Brown v. Spofford,
95 U.S. 474 (1877)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Brown v. Spofford, 95 U.S. 474 (1877)

Brown v. Spofford

95 U.S. 474


1. Where, at the time of making and endorsing a promissory note, a written contract in relation thereto is entered into by the parties, parol testimony varying or contradicting its terms is not admissible.

2. The Court reaffirms the doctrine that a bona fide purchaser for value before maturity of a negotiable instrument is not, unless they are brought to his notice, affected by any equities between the original parties.

3. A party who seeks to avail himself of the conditions of a compromise binding him to the performance of certain acts in order to discharge the original demand must first show performance on his part.

4. The Court condemns as irregular proceedings whereby the defendant in two separate suits, in the former of which judgment had been rendered before the latter had gone to trial, was permitted to file bills of exception purporting to be applicable to each case, and, without consolidating them, remove them to this Court by one writ of error.

This action was brought by Spofford & Clark, against Samuel P. Brown and Austin P. Brown on five promissory notes, for $2,267.33 each, made by the defendants Jan. 8, 1872, by their firm name of S. P. Brown & Son, and payable to the order of Austin P. Brown in one, two, three, four, and five months after date. The declaration alleged that the notes were, on the date thereof, severally endorsed by the said Austin P. Brown, and came before maturity, in due and regular course of commercial dealing, and for a full, fair, and valuable consideration, into the possession and ownership of the plaintiffs, but were protested for nonpayment, whereof due notice was given the endorser.

Page 95 U. S. 475

The defendants, in addition to the general issue, pleaded two special pleas, but as the matters therein set forth could have been offered under the general issue, they are omitted here.

On Aug. 2, 1872, the plaintiffs sued the defendants on another note of the same series as the preceding five, but which was payable in six months after date.

The same defense was made as in the former suit.

At the trial, the plaintiffs having proved the signatures and endorsements on the notes, and that the defendants composed the firm of S. P. Brown & Son, rested.

The defendants then introduced evidence tending to show that for several years before the making of the notes, they had had large dealings with the Philadelphia Coal Company, and that a controversy arose as to the amount of their indebtedness to the company; that on the said 8th of January, 1872, the notes in suit were executed by them and delivered to Henry L. Cake, president of said company, who thereupon delivered to them a paper, of which the following is a copy:

"WASHINGTON, D. C., Jan. 8, 1872"

"Received from S. P. Brown & Son the following notes, in full settlement of their indebtedness to the Philadelphia Coal Company:"

One note dated Jan. 8, 1872, at one month . . . $ 2,267.33

One note dated Jan. 8, 1872, at two " . . . 2,267.33

One note dated Jan. 8, 1872, at three " . . . 2,267.33

One note dated Jan. 8, 1872, at four " . . . 2,267.33

One note dated Jan. 8, 1872, at five " . . . 2,267.33

One note dated Jan. 8, 1872, at six " . . . 2,267.33


Amounting to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $13,603.98

"And in settlement of these notes I have agreed, upon behalf of the Philadelphia Coal Company, to receive an order on Edwin Stewart, Paymaster of the United States Navy, and accepted by him, for five thousand five hundred dollars ($5,500), with interest from date, said order to be liquidated as follows: $2,000 at three months from Dec. 20, 1871; $2,000 at four months from Dec. 20, 1871; and $1,500 at five months from Dec. 20, 1871 -- the whole amount, with interest, from Dec. 20, 1871; also, Z. Jones' endorsement on four notes, as follows: S. P. Brown & Son's notes to order

Page 95 U. S. 476

of Z. Jones, dated Jan. 8, 872, for $1,250, respectively at six, eight, ten, and twelve months, amounting to $5,000, this sum of ten thousand five hundred dollars ($10,500) being in effect a compromise of the said indebtedness of $13,603.96, to be conclusive upon the payments being made at the times stated."

"And I further stipulate on behalf of the Philadelphia Coal Company that, upon payment of the $5,500, with interest, by the paymaster within the time stated, the first, second, and third notes given by S. P. Brown & Son for the sum of $2,267.33, amounting to $6,801.99, shall be returned to S. P. Brown & Son as settled, and upon payment of the four notes at maturity endorsed by Z. Jones, the remaining three notes of S. P. Brown & Son, amounting to $6,801.99, shall be handed back to S. P. Brown & Son, being settled in full by the payment of said four notes endorsed by Z. Jones."

"H. L. CAKE"

"President Philadelphia Coal Co."

"Witness: A. B. WOLFE"

The defendants then offered testimony tending to prove that the company, when it transferred the notes sued on to the plaintiffs, who acted as its agents in selling coal on commission and who also occasionally bought and sold on their own account, received as the sole consideration therefor the promissory notes of the latter for the same amount; that at the time of said transfer, Cake assured the plaintiffs that they should incur no loss in respect to said transaction, but that he would indemnify and protect them; that at the time of the execution of said agreement between the defendants and Cake, it was agreed that as the notes in suit should respectively mature, they should be paid and taken up by the company. The court excluded this testimony, and the defendants excepted. They thereupon asked the court to charge that if the jury believed that the plaintiffs came into possession of the notes sued on without paying an actual valuable consideration, or by paying only a nominal one, or under circumstances which would have put a prudent man on inquiry concerning any agreement between the defendants and the Philadelphia Coal Company with respect to said notes, then the jury must consider the plaintiffs to be bound by such agreement. That under the agreement of Jan. 8, 1872, the Philadelphia Coal Company was bound, among other things, to take up and hold the two notes sued on

Page 95 U. S. 477

which first became due, and that if the jury found from the evidence that the company did not do so, but allowed them to go to protest, then the verdict should be for the defendants.

The court refused so to charge, but charged that if the jury found from the evidence that the notes in suit were made by the defendants in liquidation of an antecedent indebtedness due to the Philadelphia Coal Company and were, before maturity, endorsed for a valuable consideration by it to the plaintiffs, then the plaintiffs are entitled to recover from the defendants the full amount of said notes, and that any agreement between the company and the defendants in relation to said notes would not affect the rights of the plaintiffs unless they, before the purchase of said notes, had actual notice of said agreement; that if the plaintiffs had actual notice before said purchase that the company had made the agreement of compromise, and that said agreement was not carried out by the defendants in the manner agreed upon, then the plaintiffs might recover on the original notes, and that so far as that question was involved, the plaintiffs were entitled to a verdict; that the agreement to receive $10,500 as a compromise in discharge of the notes could be made available to the defendants only by proving that the sums were paid as therein stipulated, or tendered by the defendants, or by one of them; that if the defendants had failed to show that the compromise was accepted by them by payment of the stipulated sums, their original indebtedness on the notes remained, and the plaintiffs were entitled to recover; that if the notes were endorsed and delivered to plaintiffs before maturity, and in the course of business, they ere entitled to recover, and were not affected by any transactions between the original parties of which they had no notice when they received the paper.

The defendants excepted to the refusal of the court to charge as requested, and also to the charge as given.

There was a verdict in each case in favor of the plaintiffs, and the judgments thereon having been affirmed in general term, the defendants sued out this writ.

The assignment of errors is set forth in the opinion of the Court.

Page 95 U. S. 478

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