Pollak v. Brush Electric Ass'n of St. Louis, 128 U.S. 446 (1888)
U.S. Supreme CourtPollak v. Brush Electric Ass'n of St. Louis, 128 U.S. 446 (1888)
Pollak v. Brush Electric Association of St. Louis
Argued and submitted October 29, 1888
Decided November 19, 1888
128 U.S. 446
In Alabama, when a defendant pleads specially and generally, and the special plea contains nothing of which the defendant cannot avail himself under the general issue, an error in sustaining a demurrer to the special plea, as it works no injury, constitutes no ground for reversal.
In Alabama, a written agreement between the parties may be read in evidence without proof of its execution unless the execution is denied by plea, verified by affidavit.
The agreement which formed the subject of controversy in this action
related to a renewal of the existing contract of the plaintiff in error for lighting certain streets in Montgomery, and not to an enlargement of that contract so as to include other streets, and being so construed, the requisite renewal was effected by the acts of the parties referred to in the opinion of the Court, without a written contract, covering a fixed period of time.
Covenants are to be considered dependent or independent according to the intention of the parties, to be deduced from the whole instrument, and in this case the covenants of the plaintiff in error to pay money for goods sold and delivered were independent of the covenants of the defendant in error to transfer certificates of stock in a corporation.
This writ of error brought up for review a judgment in favor of the Brush Electric Association of St. Louis, plaintiff below, against the plaintiff in error for the sum of $6,458.10.
Besides the common count for goods and merchandise sold to the defendant, Pollak, the complaint contained a special count based on a written agreement between the parties, executed November 13, 1883. By the first article of that agreement, Pollak agreed to pay to the plaintiff the sum of $7,942 as follows:
"Seven thousand dollars in cash on the execution of this agreement, and the sum of nine hundred and forty-two dollars on the first day of January, 1884, in full settlement and satisfaction of all claims and demands due by Pollak & Co. and the Brush Electric Light and Power Company of Montgomery, Alabama, to the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis, and the Brush Electric Association agrees to transfer or cause to be transferred to said Ignatius Pollak, without recourse, all the shares now held by the said Brush Electric Association and the Brush Electric Company of Cleveland, Ohio, in the said Brush Electric Light and Power Company of Montgomery, Alabama."
The remaining articles of the agreement were in these words:
"Second. The said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis agrees to furnish to the said Ignatius Pollak one number 8 dynamo-electric machine, one automatic dial for said machine, and forty arc lamps of two thousand candlepower each, of different styles, for which the said Ignatius Pollak agrees to pay to the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis by the
first day of January, 1885, twelve percent of the cost of said machinery, as per card rate hereto attached, signed by the parties, and made a part of this agreement, which card rate is agreed by the parties to be the cost of said machinery. This twelve percent, it is agreed by the parties, is to be considered a rental of said machinery, dial, and lamps for the term of one year, and which are furnished to enable the said Ignatius Pollak to comply with his contract with the City Council of Montgomery to light the streets of the City of Montgomery with electric lights."
"Third. It is further agreed that in case the City Council of Montgomery shall conclude to adopt the Brush electric light for the future lighting of the streets of the said City of Montgomery, Alabama, after the expiration of the time of the present contract between said Pollak and Company and the City Council of Montgomery, that the said Ignatius Pollak will pay to the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis, Mo., by the first day of January, 1885, the cost of said machinery, dial, and lamps, as fixed and ascertained by said card rate hereto attached, and in that event the said Ignatius Pollak is not to pay the said twelve percent, said twelve percent being a separate and distinct arrangement, as a fair rental for the use of said machinery, dial, and lamps by the said Ignatius Pollak, and for the risk assumed by the Brush Electric Association in furnishing the same to the said Ignatius Pollak in case the said City Council of Montgomery shall conclude not to continue lighting the streets of Montgomery with the Brush electric light after the expiration of their present contract with said Pollak & Co."
"Fourth. It is further understood and agreed that in case the said City Council of Montgomery shall not conclude to continue lighting the streets of the said City of Montgomery with the Brush electric light after the expiration of their present contract with said Pollak & Co., the said Ignatius Pollak shall deliver the said dynamoelectric machine, said automatic dial, and said lamps by the first day of January, 1885, fully repaired and in good working order, to the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis, at Cleveland, Ohio,
or St. Louis, Missouri, as may be directed by the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis, and that the title and property in and to said machinery, dial, and lamps shall be and remain in the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis until and unless the said Ignatius Pollak pays the cost of said machinery, dial, and lamps, as provided by this agreement, in the third clause thereof."
