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April 8, 1907



Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Moody

Author: Holmes

[ 205 U.S. Page 343]

 MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.

This is an appeal from a decision upon a bill of exceptions

[ 205 U.S. Page 344]

     in a case tried by the court of first instance without a jury. Hecht v. Boughton, 105 U.S. 235. The facts were found by the trial court and certain conclusions of law were stated, which the Supreme Court of the Territory held to be wrong. It sustained the exceptions upon one point which went to the root of the plaintiff's cause of action, and, upon the plaintiff's motion, coupled with a statement that it would have no further evidence to present at a second trial, ordered a judgment for the defendant, in order that the case might be brought to this court. The findings of fact were taken to be true by the Supreme Court and are not open to dispute, except so far as they depend upon rulings of law, so that the questions for decision here are definite and plain, and there is no need to send the case back for a statement of facts by the Supreme Court, although one should have been made. Stringfellow v. Cain, 98 U.S. 610; Harrison v. Perea, 168 U.S. 311, 323.

The suit was replevin for certain rails, cars, engines and goods, delivered by the appellant to the Kona Sugar Company, Limited, and sold by a receiver of that company to the appellee with full notice of the appellant's claim. Originally there was a contract for the sale of this property for cash, but the Kona Company having failed to pay, the appellant offered certain "terms in settlement of the contract" previously made, as follows: "We will take in settlement of this contract the sum of $10,000, U.S. gold coin, and the promissory note of the Kona Sugar Company Limited for the sum of $37,044.53 in favor of William W. Bierce, Limited, payable six months after date at the Whitney National Bank in New Orleans, bearing interest at the rate of seven and one-half per cent. (7 1/2%) per annum and secured by First Mortgage Bonds of the Kona Sugar Company, Limited, of par value equal to the note, said bonds being a portion of a duly authorized issue not exceeding $200,000. This offer is conditioned upon its acceptance by you, payment of the money and the delivery of the note, with collateral, before 4 P.M. on Thursday, March 14th, A. D. 1901. -- Upon such payment being made to us before

[ 205 U.S. Page 345]

     the hour named, we will deliver to you the bills of sale authorizing you to take charge of the rails, locomotives, cars, scales and other materials now awaiting delivery, upon the express condition and understanding that said rails, locomotives, cars, scales and other materials are and shall remain the property of William W. Bierce, Limited, until the full payment of the note above described, according to its terms." This offer was accepted, this contract took the place of that previously made, and the property was delivered.

For purposes of decision the Supreme Court assumed that, under the foregoing instrument, the passing of title was subject to a condition precedent, but intimated that the majority of the court thought otherwise, if it had been necessary to decide the point. It was not necessary because the court was of opinion that, if there was such a condition, it was lost by what was considered an election on the plaintiff's part. The court below had found that there was no election, and therefore the question was and is whether the acts done by the appellant constituted one as matter of law. If not, then it must be considered whether the sale was on a condition precedent, and those are the two questions of law in the case.

The facts are simple. After the last contract was made the Kona Company got into trouble and a receiver was appointed. The appellant thereupon filed a claim of lien upon the railroad supposed to belong to the Kona Company, for materials used in the construction and equipment of the road, the materials referred to being the property in question. On or about August 1, 1902, it brought a suit to enforce this lien and in November of the same year filed a petition in the Kona Company proceedings asking that a decree already made for the sale of all the Kona Company's property should be modified so as to except all liens from the operation of the sale. Only a part of the property was used in the construction of the road and under any circumstances the claim of a lien would have been bad. The lien suit was dismissed, before anything had been done in it, in January, 1903. On February 13, the appellant,

[ 205 U.S. Page 346]

     by leave of court, filed a petition in the Kona Company proceedings for an order that the receiver either should pay the amount due upon its note or deliver the property, setting up the contract and alleging that its title to the property still remained. The abortive lien proceedings constitute the election that is supposed to have brought the appellant's title to an end. We have not gone into further particulars because there can be no doubt that to claim a lien upon anything is inconsistent with asserting a title to it, and may be assumed to be ...

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