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June 2, 1902



Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., White, Peckham, McKenna; Mr. Justice Gray did not hear the argument and took no part in the decision of this case.


[ 186 U.S. Page 426]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

The decision of this case turns upon the significance to be given to the written provision of the policy which provides for insuring "Peter Hagan and Company for account of whom it may concern."

In the District Court Judge McPherson said:

"The decision of the case depends upon the effect to be given to the words 'for whom it may concern.' This clause, so far as it may be in conflict with other language in the policy, must, upon familiar principles, be regarded as dominant. It expresses the special agreement of the parties, for it is in writing, while the conflicting provisions are in print; and general printed conditions usually give way to deliberately chosen written words. Moreover, even if the court doubted which provision should prevail, another well-known rule requires the policy to be construed against the company rather than against the insured; and, therefore, upon either ground, the clause now under consideration is controlling. . . . The first step, therefore, in a given case is to determine what interest the person taking out the policy intended to protect. It is not essential that he should have had any specific individual in mind. It is enough if he intended to protect the interest that afterwards passed to the person injured; and if he so intended, the policy may be adopted afterwards by a subsequent sole or partial owner of the interest, although such owner may have been unknown to the person taking out the insurance, or to the company, at the time the policy was written. In the present case I have no doubt (and I find the fact to be) that Hagan intended to insure, and to keep insured for one year, the entire title to the boat. He did not intend merely to protect such interest as he himself might have from time to time. If this had been his object the policy would more naturally have been taken out in his own name, omitting the qualifying phrase; but he intended to protect the ownership of the boat, whether vested in himself alone,

[ 186 U.S. Page 427]

     or shared with, or transferred to, other persons. This being his intention, and Martin having afterwards adopted the policy by the agreement of sale and by accounting for a proper share of the premium, I think no further difficulty exists. The facts bring the dispute within the rule laid down in Hooper v. Robinson, 98 U.S. 528, and in other cases to which reference need not be made."

The decree of the District Court was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals, with directions to dismiss the libel with costs. Judge Dallas, speaking for that court, said:

"It is true that the written terms of a policy will control where they are in plain conflict with its printed clauses; but no part of the instrument is to be rejected if it can be sustained as a whole, and in the present instance the printed provisions in question and the written words 'for account of whom it may concern,' are not irreconcilably repugnant. That the policy was issued for account of whom it might concern is undeniable, but whom could it concern? Possibly the then existing or future creditors of the boat, or perhaps the constituents of Peter Hagan and Company; but, no matter for whose account the insurance may have been effected, it cannot be supposed that it was taken for the benefit of any one who, by the express, though printed, terms of the contract, was distinctly excluded from having or acquiring any interest under it. It is not necessary to our conclusion that we should question the rule of law which was applied by the court below, and we do not do so. It is not doubted that a policy in the name of a special party, on account of whom it may concern, will cover the interest of the person for whom it was intended by the party who ordered it, although the particular person intended was not known; but we find nothing in this case to support a finding that Hagan intended to insure a subsequent vendee of the boat, or of an interest therein. On the contrary, we think, as we have already said, that the retention in the policy of the provision that it should be entirely void if any transfer in interest, title or possession should be made, absolutely precludes the inference of an intent to make the policy applicable to any person claiming under or by virtue of such a transfer."

[ 186 U.S. Page 428]

     In these two extracts from the opinions delivered in the courts below we find the different views of the judges of those courts upon the question at issue. It is to be observed, in the first place, that the policy in question covers property on the water, viz., a tug boat, yet the printed portion of the policy shows that it was intended generally to be used for insuring property on land. A marine policy was made out upon blanks not intended for that kind of insurance. Consequently many of the printed provisions were wholly inapplicable to insurance of property on the water.

Where a marine policy is thus taken out upon a blank policy providing by many of its terms for insurance on property or goods on land, it becomes doubly important to keep, and apply with strictness, the rule that the written shall prevail over the printed portion of a policy, as in such case the written, even more clearly than usual, will evidence the real contract between the parties. Courts will not endeavor to limit what would otherwise be the meaning and effect of the written language, by resorting to some printed provision ...

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