Peak v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Railroad Crossing

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 353 US 43 (1957)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1957
DECIDED: Mar 25, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for Peak v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1957 in Peak v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 491, Leona Peak versus United States of America.

Mr. Wrinkle.

John S. Wrinkle:

May it please the Court.

This case is hereby writ of certiorari to the Circuit Court of Appeals in the Sixth Circuit.

I think it's -- well, within the views of Mr. Justice Frankfurter's -- on Monday and concurred in by Mr. Justice Harlan.

It originated in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Southern Division.

It's a suit on a policy of National Service Life Insurance.

Charles Oscar Peak Jr., then 18 years of age was inducted in the military service on April the 29th, 1943.

And he applied for and received deposit insurance effective May the 1st, 1943, and he continued to serve until July the 5th, 1943 when he disappeared and no tidings or intelligence had been heard of him, since.

And the suit was filed on the 19th day of February in 1954.

He's insisted in the complaint that presumption of death took effect on the 5th of July, 1950.

Sometime thereafter, Mrs. Peak, Leona Peak, the mother and the beneficiary of the policy applied to the Veterans Administration for the benefits of the policy and that was denied.

And she then filed a suit in the complaint that's charged that he was suffering from chorea, nervousness, general disability, and weakness, despondency and St. Vitus Dance and that he was home loving, devoted to his parents to his only sister that he communicated with them regularly and that they had a letter dated, the 30th of July 1943, and no intelligent or tidings from him since and that in his disabled condition, it's alleged that he was totally and permanently disabled.

That allegation in the complaint is not for seeking to keep the insurance and the fact by virtues having waiver of the premiums on the policy because no act to such application was made nor did Mrs. Peak here will make any such application, unless it could be considered in applying to the Veterans Administration for the benefits of the policy that she did that.

It's also alleged in the declaration that on a private insurance policy in American National Life Insurance Company in which the file there was the beneficiary that the suit was filed in the Chancery Court of Hamilton County, Tennessee, to declare that he was dead and that he died on or about the day to his disappearance, July the 30th, 1943.

That case was heard.

I didn't tried that case and didn't come into this one until some time later, but it was decreed by the chancellor that the conditions that are set out in the complaint that he couldn't have lived for any length of time and that he did die on or about July the 30th, 1943, and that policy was paid.

Now, the Government's plea to the complaint filed by Mrs. Peak was to dismiss first because of lack of jurisdiction in the United States District Court.

And second, because there was no cause of action or grounds for payment stated in -- in the complaint.

And the District Judge construed Section 810 of the Title 38 of the code that was for the purpose, we think, to make uniform throughout the United States, the law with respect to -- in National Service Life Insurance policies that the death couldn't take effect under that statute or be construed to except at the end of the seven-year period.

It is our insistence that -- that statute didn't undertake to repeal and didn't repeal the English common law.

And that the presumption wise at -- July the 30th, 1950, that the soldier was dead but left open in subject to prove as to whether he died on July the 30th and the circumstances of his disappearance, and his physical and mental condition, and his experience in life in whether he could have lived for any lengths of time.

We insist that he died on July the 5th that his nature was such that he certainly would've communicated with his family right away.

If anything had happened to him, he could have communicated.

However, I asked, we, as now alleged in the complaint to accept that he disappeared on the 30th of July.

My understanding is that soldiers at that time recruits were paid $75,000 a month.

He would have earned nearly $75,000, say $72,000, and therefore, the policy usually cost about $6 that would have kept in it in effect for 12 months.

We don't think he did die at the end of 12 months, but we think he died immediately in the facts that are stated here.

Now, the District Judge didn't pass it all upon that question of the statute of limitations of six years.

Here, it was charged in the petition that the statute of limitations was told during the seven years for waiting to see whether he was dead and whether the presumption would ever take effect.