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United States Supreme Court

56 U.S. 162

Bispham  v.  Price

THIS was an appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, sitting as a court of equity.

The facts in the case are very fully stated in the opinion of the court.

It was argued by Mr. Gerhard for the appellant and by Mr. Meredith for the appellee.

The counsel for the appellant made the following points.

First Point. The express terms and proper construction of the statement of the accounts between the parties by William Foster, entitle the appellant to a recovery.

The 'settlement' or 'statement' of the accounts by Mr. Foster, giving rise to this suit, is careful to provide for any such contingency as that which has occurred. The amount to be paid by Mr. Archer to Mr. Bispham, is declared to be 'in liquidation and full settlement between them, of all matters, claims, and demands, relating to or growing out of the transactions of their late firm, so far as they are now known, ascertained, or believed to exist.'

This seems to include every future contingency, and to reserve to each party the benefit of it. To prevent any possible future misunderstanding, however, the paper goes on to provide,

First. 'But as liabilities may hereafter be established or ascertained,'

Second. 'Or claims received, not now known to exist, growing out of transactions during the partnership for partnership account, it is understood that the same are not embraced in the foregoing settlement and determination by me as the agent and umpire of the parties, and especially any matter of such character contingent on the result of pending suits, is excepted from this adjustment of the affairs of said firm.'

It will be observed, that there were no pending suits unless a reference was intended, as was doubtless the case, to the suits by the United States against Mr. Archer on the custom-house duty bonds in question-no others existed. There was one and one only, in New York, besides those, which are the foundation of this suit. And it is submitted that the court below erred in refusing to recognize, as pending suits, those in which judgments had been recovered, but the judgments themselves were unsatisfied-and that, too, when the phrase is used by mercantile men in an informal paper writing.

If a reference is only made to the second reservation above quoted, it is submitted that the appellant's case is made out. What difference is there between the actual facts, and the hypothetical case of a payment by Mr. Archer, and a repayment by Mifflin? Could there, in such an event, have been a doubt as to Mr. Bispham's right to participate in that recovery? The facts then would have been literally within the provision.

Second Point. If it is necessary to sustain the case for the appellant, the court as a court of equity, would reform the agreement and statement made in pursuance of it, to give relief to the appellant in the present case. It is a case within the principles of both mistake and accident. It is clearly settled, that where, either in a settlement, award, or even a solemn adjudication by the judgment of a competent court, there has been a technical mistake, such as has occurred in the present case, courts of equity will relieve against such a mistake. Courts of equity will grant relief in cases of mistake in written contracts, not only when the fact of the mistake is expressly established, but also when it is fairly implied from the nature of the transaction. Story's Equity, § 162.

Equity will give effect to the real intentions of the parties, as gathered from the objects of the instrument, and the circumstances of the case. The general rule, 'Quoties in verbis nulla est ambiguitas, ibi,' &c., shall not prevail to defeat the manifest intent and object of the parties, where it is clearly discernible, on the face of the instrument, and the ignorance, or blunder, or mistake of the parties has prevented them from expressing it in the appropriate language. Id. § 168.

'The same principle applies where a legacy is revoked, or is given upon a manifest mistake of facts.' Id. § 182. 8 Hare's R. 222; Osgood v. Jones, 10 Shep. 312; Williamson v. Johnson, 3 Halsted, Ch. 537.

So also in the case of settlements, so called.

A settlement of accounts, where one of the parties had but little knowledge of the matters settled, will be considered as prima a facie evidence, subject to be rebutted by satisfactory proof, under proper allegations, in the pleadings charging fraud or mistake as to particular items. Lee's Administrators v. Reed, 4 Dana, 109.

The court will open settlements made by mistake, although receipts in full have passed, and the note on which payments were made, has been taken up. M'Crae v. Hollis, 4 Desaus. 122. See also Shipp v. Swann, 2 Bibb, 82. Waggoner v. Minter, 7 J. J. Marsh. 173.

Where a bond was in form only a joint bond, but it was suggested to have been the intention of the parties to have made it joint and several, the court referred it to the master to inquire whether this was the intention of the parties. Where such intention appears on the face of the bond, the court will treat it as a joint and several bond, although it is only a joint bond in form. Ex parte Symonds, 1 Cox, 200. See also Rawstone v. Parr, 3 Russ. 539.

And so anxious is a court of equity to correct a mistake, that even parol evidence is admitted to prove one made by a solicitor in the draft of a settlement. Rogers v. Earl, Dick. 294. See also Shipp v. Swann, 2 Bibb, 82.

An account stated, may be set up by way of plea, as a bar to all discovery and relief, unless some matter is shown which calls for the interposition of a court of equity. But if there has been any mistake, or omission, or accident, or fraud, or undue advantage, by which the account stated is in truth vitiated and the balance is incorrectly fixed, a court of equity will not suffer it to be conclusive upon the parties, but will allow it to be opened and re eamined.

Sometimes the account is simply opened to contestation, as to one or more items, which are specially set forth in the bill of the plaintiff. Story's Equity, § 523.

An award may be good for part and bad for part; and the part which is good will be sustained, if it be not so connected with the part which is bad, that injustice will thereby be done. Banks v. Adams, 10 Shep. 259.


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).