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United States Supreme Court

18 U.S. 394

Lyle  v.  Rodgers

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the district of Columbia.

This was an action of debt against the defendant, on a bond given by Jerusha Dennison, and the defendant, to the plaintiffs, with a condition to perform the award of certain persons chosen to arbitrate all differences, &c. between the plaintiffs and Jerusha Denison, either as administratrix of Gideon Dennison, deceased, or in any other capacity. The condition of the obligation is in these words: 'Whereas the said Jerusha Dennison, and the said James Lyle and Joshua B. Bond, have agreed to refer all matters in dispute between them, to the award and arbitrament of David Winchester and Thomas Tenant, of the city of Baltimore; and in case they differ in opinion, then to them and such third person as the said David Winchester and Thomas Tenant shall choose and appoint. Now, the condition of the obligation is such, that if the above bound Jerusha Dennison, her heirs, executors and administrators, do, and shall well and truly stand to, abide by, and keep the award and arbitrament of the said David Winchester and Thomas Tenant, arbiters, indifferently named an appointed by them to arbitrate, award, and adjudge of, and concerning all actions and causes of actions, debts, dues, controversies, claims or demands whatsoever, both at law and in equity, which the said James Lyle and Joshua B. Bond have, or either of them hath, against her the said Jerusha Dennison, as administratrix of Gideon Dennison, or in any other capacity. Or in case the said arbitrators shall differ in opinion, if then the said Jerusha Dennison, her heirs, executors and administrators, and every of them, do, and shall stand to, abide by, perform and keep the award and arbitrament of them the said David Winchester and Thomas Tenant, or either of them, and of such discreet and indifferent person as they shall elect and appoint as a third person as aforesaid; then this obligation to be void, and of none effect, otherwise to be and remain in full force and virtue.'

Upon this submission, the following award was made: 'Whereas certain differences have arisen between Joshua B. Bond and James Lyle, of the city of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania, of the one part, and Jerusha Dennison, of Harford county, in the State of Maryland, of the other part; and whereas, for the purpose of putting an end to the said differences, the said parties, by their several bonds, bearing date the fifteenth day of November last past, have reciprocally become bound, each to the other, in the penal sum of 12,000 dollars, current money of the United States, to stand to, abide by, perform, and keep the award of David Winchester and Thomas Tenant, arbiters indifferently named and appointed to arbitrate, adjudge, and award of, and concerning all actions, or causes of actions, debts, dues or demands, whatsoever, both of law and in equity, which the said Joshua B. Bond, and James Lyle, or either of them, have against the said Jerusha Dennison, as administratrix of Gideon Dennison, or in any other capacity:

'Whereupon, we, the above named arbitrators, after having heard the allegations of the parties, proceeded to an examination of the accounts, documents and proofs, by them respectively produced, and having maturely considered the same, do adjudge and award in manner and form following:

'First. We do adjudge and award, that there is due from Jerusha Dennison to Joshua B. Bond and James Lyle, the sum of 8,726 dollars and 41 cents, with interest from this date, until paid; upon the payment whereof, all suits at law and in equity, between them, shall cease and determine. And,

'Second. We do adjudge and award, that upon the payment by the said Jerusha Dennison, of the sum above awarded, with interest, as aforesaid, the said Joshua B. Bond and James Lyle shall execute to the said Jerusha Dennison, a good and sufficient release of all claims against her, both in her private capacity, and as administratrix of the late Gideon Dennison; and, also, that they shall re-convey, or release, as the case may require, all lands heretofore conveyed or pledged to them by the late Gideon Dennison, as a collateral security; and further, that they shall deliver to the said Jerusha Dennison, or account for on oath, all bonds, notes, bills, or other securities heretofore given to them by the late Gideon Dennison, as collateral security:-And,

'Lastly. We do adjudge and award, that this award shall be conclusive between the parties.'

The sum awarded by the arbitrators not having been paid, this suit was instituted. The defendant, after praying oyer of the bond, and of the condition, pleaded no award. The plaintiffs, in their replication, set forth the award, and assigned as a breach of it, the non-payment of the sum of 8,726 dollars and 46 cents, with interest, awarded to be due to them from the said Jerusha Dennison. The defendant rejoined, that among the matters in dispute between the parties, was a dispute relating to certain lands conveyed in fee simple by Gideon Dennison, the intestate of the said Jerusha Dennison, to the plaintiffs, in his lifetime, without any condition or defeazance expressed therein, but with an understanding and agreement between them, that the same should be held by the plaintiffs as a collateral security for the payment of whatever debt was due from the said Gideon Dennison to the plaintiffs. And, also, as to certain other lands and land titles, pledged in like manner as a collateral security for the said debt. But because the said matters in dispute are left unsettled by the said award, and for other causes appearing on the face of the said submission and award, the arbitrators made thereon no award, & c.

