WARREN v. STODDART


105 U.S. 224 (____)

WARREN v. STODDART.

Supreme Court of United States.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Van H. Higgins and Mr. Isaac N. Arnold for the plaintiff in error.

There was no opposing counsel.


MR. JUSTICE WOODS, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The only question in the case is whether or not the instruction of the court to the jury, to the effect that, on the facts, the plaintiff in error was entitled to no damages, is correct. This will depend upon the construction which is to be put on the contract between Stoddart and Warren, of Feb. 24, 1877.

The contract is indefinite as to the time during which it was to continue in force. It is probable that the parties supposed the contract would continue until the twenty-one volumes were published, or at least until the territory named in the contract had been thoroughly canvassed. But no time was mentioned in the contract, nor did it make any provision with respect to the unfilled orders in case of its termination before the publication was completed, and we are left to construe it and settle the rights of the parties under it as they have made it.

The complaint of Warren is not that Stoddart refused to furnish him with the books necessary to fill the orders he had taken, nor that he refused to furnish the books at the price fixed by their contract. His sole complaint is that Stoddart refused to furnish the books on a credit of about thirty days, which Warren insists the contract provided for, and demanded the cash.

He claims that after he had stopped canvassing for the reprint of Stoddart, and had made a contract with and entered into the service of a rival publisher of the same work, and had begun in the interest of the rival publisher a canvass of the same territory which had been allotted to him exclusively by his contract with Stoddart, he had the right, upon the refusal of the latter to furnish the books on thirty days' credit, to obtain a cancellation of the orders he had taken for Stoddart's reprint, and substitute therefor orders for the rival edition, and charge the expense of the substitution to Stoddart.

We think it entirely clear that he had no such right. There was no express provision in the contract between Warren and Stoddart which required the latter to furnish the books on credit, and we think that the provision of the contract that Warren should remit on the seventh day of the month one-half the amount of monthly statement for previous month, and on the twenty-sixth day the remaining half, was not continued in force after Warren had terminated the contract and abandoned the service of Stoddart under it.

Although the contract fixed no time during which it was to continue in force, yet we think when either party terminated it, the other was no longer bound by its provisions. It gave Warren the exclusive right to sell the books within certain territory, and by it Stoddart agreed to furnish them to him at stipulated prices and on stipulated terms. On his part Warren agreed to use his best endeavors to promote the sale of the work in the field exclusively assigned to him. These clauses of the contract were reciprocal, and the performance of one was the consideration for the performance of the other. When Warren ceased to canvass for Stoddart's books, he had no right to demand the books at the prices or the terms mentioned in the contract.

But even conceding that the provision referred to remained in force after Warren had declined to go on under the contract, it does not follow that, upon the refusal of Stoddart to give Warren a credit of thirty days upon the books, the latter could obtain a cancellation of the orders he had taken for Stoddart's reprint and substitute orders for the Scotch edition, and charge the expense of so doing to Stoddart. The claim that upon a simple refusal of Stoddart to allow him a thirty days' credit upon the books as he ordered them, he could go on and substitute other orders for another book and charge Stoddart with the expense of substitution, amounting to $30,000, is, to say the least, a remarkable one. The damage sustained by Warren because he did not get the thirty days' credit which he thinks he was entitled to is not to be measured in that way.

The rule is, that where a party is entitled to the benefit of a contract, and can save himself from a loss arising from a breach of it at a trifling expense or with reasonable exertions, it is his duty to do it, and he can charge the delinquent with such damages only as with reasonable endeavors and expense he could not prevent. Wicker v. Hoppock, 6 Wall. 94; Miller v. Mariners' Church, 7 Me. 51; Russell v. Butterfield, 21 Wend. (N.Y.) 300; United States v. Burnham, 1 Mason, 57; Taylor v. Read, 4 Paige (N.Y.), 561.

The course pursued by Warren was not necessary to his own protection. He might either have paid Stoddart cash for the books required to fill his orders, or have allowed Stoddart to fill the orders and divide the profits of the business between them, on equitable terms. The law required him to take that course by which he could secure himself with the least damage to the defendant in error. Instead of this he unnecessarily destroys a valuable interest of Stoddart in the business in which they were jointly engaged, and then seeks to charge him with the great expense and damage which he brought on himself in so doing.

If Stoddart violated his contract with Warren in refusing to fill his orders except for cash, the measure of Warren's damages would be the interest for thirty days on the amount of cash paid on his orders. As no proof was given to show that Warren had ever paid cash for any books ordered by him, he would only be entitled, in any view of the case, to nominal damages.

But, as we have already said, Stoddart was not bound by the contract to furnish the books on credit after Warren had gone over to a rival publisher and refused to go on under his contract. We think, therefore, that the court below was right in saying to the jury that Warren was entitled to no damages at all.

Judgment affirmed.


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