Sheffield & Birmingham Coal, Iron & Ry. Co. v. Gordon - 151 U.S. 285 (1894)
U.S. Supreme Court
Sheffield & Birmingham Coal, Iron & Ry. Co. v. Gordon, 151 U.S. 285 (1894)
Sheffield & Birmingham Coal, Iron
and Railway Company v. Gordon
Argued December 20, 1893
Decided January 15, 1894
151 U.S. 285
Exceptions to the report of a master should point out specifically the errors upon which the party relies, not only that the opposite party may be apprised of what he has to meet, but that the master may know in what
particular his report is objectionable, and may have an opportunity to correct his errors or reconsider his opinions.
The main object of a reference to a master being to lighten the court's labors, the court ought not to be obliged to rehear the whole case on the evidence when the report is made.
If the report of a master is clearly erroneous in any particular, it is within the discretion of the court to correct that error.
When a contract provides that work done under it shall be examined by a superintendent every two weeks, and if done to his satisfaction it shall be a final acceptance by the other party, so far as done, the acceptance by the superintendent forecloses that party from thereafter claiming that the contract had not been performed according to its terms.
In the absence of a certificate by a master that the entire evidence taken by him was sent up with his report, it is impossible to impeach his conclusions upon it.
The proceedings in this case were taken within the time required by the statutes of Alabama.
This was an intervening petition filed by the firm of Gordon, Strobel & Laureau in a case pending in the Circuit Court for the Northern District of Alabama for the foreclosure of a deed of trust, setting up and claiming a mechanic's lien on certain furnace property described in the petition, to secure the payment of a large balance due to them as builders. The Central Trust Company of New York, trustee under the deed of trust and plaintiff in the foreclosure suit, the Sheffield & Birmingham Coal, Iron & Railway Company, the mortgagor, Jacob G. Chamberlain, who was receiver in the foreclosure suit, and one Charles D. Woodson, as holder of certain bonds of the company, were made defendants to the petition. Petitioners' claim arose under a contract whereby they agreed to construct for the Alabama and Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, the predecessor of the appellant corporation, three iron blast furnaces at Sheffield, in Colbert County, Alabama, for $564,000, ninety percent of which amount was to be paid from time to time during the construction of the furnaces, and which ninety percent had been practically paid as agreed between the parties, the claim of the appellees being the balance, together with some amounts alleged to have been paid out for excessive freight charges, and upon material furnished to repair and reconstruct one of the furnaces.
Joint and several answers were filed by the defendants, setting forth certain defenses to the petition, and demanding proof of each allegation thereof. It was admitted that the defendant company had become liable for whatever amount was due the petitioners by the original Alabama and Tennessee Coal and Iron Company. The main defense was that Gordon, one of the interveners, had undertaken to supervise the blowing in of one of the three furnaces, in which operation the furnace was ruined and subsequently abandoned; that, in the blowing in of a second furnace, it suffered such damage that it required about six months to put it in good condition; that the furnaces were not built according to the plans, specifications, and agreements of the contract, but were constructed in so faulty and inadequate a manner that their daily expense for coal was much larger than it would have been had they been properly constructed.
A decree was entered by consent, referring the case to a special master to examine and report the facts as to the existence of the contract, the construction of the furnaces, the payments made therefor, the amount due the petitioners, the existence of their lien, and also to report upon all matters of defense stated in the answer.
In pursuance of this order, the master took the depositions of a number of witnesses, found the facts, and reported a balance due of $57,808.12, with interest from September 18, 1888. Exceptions were filed to this report by the defendants which, upon argument, were overruled by the court, and a final decree entered in favor of the interveners for the amount reported by the master. From this decree an appeal was taken to this Court.