Faw v. Marsteller - 6 U.S. 10 (1804)
U.S. Supreme Court
Faw v. Marsteller, 6 U.S. 10 (1804)
Faw v. Marsteller
6 U.S. 10
A deed was made for land in the year 1779 rendering an annual rent in current money of Virginia forever. Held that the rent is to be paid in specie or other money equivalent thereto at the date of the deed, and the same is not to be reduced at the scale of depreciation.
A contract for the payment of distinct sums of money at different times is very much in the nature of distinct contracts, and an action of debt lies for each sum as it becomes due.
The rule which forbids a deed to be contradicted by parol evidence is a salutary one, and the Court is not disposed to impair it.
In the construction of a statute, positive and explicit provisions, comprehending in terms a whole class of cases, are not to be restrained by applying to those cases an implication drawn from subsequent words unless that implication be very clear, necessary, and irresistible.
Where a case is shown to be out of the mischief intended to be guarded against or out of the spirit of the law, the letter of the statute will not be deemed so unequivocal as absolutely to exclude another construction.
It is said the case ought to be an extraordinary one, that the circumstances ought to be uncommon, which would warrant a departure from the general principles established for the government of contracts. This is true, and the Court would certainly not feel itself at liberty to exercise on a common occasion a discretionary power limited only by the opinion entertained of the naked justice of the case.
In the month of May, 1779, the executors of John Alexander, in pursuance of a power contained in the will of their testator, set up to the highest bidder on a ground rent forever certain lots of land lying in the Town of Alexandria.
One of these lots containing half an acre was struck off to a certain Peter Wise at the rent of 26 per amount, current money of Virginia. Wise bid for Jacob Sly, a citizen of Maryland, who transferred the lot to Abraham Faw, to whom the same was conveyed in fee-simple, by a deed bearing date the 5th of August 1779, in which the said ground rent of Ł26 per annum, current money of Virginia, was reserved.
In the year 1784, Abraham Faw divided the said half-acre of ground into eight smaller lots, five of which he has sold, reserving a ground rent forever, amounting to ground-84 12s. per annum. One of these lots was conveyed by Faw to Jacob Hess in the year 1784 at the ground rent of ground-25 16s. per annum, which lot has been since purchased by Phillip Marsteller, the appellee, who has also purchased from the devisee of John Alexander all his rights in or issuing from the half-acre lot of ground conveyed to Abraham Faw. Thus Abraham Faw becomes liable to Philip Marsteller for the rent accruing under the deed of August, 1779, who is himself liable to the said Faw for the rent accruing on part of the same lot, under the deed executed by Faw to Hess in November, 1784.
In November, 1781, the Legislature of Virginia passed an act calling paper money out of circulation and also another act directing the mode for adjusting and settling contracts made in that currency.
The second section of this latter act, after stating, by way of preamble, that
"the good people of the state would labor under many inconveniences for want of some rule whereby to settle and adjust the payment of debts and contracts entered into or made between 1 January, 1777, and 1 January, 1782, unless some rule should be by law established for liquidating and adjusting the same so
as to do justice as well to the debtor as the creditor,"
enacts that from and after the passing of the act
"all debts and contracts entered into or made in the current money of this state or the United States, excepting at all times contracts entered into for gold and silver coin, tobacco, or any other specific property within the period aforesaid now remaining due and unfulfilled or which may become due at any future day or days for the payment of any sum or sums of money, shall be liquidated, settled, and adjusted agreeably to a scale of depreciation hereinafter mentioned and contained -- that is to say by reducing the amount of all such debts and contracts to the true value in specie at the days or times the same were incurred or entered into, and upon payment of said value so found, in specie, or other money equivalent thereto, the debtors or contractors shall be forever discharged of and from the said debts or contracts, any law, custom, or usage to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding."
The fourth section establishes the scale of depreciation which shall constitute the rule by which the value of the debts, contracts, and demands in the act mentioned shall be ascertained, and the fifth section enacts
"That where a suit shall be brought for the recovery of a debt and it shall appear that the value thereof hath been tendered and refused, or where it shall appear that the nonpayment thereof hath been owing to the creditor, or where other circumstances arise which in the opinion of the court before whom the cause is brought to issue would render a determination agreeable to the above table unjust, in either case it shall and may be lawful for the court to award such judgment as to them shall appear just and equitable."
The act then empowers the court to direct at what depreciation any judgment shall be discharged on a verdict given for damages between 1 January, 1777, and 1 January, 1782, having "regard to the original injury or contract on which the damages are founded, and any other proper circumstances that the nature of the case will admit."
It was proved in the cause that the contracts made by the executors of John Alexander excited at the time very great attention and were the subject of general conversation. The prevailing opinion among the bidders was that the rents would be paid in paper money so long as paper should be the circulating medium, after which they would be paid in specie. Such too was the opinion of Peter Wise, the purchaser of the particular lot which occasioned the existing controversy, and there is reason to suppose it was also the opinion of those who were disposing of the property; it was also thought the rent reserved was low, when considered as payable in paper, but high if to be paid in specie.
It was further proved that a lot not more valuable than that which occasioned the present contest was sold in 1774 on a ground rent of Ł13 5s. per annum forever, and that a lot less valuable was sold in the year 1784 on a ground rent of Ł35 per annum. But it appeared from other parts of the testimony that the lots which were sold in the year 1784 in Alexandria on ground rent were contracted for so much above the value they afterwards bore that the lessors in very many instances were under the necessity of reducing the rents one-half below the sum originally stipulated, and in some instances the reduction was still greater.
The circuit court decreed that the rents which accrued during the existence of paper money should be reduced according to the scale for the time when they became payable, but that the subsequent rents should be paid in specie. From this decree Faw appealed.