upholding agreement in which employees agreed to accept a 10% reduction in their salaries, something that was illegal under federal law at the time, in order to keep their jobsSummary of this case from FISHER v. GE MEDICAL SYSTEMS
E. B. Baker, Harry J. Schaeffer and Joe N. Hunter, all of Chattanooga, for complainants.
Moon s&sAnderson, W. A. Wilkerson and E. K. Meacham, all of Chattanooga, for defendant.
The policemen and firemen have filed a petition to rehear. The insistence therein renewed is that 'the Court erred in not holding that the petitioners were entitled to recover all funds deducted from their salaries after the passage of the 1935 Act by the Legislature [Priv. Acts 1935, c. 467], said act creating an express trust fund for the payment of these salaries, and a trust that estoppel would not apply to and against which the statute of limitations would not run'. The same insistence is made as to the 1927 Act, Priv. Acts 1927, c. 692.
If the rule of equitable estoppel does apply, and we have so held, then that is conclusive of the case, and renders unnecessary any consideration of the question as to whether the statute of limitations would bar the claims.
Under the 1927 Act, the salaries of these petitioners were paid out of the general funds of the City. The 1935 Act did not change this further than to provide in substance that if the general funds were insufficient to pay these salaries, then a certain portion of the deficiency under certain contingencies should be paid out of whatever might be left, if any, from delinquent taxes collected, after there had been spent from those delinquent taxes the amount which the City had elected to appropriate for other purposes.
The rights given by these two statutes to these firemen and policemen are not repudiated by applying the rule of equitable estoppel in this case. That rule simply precludes these firemen and policemen from asserting those rights, because their conduct has been such that the assertion of these rights is unconscientious and inequitable. The foundation of the rule 'is justice and good conscience. Its object is to prevent the unconscientious and inequitable assertion or enforcement of claims or rights which might have existed * * *'. Evans v. Belmont Land Co., 92 Tenn. 348, 365, 21 S.W. 670, 673. It 'is the effect of the voluntary conduct of a party, whereby he is absolutely precluded both at law and in equity for asserting rights which might perhaps have otherwise existed * * *'. Memphis Consol. Gass&s Electric Co. v. Simpson, 118 Tenn. 532, 540, 103 S.W. 788.
Long ago this Court applied the rule of equitable estoppel to the attempted enforcement of asserted rights of femes covert, Cooley v. Steele, 39 Tenn. 605, and of infants, Barham v. Turbeville,Kallock v. Elward, 31 Tenn. 437, 57 Am.Dec. 782, and did so in the last mentioned case with the statement that 'neither infants nor femes covert are privileged to practice deception or cheats'. We think it logically impossible to conjure up any reason why these firemen and policemen should be treated differently and held immune from the rule because of the contents of the 1927 or 1935 statutes. In 118 Me. 346, 108 A. 256, 258, 8 A.L.R., 750, the Supreme Court of Maine held that 'a statute cannot stand in the way of waiver or equitable estoppel when the facts demand their application in the interest of justice and right'.
As late as the case of Church of Christ v. McDonald, 180 Tenn. 86, 96, 171 S.W.2d 817, 821, 146 A.L.R. 1173, this Court said that 'the general current of our decisions on the subject tends to a liberal application of the doctrine for the * * * promotion of justice and fair dealing'. To hold, as insisted by this petition, that these firemen and policemen are immune from the rule, notwithstanding their conduct pointed out in our opinion, would be to greatly restrict the rule rather than to apply it liberally.
Let the petition to rehear be denied.