McGUIRE v. GERSTLEY

No. 168.

204 U.S. 489 (1907)

McGUIRE v. GERSTLEY.

Supreme Court of United States.

Decided February 25, 1907.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Lorenzo A. Bailey for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Eugene A. Jones, with whom Mr. Simon Wolf and Mr. Myer Cohen were on the brief, for defendants in error.


MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The declaration in this case is attacked by the defendants under the rule that the court will go back to the first substantial defect appearing in the pleadings before the filing of the demurrer. The criticism made by the defendants upon the declaration is that it does not sufficiently show a violation of the terms of the bond. The defendants say the bond limits the liability of the sureties to pay for such merchandise only as was sold on a four months' credit, and that the declaration does not show that the terms of the sale of the merchandise were those which were set forth in the bond. The declaration shows a failure to pay for certain merchandise alleged to have been sold to the defendants, amounting to a stated sum on the dates set forth in the particulars of demand, which demand was annexed to and forms a part of the declaration. This demand showed that the last item of sale was made July 27 prior to December 11, 1904. The condition of the bond meant that the defendants should not be called upon to pay until after the expiration of four months from the date of each of the respective purchases. The defendants had, as the pleadings show, paid for all the merchandise purchased, except the balance therein stated, and four months had in fact elapsed since the last sale. The defendants have, therefore, obtained four months after the purchase before they were called upon to pay. We think the declaration was sufficient.

We are also of opinion that the two joint pleas of J. Charles McGuire and William McGuire, and the first separate plea of the latter, which it is contended set up offsets to the plaintiffs' claim, did not allege facts with sufficient distinctness to constitute a defense to the action. Neither of these pleas is sufficiently distinct to constitute a good pleading. What the special agreement was that is alleged to have been made between the principals in the bond and the plaintiffs, in consideration of which the bond was signed by the surety, is not stated with any degree of particularity. It simply states that the agreement in this respect was that the merchandise should be sold to the principals in the bond at and for certain prices specified in the agreement, but the pleas do not set them forth, nor do they state for how long a time such agreement was to remain in existence, nor how the defendants suffered damage to the extent named in the pleas, or to any extent. It is impossible for a court to see how these damages would necessarily or probably flow from a violation of said agreement, or that they could form a basis for any legal demand flowing from not longer fulfilling the terms of the alleged contract. The damages alleged in the pleas are most remote, vague and shadowy in their nature, such as could not have been contemplated by any party to the alleged agreement, as the probable result of its violation. While rules of pleading have become more liberal in modern days, yet in order to found a cause of action on the alleged shortcomings of another, they must at least be so far plainly set up as to show actual damage and the wrongful act of the other party as the proximate and natural cause. The particulars of the alleged resulting damages should be so far set forth that the court may be able to see therefrom that such alleged damages are neither obscure, vague or shadowy, but might and probably would naturally result from the acts complained of. Within such limitations, which have always existed, the three pleas are insufficient.

The next succeeding plea is marked in the record the second separate plea of the defendant William McGuire. The court below treated this plea, together with the third separate plea of the defendant, and his fifth (in truth, the second) additional plea, as together resting upon common ground. We think they may be properly so regarded. It is seen from the whole record that the principals in the bond sued on were expecting to have business transactions with the plaintiffs, by purchasing from them liquors, which they expected to sell to others at profit, but the plaintiffs did not care to sell the goods to these principals without some security for payment of the goods sold when cash payment was not exacted. The bond in suit was thereupon agreed to be given as security for the payment of the merchandise to be sold by the plaintiffs to the principals, and which the principals were bound to pay for in four months after the date of each respective purchase. This is a clear and separate contract between the plaintiffs and the signers of the bond, and there is nothing in the declaration or bond which shows the existence of any other agreement than that mentioned therein, or that an alteration in the prices of the goods sold to the principals by the plaintiffs could, or would, have any effect upon the liability of the sureties. The bond being complete in itself on its face, it cannot be seen that any future alteration of the prices for the sale of the merchandise, arrived at between the plaintiffs and the principals in the bond, would be material to or alter the liability of the sureties for the payment of the merchandise sold and delivered at the prices agreed upon, after four months from the date of purchase. There is no allegation in these pleas that any separate agreement was in writing, and the bond itself does not show the existence of any other agreement or the sale of the property upon any other conditions than those mentioned in the bond itself. Under such circumstances evidence by parol going to show any other agreement between the principals of the bond and the plaintiffs would not be admissible. Seitz v. Brewers' &c. Co., 141 U.S. 510; Domestic Sewing Machine Co. v. Webster, 47 Iowa, 357. In holding these pleas insufficient we think the court below was right.

This leaves the fourth (the first additional) and the sixth (the third additional) pleas. The fourth plea alleges that the merchandise referred to in the bond was to be sold at and for certain prices specified in a letter dated August 25, 1903, and sent by plaintiffs to Monaghan and McGuire. What those prices were is not stated in the plea, while the representations alleged in the plea to have been made, that the agreement was applicable to all merchandise to be purchased under the bond, would require parol evidence, as there is no pretense that these representations were made in writing or that the letter referred to them in any way. The same consideration existing in regard to the pleas last mentioned would operate here and render the plea insufficient.

The third additional plea (marked 6 in the record) attempts to set up a cause of action against the plaintiffs because, as alleged, they induced the defendant Monaghan to dissolve the partnership between him and McGuire and to enter the plaintiff's employ, for the purpose, on plaintiff's part, of increasing the plaintiff's profits and with intent to wrongfully destroy the business of the defendants Monaghan and McGuire. As the court below well says, there is in this plea no allegation as to how long the partnership was to continue, and no action would lie for terminating or inducing the termination of a partnership at will. Karrick v. Hannaman, 168 U.S. 328, 333. We do not see how any legal damage to the sureties under such circumstances can be said to be the proximate, natural or probable result of such action on the part of the plaintiffs. After the dissolution of the partnership of course no sales could thereafter be made, and in relation to sales already made with credit according to the terms of the bond, it is impossible to see how it could be said that the ruin of the business of the principals of the bond, and hence the damage to the sureties could be regarded as the probable consequence of the act of the plaintiffs in procuring Monaghan to dissolve the partnership and enter their employ. Whether treated as an offset or recoupment, or simply as an independent cause of action, the plea does not set up facts sufficient to constitute a valid set-off, recoupment or cause of action.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals was right and is

Affirmed.


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