Barnard v. Kellogg

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United States Supreme Court

77 U.S. 383

Barnard  v.  Kellogg

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the District of Connecticut, the case being this:

In the summer of 1864, Barnard, a commission merchant residing in Boston, Massachusetts, placed a lot of foreign wool, received from a shipper in Buenos Ayres, and on which he had made advances, in the hands of Bond & Co., wool brokers in Boston, to sell, with instructions not to sell unless the purchaser came to Boston and examined the wool for himself. These brokers sent to E. N. Kellogg & Co., merchants and dealers in wool, in Hartford, Connecticut, at their request, samples of the different lots of wool, and communicated the prices at which each lot could be obtained. Kellogg & Co., in reply, offered to take the wool, all round, at fifty cents a pound, if equal to the samples furnished, and Bond & Co., for their principal, on Saturday, the 6th day of August, by letter and telegram, accepted this offer, provided Kellogg & Co. examined the wool on the succeeding Monday and reported on that day whether or not they would take it. Kellogg & Co. acceded to this condition, and the senior member of the firm repaired to Boston on the day named and examined four bales in the broker's office as fully as he desired, and was offered an opportunity to examine all the bales, and have them opened for his inspection. This he declined to do, and concluded the purchase on the joint account of all the plaintiffs. Some months after this, on opening the bales it was ascertained that a portion of them were falsely and deceitfully packed, by placing in the interior rotten and damaged wool and tags, which were concealed by an outer covering of fleeces in their ordinary state. This condition of things had been unknown to Barnard, who had acted in good faith. It was, however, communicated to him, and he was asked to indemnify the purchaser against the loss he sustained in consequence of it. This he declined to do, and the purchaser brought this suit. The declaration counted:

1st. Upon a sale by sample.

2d. Upon a promise, express or implied, that the bales should not be falsely packed.

3d. Upon a promise, express or implied, that the wool inside of the bales should not differ from the samples by reason of false packing.

The court below, trying the cause without the intervention of a jury, held that there was no express warranty that the bales not examined should correspond to those exhibited at the brokers' store, and that the law under the circumstances could not imply any. But the court found as matters of fact, that the examination of the interior of the bulk of bales of wool generally, put up like these, is not customary in the trade; and though possible, would be very inconvenient, attended with great labor and delay, and for these reasons was impracticable; and that by the custom of merchants and dealers in foreign wool in bales in Boston and New York, the principal markets of this country where such wool is sold, there is an implied warranty of the seller to the purchaser that the same is not falsely or deceitfully packed, and the court held as a matter of law, that the custom was valid and binding on the parties to this contract, and gave judgment for the purchaser.

This writ of error was taken to test the correctness of this ruling.

Mr. N. Shipman, in support of it:

1. While it is true, to a limited extent, that courts will not recognize customs directly contrary to a well-settled rule of law, yet courts are continually, and of necessity, upholding customs not in conformity with the common law. Indeed, as Lord Kenyon says, it is of the very essence of a custom that it should vary from the common law. [1]

Neither can there be a precise and definite rule established as to the admission of customs. Each custom must stand or fall by itself. If the custom and the common law can both exist, and the custom does not entirely abrogate the law, and is proved by strong testimony, then the custom stands and the common law yields.

Indeed, within its proper sphere, that is to say not destroying the common law, but modifying it in accordance with the suggestions of practical experience, courts regard usage as entitled to the highest consideration. Baldwin, J., in Wilcocks v. Phillips, [2] says:


^1  Horton v. Beckman, 6 Term, 764.

^2  1 Wallace, Jr., 63.

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).