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Breheny v. County of Essex

Decided: January 24, 1946.


On appeal from the Supreme Court, whose opinion is reported in 132 N.J.L. 584.

For the appellants, Maurice C. Brigadier.

For the respondent, David Roskein (John A. Laird, of counsel).


The opinion of the court was delivered by

HEHER, J. It is a rule of general application that a party shall not be heard in an appellate court upon a point not raised and considered in the court below. Jacob Ruppert v.

Jernstedt & Co., 116 N.J.L. 214; Garretson v. Appleton, 58 Id. 386; Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Co. v. Daily, 37 Id. 526. But here the sole issue determined by the Compensation Bureau was whether the injured employee had sustained the burden of establishing an increase of the disability previously found to have ensued from a compensable accident; and, if it be conceded arguendo that the omission would preclude the application of the rule of unfavorable inference on the subsequent factual reviews, we have no means of knowing from the record submitted whether, in the course of appellants' analysis of the evidence and marshalling of the facts before the Bureau, it was argued that respondent's failure to call as witnesses his then attending physician and three physicians who had testified in his behalf in the original proceeding reasonably gives rise to the inference that their testimony would not have supported the hypothesis that respondent's present condition of total and permanent incapacity is referable to the accident. The arguments of counsel are not a part of the record; and we are not at liberty to assume that this particular mode of reasoning was overlooked by counsel or ignored by the Bureau in the weighing of the evidence in the case at hand. It is not requisite that it affirmatively appear that every such precept or rule for testing the worth of evidence was cited by counsel in his argument. It is to be presumed that the judicial or quasi -judicial authority charged with the exercise of the fact-finding function has been guided in the individual case by the elementary standards laid down by the law for weighing and appraising the proofs. It is conceded that here the question was specifically raised, without objection, in the Essex Pleas, although it is not given mention either in the conclusions or the formal determination of that tribunal.

And the rule thus invoked is but one facet of the process of reasoning by which testimony is assessed to determine whether the onus of proof has been satisfied; and its application is indispensable to the fulfillment of that function. Evidence is not alone to be evaluated by its own intrinsic weight. As said by Lord Mansfield in Blatch v. Archer, Cowp. 63, 65, it is a maxim of the law that "all evidence is to be weighed

according to the proof which it was in the power of one side to have produced, and in the power of the other to have contradicted." Testimony of a weaker and inferior quality is to be cautiously scrutinized when more certain and explicit evidence is within the power of the party who has the burden of proving the fact in issue, and there is no satisfactory explanation for its non-production. An unfavorable inference may be drawn from the non-production of witnesses whose testimony would be superior in respect to the fact in issue. Wigmore on Evidence (3d ed.), § 287.

The withholding of the better-informed testimony suggests fear of exposure of facts adverse to that party. It tends to impeach the integrity of the evidence produced. This is particularly so where the better evidence is peculiarly within the knowledge and reach of the party upon whom the onus of proof rests. But the failure to introduce evidence that is comparatively unimportant or cumulative does not necessarily signify the motivation of fear or apprehension as to the tenor of the witness' testimony. Ibid., § 287.

The Supreme Court was under a duty to weigh the evidence and make its own independent findings of fact. R.S. 2:81-8, 34:15-66; Mixon v. Kalman, 133 N.J.L. 113. And this statutory function cannot be fulfilled if the court is thus circumscribed in the application of the principles that are fundamental in the appraisement of the proofs. The rule in question, after all, makes for the attainment of justice through orderly administration; and it has no application when the ends of justice or the statutory policy would be thereby disserved.

In the present circumstances, this court may determine the facts and direct the entry of judgment in conformity therewith. Harman v. Reed, 108 N.J.L. 191; Vanderbach v. Hudson County Board of Taxation, 133 Id. 126. This course has the virtue of putting an end to ...

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