"Fifth. It is further understood and agreed that the said Ignatius Pollak shall have the right to purchase from the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis any machinery, and any pieces and parts of machinery which may be necessary for repairing and keeping in working order the present machinery in said City of Montgomery, and the machinery furnished to him by this agreement, at the same rates at which such machinery and pieces and parts of machinery are sold at the time to other private consumers by the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis."
There was appended to this agreement a stipulation, signed by the parties, that the
"delivery of said dynamoelectric machine, dial, and lamps on board the cars at said City of Montgomery, consigned to the said Brush Electric Association of St. Louis, at Cleveland, Ohio, or St. Louis, Missouri, as said Brush Electric Association may direct, cost of transportation prepaid, by the first day of January, 1885, shall be considered and held a delivery by said Ignatius Pollak, as provided in the fifth clause of the aforegoing agreement."
The card rates attached to the above agreement, and referred to in its second article, were these:
ST. LOUIS, MO., NOV. 13, 1883
Mr. Ig. Pollak, Montgomery, Ala.
'83 Bought of the Brush Electric Association
Oct. 25. 30 No. 11 Lamps, 60 . . . . . . . 1,800
6 " 3 " 60 . . . . . . . 360
2 " 2 " 50 . . . . . . . 100
2 " 17 " 60 . . . . . . . 120
1 " 8 dynamo . . . . . . . . 3,600
1 " 8 dial . . . . . . . . . 200
At the time this agreement was made, Pollak had a contract with the City of Montgomery for the lighting of its streets, which expired November 1, 1884. On the 4th of October, 1884, he addressed a communication to the city council, referring to the fact that the contract between him and the city "for twentythree electric lights for street purposes" would expire on the first of November, and asking prompt action as to whether it would be renewed by the city or whether additional lights would be taken. He further said in his communication:
"Having incurred very heavy expense in bringing extra machinery here, and having to pay a heavy rental for the additional dynamo required for the city purposes, it becomes absolutely necessary that your decision should be rendered as early as possible, so that in the event of your declension to renew the contract, I may be able to take down, pack, and deliver the machinery at Cleveland, Ohio, within the time stipulated with the parent company of the Brush Electric Association."
On the 6th of October, 1884, that communication was referred by the city council to the gas committee, and on the 3d of November, 1884, the recommendation of the committee "that the contract with Pollak & Co. to furnish the city with twentythree electric lights be renewed for one year," was adopted by the council. At a subsequent meeting of that body held January 19, 1885, it was resolved that, "renewing the contract for the electric light, the mayor is authorized and instructed to make the contract with the Brush Electric Light and Power Company." Of that company Pollak was president, and seemed to have exclusive control and direction of its business, including the property and machinery connected therewith. It was in proof that the dynamo and machinery sued for in this action were received by the defendant and used by him in performing his contract; that, at the time of the trial below, they were in use at the works of the lastnamed corporation, which had furnished the electric light during the existence of the contract between the city and Pollak; and that the city continued, after November 1, 1884, to make monthly payments to the defendant.
It was also in proof that there were about eighty miles of streets, and more than one hundred different streets within the corporate limits of Montgomery, and that only a small portion of the city was ever lighted by the Brush electric light; that Commerce Street and Dexter Avenue were the only thoroughfares or streets that were thus lighted continuously all the way from end to end; that only twenty-three electric lights or lamps in all were or ever had been used or employed in the city for street lighting purposes; that the remainder of the lights not used on Commerce Street and Dexter Avenue were employed on parts of certain streets, and were confined within a narrow compass, mainly in the business center of the city; that no greater number of lights or lamps were employed or contracted for at any time in the city for street lighting purposes than were used in the year 1884 up to the first of November of that year; that the area or territory covered with these lights had not in any manner been enlarged; and that there were a great variety of electric lights other than the Brush electric light serviceable for lighting streets, and were in use in various cities of the United States.
It was further proven by a witness that the Legislature of Alabama convened in Montgomery on the 11th of November, 1884, remaining in session, before its recess, during the balance of that month and a part of the succeeding month; that, in the absence of any contract between the city and the defendant after the 1st day of November, 1884, the mayor of the city made a temporary arrangement with the defendant to furnish the Brush electric light to the city for the purpose of keeping the portion of the city above described lighted during the balance of the month of November and the month of December, 1884.
This was in substance all the proof in the cause. The court charged the jury that if they believed the evidence the plaintiff was entitled to recover the prices of the machinery, as fixed in the above card of rates, with interest from January 1, 1885.