No. 340.

140 U.S. 226 (1891)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 11, 1891.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Henry Hitchcock for plaintiff in error. Mr. G.A. Madill and Mr. G.A. Finkelnburg were with him on the brief.

Mr. L.C. Krauthoff for defendant in error. Mr. Matthew A. Fyke was with him on the brief.

MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

Upon the question whether the contract sued on was made in New York or in Missouri, there is nothing in the record, except the policy and application, the petition and answer, by which the facts appear to have been as follows: The assured was a resident of Missouri, and the application for the policy was signed in Missouri. The policy, executed at the defendant's office in New York, provides that "the contract between the parties hereto is completely set forth in this policy and the application therefor, taken together." The application declares that the contract "shall not take effect until the first premium shall have been actually paid during the life of the person herein proposed for assurance." The petition alleges that that premium and two annual premiums were paid in Missouri. The answer expressly admits the payment of the three premiums, and, by not controverting that they were paid in Missouri, admits that fact also, if material. Missouri Rev. Stat. 1879, § 3545. The petition further alleges that the policy was delivered in Missouri; and the answer admits that the policy was, "at the request of the said Wall, transmitted to the State of Missouri and was delivered to said Wall in said State." If this form of admission does not imply that the policy was at the request of Wall transmitted to another person, perhaps the company's agent, in Missouri, and by him there delivered to Wall, it is quite consistent with such a state of facts; and there is no evidence whatever, or even averment, that the policy was transmitted by mail directly to Wall, or that the company signified to Wall its acceptance of his application in any other way than by the delivery of the policy to him in Missouri. Upon this record, the conclusion is inevitable that the policy never became a completed contract, binding either party to it, until the delivery of the policy and the payment of the first premium in Missouri; and consequently that the policy is a Missouri contract and governed by the laws of Missouri.

By the Revised Statutes of Missouri of 1879, in force when this policy was made, it was enacted as follows: By § 5983, "no policy of insurance on life, hereafter issued by any life insurance company authorized to do business in this State, shall, after payment upon it of two full annual premiums, be forfeited or become void, by reason of the nonpayment of premium thereon; but it shall be subject to the following rules of commutation, to wit:" The net value of the policy is to be computed, and the insurance is to continue in force for the full amount of the policy for such time as three-fourths of such net value will be a premium for, according to the rules of commutation prescribed in that section. By § 5984, the holder of the policy, within sixty days from the beginning of such temporary insurance, may elect to take a paid-up policy for such amount as the net value aforesaid would be a premium for. By § 5985, if the assured dies within the term of temporary insurance, as determined by § 5983, and there has been no breach of any other condition of the policy, "the company shall be bound to pay the amount of the policy, the same as if there had been no default in the payment of premium, anything in the policy to the contrary notwithstanding."

The manifest object of this statute, as of many statutes regulating the form of policies of insurance on lives or against fires, is to prevent insurance companies from inserting in their policies conditions of forfeiture or restriction, except so far as the statute permits. The statute is not directory only, or subject to be set aside by the company with the consent of the assured; but it is mandatory, and controls the nature and terms of the contract into which the company may induce the assured to enter. This clearly appears from the unequivocal words of command and of prohibition above quoted, by which, in § 5983, "no policy of insurance" issued by any life insurance company authorized to do business in this State "shall, after the payment of two full annual premiums, be forfeited or become void, by reason of the nonpayment of premium thereon; but it shall be subject to the following rules of commutation;" and, in § 5985, that if the assured dies within the term of temporary insurance, as determined in the former section, "the company shall be bound to pay the amount of the policy," "anything in the policy to the contrary notwithstanding."

This construction is put beyond doubt by § 5986, which, by specifying four cases (two of which relate to the form of the policy) in which the three preceding sections "shall not be applicable," necessarily implies that those sections shall control all cases not so specified, whatever be the form of the policy.

Of the cases so specified, the only ones in which the terms of the policy are permitted to differ from the plan of the statute are the first and second, which allow the policy to stipulate for the holder's receiving the full benefit, either in cash, or by a new paid-up policy, of the three-fourths of the net value, as determined by §§ 5983 and 5984. The other two cases specified do not contemplate or authorize any provision in the contract itself inconsistent with the statute; but only permit the holder to surrender the policy, either in lieu of a new policy, or for a consideration adequate in his judgment. In defining each of these two cases, the statute, while allowing the holder to make a new bargain with the company, at the time of surrendering the policy, and upon such terms as, on the facts then appearing, are satisfactory to him, yet significantly, and, it must be presumed, designedly, contains nothing having the least tendency to show an intention on the part of the legislature that the company might require the assured to agree in advance that he would at any future time surrender the policy or lose the benefit thereof, upon any terms but those prescribed in the statute.

It follows that the insertion, in the policy, of a provision for a different rule of commutation from that prescribed by the statute, in case of default of payment of premium after three premiums have been paid; as well as the insertion, in the application, of a clause by which the beneficiary purports to "waive and relinquish all right or claim to any other surrender value than that so provided, whether required by a statute of any State, or not;" is an ineffectual attempt to evade and nullify the clear words of the statute.

Judgment affirmed.


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