Wiser v. Lawler
189 U.S. 260 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wiser v. Lawler, 189 U.S. 260 (1903)

Wiser v. Lawler

No. 174

Argued February 25-26, 1903

Decided April 27, 1903

189 U.S. 260

Syllabus

Promoters of mining enterprises, in the preparation of prospectuses, are bound to consider the effect that would be produced upon an ordinary mind by the statements contained in them, and, in estimating the probability of persons' being misled by them, the court may take into consideration not only the facts stated, but the facts suppressed.

Vendors of mining properties are not responsible for false statements made in prospectuses issued by a mining company to whom the properties had been sold unless they knew or connived in such statements, or were active in putting them in circulation. While they may have known that prospectuses were being issued, they were under no obligation to read them, or contradict their statements or promises, or interfere with their circulation or distribution.

If their title be of record, they are not bound to give notice of their rights in the property to the purchasers of stock, or to refuse the money due upon their contract of sale when it is tendered them.

To constitute an estoppel by silence, there must not only be an opportunity, but an obligation to speak, and the purchase must have been in reliance upon the conduct of the party sought to be estopped.

A person holding a deed of property which he has placed upon record is not ordinarily bound to disclose his title to persons contemplating purchasing, or making improvements upon the land, unless his silence be deceptive or accompanied by an intention to defraud.

This was a complaint in the nature of a bill in equity filed in the District Court of Yavapai County, Arizona, by appellants,

Page 189 U. S. 261

or themselves and all others interested, against John Lawler and Edward W. Wells, principal defendants, and the Seven Stars Gold Mining Company, the Industrial Mining & Guaranty Company, and John Griffin, receiver of such companies, to adjudge Lawler and Wells to be estopped from disputing the title of the Seven Stars Company to certain mining properties and to decree such properties to belong to that company, and for an account of the proceeds of all ore taken from the mines and received by defendants Lawler and Wells, or, in the alter native, for a money decree against them for the aggregate amount paid by plaintiffs and others for stock in the company, upon the representations contained in certain prospectuses and maps, by which the plaintiffs were induced to purchase stock in such company, and for a confirmation of the title to the property in such defendants.

The cause came on for hearing upon the pleadings, and at first resulted in an interlocutory decree in favor of the plaintiffs, with an order for an accounting by defendants. The case was then referred to a master to report the number of shares in the Seven Stars Company subscribed and paid for, and to ascertain the amount paid to defendants Lawler and Wells on account of the purchase price of the property. This was finally fixed at the sum of $180,139.82, which was held to be a lien, and the property was ordered sold in satisfaction thereof. A new trial was subsequently granted, upon the hearing of which, upon pleadings and evidence, it was held that plaintiffs were entitled to no relief, and the complaint was dismissed, and an appeal taken to the Supreme Court of Arizona, which affirmed the decree of dismissal. 62 P. 695.

The supreme court made a finding of facts in sixty-four paragraphs, which is quite too long to be reproduced here, but which may be summarized as follows:

In May, 1892, the defendants Lawler and a collection of mines known as the "Hillside Group," the muniments of such title being of record in the county recorder's office of Yavapai County.

Lawler and Wells offered these mines for sale at $450,000 cash, and on May 12 one Warner visited the mines and contracted

Page 189 U. S. 262

for their purchase for $450,000, paying $20,000 in cash, the remainder to be paid in installments in accordance with the terms of an escrow agreement entered into between Lawler and Wells and one Cowland. This agreement provided, among other things, that a deed conveying the mines to Cowland be held in escrow by the Bank of Arizona and be delivered upon paying the full sum of $450,000, and that, upon the failure of the payments, the deed should be redelivered to Lawler and Wells, and all payments be forfeited. Cowland agreed that all moneys paid by him should belong to Lawler and Wells, and should be retained by them as liquidated damages accruing from the failure to pay for the property, and Lawler and Wells be released from any obligation to convey the property. It was further agreed that Cowland might take possession of the property, develop and operate it, the proceeds to be paid to the vendors and credited upon the purchase price; that Lawler and Wells should nevertheless remain in legal possession of the property until full payment, but should not work it or interfere with its operation by Cowland. It was further agreed that, should Cowland fail to make any payments, all improvements on the property and ore taken therefrom should be the property of Lawler and Wells. A deed of the property was executed to Cowland and placed in escrow as above stated. Warner was the real party in interest, and Cowland only his agent.

On June 14, Warner and Cowland, with some others, incorporated the Industrial Mining & Guaranty Company for the purpose of handling mines and buying and selling stock, to which company Cowland delivered a written assignment of all his interest in the escrow agreement, as well as a deed of the mining properties, with a covenant of warranty against encumbrances. The new company assumed all the covenants of Cowland in the escrow agreement, to make the payments therein stipulated, and to procure the escrow deed, then in the hands of the Bank of Arizona. Possession of the properties was delivered to the new company with full knowledge on its part of the terms of the escrow agreement. The company remained in possession until October 1, 1892.

On August 15, 1892, Warner and several others incorporated

Page 189 U. S. 263

the Seven Stars Gold Mining Company under the laws of New Jersey, of which certain persons, including one of the plaintiffs, were elected directors. About the same time, the guaranty company offered to sell and convey all its interests in certain mining properties, including a part of those described in the escrow agreement, to the Seven Stars Company, upon receiving $2,800,000 in cash or stock of such company. On October 1, the guaranty company placed the Seven Stars Company in possession of the Hillside Group, with full knowledge on the part of the latter of the terms of the escrow agreement.

The guaranty company, as the agent of the Seven Stars Company, issued in September, 1892, a prospectus, known as the American prospectus, to promote the sale of the stock of the Seven Stars Company, 300,000 of which prospectuses, accompanied by a map and an application for subscription to stock, were circulated throughout the United States. In October, 1892, the guaranty company directed the issuing of an English prospectus, which was never circulated, but another, issued without the authority of the guaranty company or the Seven Stars Company, was prepared, supervised, and circulated by Cowland. The descriptive matter in this prospectus was obtained from data furnished by the officers of the guaranty company. The circulation of this prospectus amounted to 80,000 copies, and accompanying each copy was a map and application for subscription to stock; but neither Lawler nor Wells had any knowledge or information that this prospectus had been or was being circulated in England, or had any knowledge of its contents until some time in October, 1893. The further material facts are set forth in the opinion.

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