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BIGELOW V. RKO PICTURES, INC., 327 U. S. 251 (1946)

U.S. Supreme Court

Bigelow v. RKO Pictures, Inc., 327 U.S. 251 (1946)

Bigelow v. RKO Pictures, Inc.

No. 444

Argued February 7, 1946

Decided February 25, 1946

327 U.S. 251


1. Petitioners owned a motion picture theater in Chicago. Some of the respondents were distributors of motion picture films; others owned or controlled motion picture theaters in Chicago. Petitioners sued respondents under the Sherman and Clayton Acts to recover treble damages. The gist of the complaint was that, by reason of an unlawful conspiracy of the respondents, petitioners were prevented from securing pictures for exhibition in their theater until after the preferred exhibitors had been able to show them in earlier and more desirable runs, and that petitioners were thus discriminated against in the distribution of feature films in favor of competing theaters owned or controlled by some of the respondents. It appeared that, after the introduction in 1937 of the practice of showing double features, petitioners were no longer able to secure films which had not had a prior showing. Petitioners charged that,

Page 327 U. S. 252

in consequence of respondents' unlawful acts, they had suffered a loss of earnings in excess of $120,000 during the 5-year period from 1937 to 1942. Two classes of evidence were introduced by petitioners to establish their damage. One was a comparison of earnings during the 5-year period of petitioners' theater with those of a comparable theater of the respondents, which showed a difference of nearly $116,000 in favor of the latter. The second was a comparison of the receipts of petitioners' theater for the five years following July 1937 with the receipts for the four years immediately preceding, which showed a decline aggregating more than $125,000. The jury returned a verdict for petitioners in the sum of $120,000, and the trial court gave judgment for treble that amount. The circuit court of appeals reversed on the sole ground that the evidence of damage was insufficient for submission to the jury, and directed entry of judgment for respondents non obstante veredicto.

Held: that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the verdict for the petitioners. Pp. 327 U. S. 253-254, 327 U. S. 266.

(a) The evidence was ample to support a just and reasonable inference that petitioners were damaged by respondents' acts. P. 327 U. S. 266.

(b) Whatever restraints respondents' distribution system may have imposed, and whether the policy later adopted of showing double features was or was not itself a product of an unlawful conspiracy, petitioners were entitled, as of right, to continue to purchase and show films which had not had prior showing, free of restraints of the unlawful distribution system. P. 327 U. S. 262.

(c) A fair measure of the damage to that right of the petitioners was the loss of petitioners' admission receipts resulting from the operation of the unlawful distributing system. Pp. 327 U. S. 262-263.

(d) The fact that, by reason of respondent's tortious acts in maintaining the discriminatory distribution system, the petitioners were unable to prove what their earnings would have been under freely competitive conditions did not preclude a verdict for the petitioners. P. 327 U. S. 263.

(e) The comparison of petitioners' receipts before and after respondents' unlawful action impinged on petitioners' business afforded a sufficient basis for the jury's computation of the damage where respondents' wrongful action had prevented petitioners from making any more precise proof of the amount of the damages. P. 327 U. S. 266.

2. A jury may not render a verdict based on speculation or guesswork, even where the defendant, by his own wrong, has precluded a more precise computation of damages. But the jury may make

Page 327 U. S. 253

a just and reasonable estimate of the damage based on relevant data, and render its verdict accordingly. In such circumstances, juries are allowed to act on probable and inferential, as well as upon direct and positive, proof. Story Parchment Co. v. Paterson Co., 282 U. S. 555; Eastman Kodak Co. v. Southern Photo Co., 273 U. S. 359. P. 327 U. S. 264.

3. Elementary conceptions of justice and public policy require that the wrongdoer shall bear the risk of the uncertainty in computing damages which his wrong has created. P. 327 U. S. 265.

150 F.2d 877 reversed.

From a judgment for the plaintiffs in a suit for damages under the antitrust acts, the defendants appealed. The circuit court of appeals reversed. 150 F.2d 877. This Court granted certiorari. 3 26 U.S. 709. Reversed, p. 327 U. S. 266.

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