To this rejoinder the plaintiffs demurred, and the defendants joined in demurrer. It was, however, afterwards agreed between the parties, that instead of arguing the demurrer, the matter contained in the foregoing pleadings, and the law arising thereon, should be subject to the opinion of the Court, on a statement of facts made by the parties, and the questions stated as arising thereon.

This statement admits the submission, the appearance of the parties before the arbitrators, the award, due notice thereof, a demand of the sum awarded to be due, and a refusal to pay the same. The statement also contains certain letters which passed between the plaintiffs and Jerusha Dennison, and Samuel Hughes, acting for and in behalf of the said Jerusha, dated in 1799 and 1800; and, also, a letter from the plaintiffs, dated in 1800, addressed to Mr. Hollingsworth, a lawyer of Baltimore, containing a copy of the correspondence above mentioned, and transmitting him a note for 5,568 dollars, drawn by Gideon Dennison in his lifetime, of which the plaintiffs were holders, and which had been regularly protested. On this note, Mr. Hollingsworth was requested to take the proper means to obtain payment. The correspondence admitted, that 'grants of lands in North Carolina and Tennessee had been given as security, without any acknowledgment or receipt for the same;' but contained no information whatever, ascertaining what grants were so given, although full information on that subject

Mr. Jones, for the plaintiffs, stated, 1. That the first objection made to the award by the defendant was, that the arbitrators had not determined all the matters in controversy between the parties. But the only evidence to support this allegation is inadmissible and insufficient for that purpose; and the arbitrators have done enough if they decide all that the parties submit to them. 2. It is also objected, that the administratrix could not submit differences relative to her intestate's estate to arbitration. But the right of executors and administrators to submit to arbitration is well established by authorities, and the submission is an admission of assets to the extent which may be awarded; or, rather, it is a personal engagement to pay whatever the arbitrators may direct, without regard to the question of assets.a 3. But it is again objected, that the award is void for uncertainty. To which it is answered, that the universality of the award is advantageous to the defendant, and that a general release, such as the award contemplates, is the best release for him. In the old cases, the judges employed all their astuteness to defeat awards; but in the progress of society, they have been justly viewed with more favour, and many things are now deemed certain which were formerly considered incurably bad. It is not necessary that every thing should be stated with positive certainty in the award itself. It may be rendered certain by reference aliunde. The question is, whether the party has a certain and definite remedy. Here the defendant may show that certain deeds have been executed, and are not released. It is sufficiently certain

Barry v. Rush, 1 T. R. 691. Pearson v. Pearson, 5 T. R. 6. what bonds, &c. may be delivered up. It is within the knowledge of the parties.  If the plaintiffs should attempt to sue upon other securities, the award might be pleaded in bar, with an averment that they were meant to be included.b As to the alternative part of the award, to deliver up the papers, or account for them on oath; an alternative award is good, if certain.c This is sufficiently certain. They shall deliver them up, or disclose where they are. Why might not the arbitrators direct the bonds, &c. to be accounted for on oath, instead of being actually delivered up?

Kyd on Awards, 205, and the cases there cited.

Id. 203. not be satisfied with the restoration by the plaintiffs of the property pledged. The Court will not intend that it was meant that she should pay, whether they offered to restore the pledges or not. And even if this were doubtful, it adds another objection upon the ground of uncertainty. 3. There are several other uncertainties. It is uncertain what 'lands' are meant: and they are to be reconveyed or released 'as the case may require.' Who is to judge what the case may require? If the arbitrators had said who should judge, it would even then be void; for it is a judicial act which they could not delegate to any one.d The lands are to be 'released.' But to whom? The award does not state. They are to deliver 'all bonds,' &c. heretofore given to them by the late G. Dennison as collateral security.' But they are not specified, and this is a fatal defect.e Again; They are required to deliver them, or account for them 'on oath.' Here it is left uncertain how they are to account for them on oath. It is said that it means that they shall disclose where they are. But what good will this do the administratrix, if she does not get them? If the plaintiffs knew where the securities were, the arbitrators ought to have compelled their production. If they do not know, what good will their oath do us? But perhaps it may be said, that it means that they shall account on oath for their value. This, indeed, would be more reasonable,

Kyd on Awards, 127.

