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JONES v. UNITED STATES.

October 1, 1877

JONES
v.
UNITED STATES.



APPEAL from the Court of Claims. The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Clifford delivered the opinion of the court.

Mr. James Lowndes, for the appellant.

The Solicitor-General, contra.

Time is usually of the essence of an executory contract for the sale and subsequent delivery of goods, where no right of property in the same passes by the bargain from the vendor to the purchaser; and the rule in such a case is, that the purchaser is not bound to accept and pay for the goods, unless the same are delivered or tendered on the day specified in the contract. Addison, Contr. 185; Gath v. Lees, 3 H. & C. 558; Coddington v. Paleologo, Law Rep. 2 Exch. 196.

Articles of agreement were made June 1, 1864, between an assistant-quartermaster of the army and the petitioner, who contracted to manufacture and deliver at the clothing depot of the army in Cincinnati, by or before the 15th of December then next, two hundred thousand yards of drak-blue uniform-cloth; and it was agreed that deliveries under the contract should be made as follows: five thousand yards in June, twenty-five thousand yards in July, twenty-five thousand yards in August, thirty-five thousand yards in September, fifty thousand yards in October, fifty thousand yards in November, and ten thousand yards on or before the 15th of December in the same year.

Other persons were interested with him in the contract at the time it was made; but one after another retired, until the petitioner is the only one that retains any interest. His claim is fully set forth in his petition.

Certain instalments of the cloth were delivered, for which the United States paid the contract price, excepting ten per cent reserved by the United States, pursuant to the written contract. Neither party complains of any default prior to August of that year, when the mill in which the cloths were manufactured was destroyed by fire, and the petitioner, in consequence of the loss, failed to make the deliveries of the cloth as the contract required; and the assistant-quartermaster called his attention to the fact, and notified the sureties that he should proceed against their principal for his delinquency.

Unable to fulfil the terms of the contract, he applied by letter to the person in charge of the depot to be released from the obligation, and for the payment of the reserved ten per cent. Being unsuccessful in that application, he visited Washington, for the purpose of applying to the department to be released from the unfinished part of his contract; and with that view sought an interview with the quartermaster-general, who referred him to the head of the bureau of clothing, where he was told that there was no power out of Congress to release him, and that he must furnish the goods. Had the conversation between the parties stopped there, the case would be destitute of any color of equity; but the finding of the court below shows that the head of the bureau remarked, that, upon application to the assistant-quartermaster, sufficient time would be allowed to deliver the goods.

Though told that there was no power out of Congress to release him from his contract, he procured the necessary quantity of such cloth to be manufactured, and applied by letter to the assistant-quartermaster for leave to complete the contract, who referred the letter to the quartermaster-general for decision; and his reply to the petitioner, as given in the findings, was, that he could not authorize the release from contracts, nor the extension of time for the delivery of articles under a contract, nor any action whatever not in accordance with their terms and conditions.

Prices in the market fell one-half; but the petitioner tendered the cloths to the assistant-quartermaster, who refused to receive the same, because the time for deliveries under the contract had passed.

Damages are claimed by the petitioner, upon the ground that the time for the delivery of the cloths, as specified in the contract, was extended: but the Court of Claims decided that the theory of fact involved in the defence was not proved; that the remarks of the head of the bureau of clothing were not sufficient to support that theory, as they might not imply any thing more than the opinion of that officer as to what the assistant-quartermaster would do.

The petition having been dismissed, due appeal was taken by the petitioner; and he assigns the following errors: 1. That the court erred in holding that time was of the essence of the written contract. 2. That the court erred in deciding that there was not a valid extension as to the time for delivering the cloths. 3. That the court erred in overruling the proposition of the petitioner, that the United States were estopped from denying the existence of the contract when the goods were tendered. 4. That the court erred in holding that there was not a new contract, and that such new contract was void because not in writing.

Whether one promise be the consideration for another, or whether the performance, and not the mere promise, be the consideration, is to be determined by the intention and meaning of the parties, as collected from the instrument, and the application of good sense and right reason to each particular case. Instructive rules for the accomplishment of that purpose have been stated in various decisions of the court and in treatises of high authority, some few of which may be consulted in this case to advantage. Chitty, Contr. 668.

Where an act is to be performed by the plaintiff before the accruing of the defendant's liability under his contract, the plaintiff must prove either his performance of such condition precedent, or an offer to perform it which the defendant rejected, or his readiness to fulfil the condition until the defendant discharged him from so doing, or prevented the execution of the matter which the contract required him to perform. For, where the right to demand the performance of a certain act depends on the execution by the promisee of a condition precedent or prior act, it is clear that the readiness and offer of the latter to fulfil the condition, and the hindrance of its performance by the promisor, are in law equivalent to the ...


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