Brown v. Wiley (61 U.S. 442)/Opinion of the Court

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Brown v. Wiley (61 U.S. 442) by Robert Cooper Grier
Opinion of the Court
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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

61 U.S. 442

BROWN  v.  WILEY


It is the lex fori which governs in this case as to the admissibility of the defence offered by plea, or of evidence to support it. The effort is not to show that by the law of Louisiana the legal import of the bill in question is different from the signification attached to it by the general commercial law, but that an agreement by parol, contrary to that legal import, was made at the same time. (Story's Conflict of Laws, secs. 634, 634a, 635, and cases cited in notes, particularly Yates v. Thompson, 3 Clark and Finnell, 577, 580, by Lord Brougham.)

2. The cases cited from Louisiana, of Dwight & Linton, 3 Rob. R., 57, and Robertson v. Nott, 2 Mart., N. S., 122, cannot, with great respect to the court which decided them, be sustained.

3. The agreement set up in this case would be void for repugnance and uncertainty. The other draft actually matured May 15, 1854, before the presentment of the one in suit, which was on the 10th of June, 1854; and the theory of the attempted defence necessarily is, that if the defendant had never chosen to reimburse the drawees the amount of the previous draft, if they had paid it without funds, or never to provide them with funds to pay it, the bill in suit never could be presented, or payment demanded.

1. That the cases of Dwight v. Linton, 3 Rob. La. R., 57, and Robertson v. Nott, 2 Martin, N. S., 122, have not since been followed, even in Louisiana, but substantially, though tacitly, overruled. (Police Jury v. Haw, 2 La. R. 42; Robechot v. Folse, 11 ib., 133; Arnous v. Davern, 18 ib., 42; Barthete v. Estebene, 5 La. Ann. R., 315; Gosserband v. Lacour, 8 ib., 75; Williams v. Flood, 11 ib., 113.)

2. That it is the lex fori, and not the lex loci contractus, which governs the question, according to the decisions in Louisiana herself. (Shewell v. Raguet, 17 La. R., 457.)

Mr. Justice GRIER delivered the opinion of the court.

Wiley & Co., plaintiffs below, declared on a bill of exchange drawn by Taylor Brown on Messrs. Campbell & Strong, of New Orleans, to order of plaintiff, dated 23d of March, 1854, and payable on the 1st of May, 1855. It was presented for acceptance on the 10th of June, 1854, and was protested for non-acceptance; of which the drawer had due notice.

It is admitted the bill was given for full value; but the defendant set up by way of special plea, and offered to prove to the jury, a parol agreement between him and the plaintiffs, that this bill should not be presented for acceptance till after a certain other draft, payable in May, 1854, was provided for, by placing funds in the hands of the drawees, who had agreed to accept the last bill after funds had been received to meet their acceptance of the first.

It is the rejection of this defence by the court below that is the subject of exception. It presents the question, whether parol evidence should have been received, to vary, alter, or contradict that which appears on the face of the bill of exchange.

When the operation of a contract is clearly settled by general principles of law, it is taken to be the true sense of the contracting parties. This is not only a positive rule of the common law, but it is a general principle in the construction of contracts. Some precedents to the contrary may be found in some of our States, originating in hard cases; but they are generally overruled by the same tribunals from which they emanated, on experience of the evil consequences flowing from a relaxation of the rule. There is no ambiguity arising in this case which needs explanation. By the face of the bill, the owner of it had a right to demand acceptance immediately, and to protest it for non-acceptance. The proof of a parol contract, that it should not be presentable till a distant, uncertain, or undefined period, tended to alter and vary, in a very material degree, its operation and effect. (See Thompson v. Ketchum, 8 John., 192.)

Any number of conflicting cases on this subject might be cited. It will be sufficient to refer to the decisions of this court, those of Texas, where the suit was brought, and of Louisiana, where the contract was made.

In the Bank of United States v. Dunn, (6 Peters, 56,) this court have declared 'that there is no rule better settled or more salutary in its application them that which precludes the admission of parol evidence to contradict or substantially vary the legal import of a written agreement.' The case of Brochmore v. Davenport, 14 Texas Rep., 602, a case precisely similar to the present, adopts the same rule. The case of Robishat v. Folse, 11 Louisiana, and of Barthet v. Estebene, 5 Ann. Rep., 315, and several others, acknowledge the same doctrine, thereby overruling some early cases in Louisiana which had departed from it.

This being the only point urged by plaintiff in error as a ground of reversal, the judgment of the court below is affirmed.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).