Lyon v. Pollock/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

99 U.S. 668

Lyon  v.  Pollock

This case turns upon the construction given to the letter of Lyon to Paschal, of the 24th of August, 1865. That letter clearly did not authorize the execution of a conveyance by Paschal in the name of Lyon to the purchaser. Its insufficiency in that respect was authoritatively determined in the action at law for the lands; the instrument executed by Paschal as the deed of Lyon being held inoperative to pass the legal title. The question now is, was the letter sufficient to authorize a contract for the sale of the lots? To determine this, and give full effect to the language of the writer, we must place ourselves in his position, so as to read it, as it were, with his eyes and mind. It appears from his answer, as well as his testimony, that he was in great danger of personal violence in San Antonio, shortly after the commencement of the rebellion, owing to his avowed hostility to secession, or at least that he thought he was in such danger. He apprehended that his life was menaced, and was in consequence induced to flee the country. He possessed at the time a large amount of property, real and personal, in San Antonio. This he confided to the care of his partner, Bennett, to whom he gave a power of attorney, authorizing him to take charge of and control the same, and sell it for whatever consideration and upon such terms as he might judge best, and execute all proper instruments of transfer; and also to collect and receipt for debts due to him. Bennett took possession of Lyon's property and managed it until July, 1865, when he transferred it, with the business and papers in his hands, to Paschal, and at once informed Lyon by letter of the transfer. It was under these circumstances that the letter of Lyon to Paschal, which is the subject of consideration, was written. Its language is: 'I wish you to manage [my property] as you would with your own. If a good opportunity offers to sell every thing I have, I would be glad to sell. It may be parties will come into San Antonio who will be glad to purchase my gas stock and real estate.'

Situated as Lyon then was, a fugitive from the State, it could hardly have been intended by him that if propositions to purchase his property or any part of it were made to Paschal, they were to be communicated to him, and to await his approval before being accepted. He was at the time at Monterey, in Mexico, and communication by water between that place and San Antonio was infrequent and uncertain; and he states himself that it was impossible to send letters by Matamoras, as the road was blockaded. Writing under these circumstances, we think it clear that he intended by his language, what the words naturally convey, that if an opportunity to sell his property presented itself to Paschal, he should avail himself of it and close a contract for its sale.

His subsequent conduct shows, or at least tends to show, that such was his own construction of the letter, and that he approved, or at least acquiesced in, the disposition made of his property. He must have been aware, from the laws of the State, which he is presumed to have known, that taxes were leviable upon his property, and that unless they were paid the property would be sold for their payment; yet he confessedly took no steps from 1865 to 1873 to meet them, and thus prevent a forced sale of his property; a course perfectly natural if it be conceded that the property was in charge of an agent, with power to manage and sell it as his judgment might dictate. His indifference, also, after rumors reached him that a sale of his property had been made by Paschal in 1867, can scarcely be explained upon any other hypothesis. The same may be said of his inattention to the payment of the assessments upon his stock in the San Antonio Gas Company, of which he had received intimations. From the time Paschal took charge of his property, in 1865 to 1873, a period of eight years, he certainly manifested, if his own story be accepted, a most extraordinary want of interest in regard to his real property, of great value, situated in an unfriendly community, subject to taxation, and liable to be sold if the taxes were not promptly paid; and also in regard to his personal property, consisting of shares in the San Antonio Gas Company, of great value, liable to assessments, and to sale if the assessments were not paid when due. It is much more reasonable to suppose that he knew of the sales made of the real property and of the assessments on the shares, and that he was undisturbed by the reports which reached him, because he considered that the sales were made and the assessments paid from the proceeds, by his authorized attorney.

The testimony of Bennett tends also to corroborate this view. He states that he knew from his correspondence with Lyon that he treated Paschal as his agent for the sale of his property. The conduct of Lyon, as expressive almost as any language which he could use, cannot, of course, change the construction to be given to the words contained in his letter to Paschal, but it tends to strengthen the conclusion as to the intention of the writer.

Holding the letter to confer sufficient authority to contract for the sale of Lyon's real property in San Antonio, there can be no doubt of the right of the complainants to the relief prayed. The deed executed to them by Paschal in the name of Lyon, though invalid as a conveyance, is good as a contract for the sale of the property described in it; and is sufficient, therefore, to sustain the prayer of the bill for a decree directing Lyon to make a conveyance to them and enjoining the enforcement of the judgment at law.

Decree affirmed.

NOTE.-In Lyon v. Hernandez, which was argued by the same counsel as was the preceding case, MR. JUSTICE FIELD, in delivering the opinion of the court, remarked: This case involves the same question decided in Lyon v. Pollock (supra, p. 668), and on the authority of that decision the decree herein is affirmed.


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).