Pope v. Brett, 2 Saund. 292. Ross v. Hodges, 1 Ld. Raym. 234. than merely telling us where they were: and if this was the intention of the arbitrators, they ought to have valued them, and could delegate this power to no other person, much less to a party. Suppose it to mean either, the award is void. And it is void for uncertainty, because it may mean either. It is admitted, on the other side, that an award must be certain on its face, or refer to something by which it may be made certain. Now this award is full of uncertainties on its face, and refers to nothing by which they can be explained. It is said that it refers us to a knowledge of the parties. But that is not sufficient. The case cited from Lord Raymond,f was between mortgagor and mortgagee, who may be presumed to know, and there was no dispute as to facts: but here it is the case of an administratrix who did not know, and a part of the dispute was what was pledged. All these uncertainties are left to be determined by the plaintiffs, who are to return whatever they may choose. But we have the same right to the pledges which they have to the debt, and the value or amount of neither should be left to the parties. Suppose the award had been, that one party should return all the pledges, and the other should pay all the money borrowed. Here would have been the same uncertainty, but it would have been reciprocal: and if an award that one party should pay all that was lent, or account on oath for all that was lent, would be a nullity; an award that the other party shall return all the pledges, or account for them

Ld. Raym. 234. on oath, is equally void. The rules relative to awards have been derived from the civil law, and that law deems them void upon the same ground of uncertainty.g This award decides nothing, or what is the same thing, it decides what was unimportant, and leaves all that was material to be taken ad referendam. It does not state in what character J. Dennison is indebted to the plaintiffs. The award ought to show the character in which she is chargeable. It is impossible to charge the debt on the estate. If this award had been against her in her representative character, and it had simply declared a debt due from her intestate, specifying the amount, she might have pleaded plene administravit. Otherwise, if it had declared that she should pay a certain sum. But it has done neither, and the award is, therefore, void for uncertainty. The great object of the arbitration was, to ascertain what deeds were in fact mortgages, though purporting to be absolute conveyances; and what bonds, &c. were pledged, the plaintiffs not having admitted them. It was designed to ascertain the doubtful equitable circumstances of the case; every thing, in short, which the arbitrators have forborne to decide. The award recognises the existence of these conveyances and pledges, but does not ascertain them, nor provide any mode of ascertaining them. It was not general, but specific relief, which was expected from the award. We admit that an alternative award is valid, if entirely good; but if either branch of the alternative be bad, the whole is

Dig. l. 4. t. 8. s. 21. n. 3. void.h The award here does not entitle the administratrix to a disclosure on oath. If the plaintiffs adopted the alternative of delivering up the securities, they were not to perform the other, that is, to take the oath. The acts were not conjunctive, but disjunctive; and one part being void, the whole is void. The same argument applies to other parts of the award. There is an intimate connexion between those which are certain, (if there are any such,) and those which are uncertain. The whole is, therefore, void.

2 Saund. 292. Sergeant Williams' Note. was to be released. But it is said, that the arbitrators ought to have distinguished the character in which J. Dennison was indebted. This was unnecessary, as she had assumed the whole liability upon herself in her individual capacity. In the bond she has bound herself personally to perform the award, and she has mixed her individual accounts with those of the estate. Non constat, that any part of the debt is due from the estate. The award to reconvey all lands, and to return all bonds, &c. pledged as collateral security, is good; because the arbitrators could not tell what lands were conveyed as collateral security, nor what bonds, &c. were pledged for the same purpose. Both were within the knowledge of the parties, and neither were within the knowledge of the arbitrators. It is denied that if one part of the alternative, as to the securities, is void, the other is so. We do not contend that the arbitrators have decided what was not submitted to them; but we say it was not submitted to them to determine what conveyances were made as pledges, and what were absolute on the face of them. The award is good unless the arbitrators were bound to give a list of the conveyances and security. This they could not do, because they had no means of ascertaining them specifically. But they ascertain them sufficiently by classification, which it is in the power of the parties to apply to each individual case.

Mr. Pinkney and Mr. Key, contra, contended, 1. That the award was of a controversy about lands, which the administratrix, in her representative character, was not competent to submit to arbitration. That this was the nature of the controversy appears from the letters offered in evidence, which are competent evidence of what was in dispute. It appears also from the award itself. But this award is no proof of assets. That question was referred to the arbitrators. If they say the money shall be paid, it finds assets; otherwise, if they only decide that so much is due. But they have not decided either, as to J. Dennison in her representative character. 2. The award finds a sum due from J. Dennison, but does not say that she shall pay it. Now, the arbitrators may have intended merely to liquidate the claim, leaving it to her to pay it or not, as she might, or might

Mr. Hopkinson, in reply, argued, that all the objections to the award in this case were merely technical. It was not attempted to impeach it upon the ground of partiality or misconduct in the arbitrators; nor could it be denied, that the debt liquidated by it was justly due to the plaintiffs. As to the objection that administrators and executors have no power to submit to arbitration the title to lands, it does not appear by the submission bond that the title to any lands was in dispute, or was submitted. No question as to lands ever came before the arbitrators. And if the arbitrators had awarded as to lands, it might be rejected as surplusage. The alternatives of reconveying or releasing, as the case might require, the lands pledged, would be determined in each particular case, by the fact, whether the conveyance was absolute on its face or conditional. If the former, then it was to be reconveyed; if the latter, it

     March 11th.
     March 15th.

Mr. Chief Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.


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