50 U.S. 390 (1850), Tayloe v. Merchants' Fire Ins. Co.

Citation:50 U.S. 390, 13 L.Ed. 187
Case Date:May 23, 1850
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 390

50 U.S. 390 (1850)

13 L.Ed. 187




United States Supreme Court.

May 23, 1850


THIS was an appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland.

A decree pro forma was entered, under the agreement of the parties, dismissing a bill filed by Tayloe against the insurance company under the following circumstances.

The office of the insurance company was at Baltimore, but there was an agent at Fredericksburg, Virginia, who was John Minor.

On the 25th of November, 1844, this agent addressed to the company the following letter.

'Fredericksburg, Virginia, November 25, 1844.


'The undersigned, William H. Tayloe, desires to effect insurance to the amount of eight thousand dollars on his dwelling-house, of stone covered with wood; main building about ninety by sixty feet, two stories; two wings, two stories, covered with wood, about fifty by fifty feet, and connected with the main building by covered ways of stone, covered with wood. The above-mentioned house is known by the name of Mt. Airy, and is situated in Richmond County, about two miles and a half from the court-house.


'P. S. Mr. Tayloe (not Mr. Taylor) passed through this place this morning on his way to Alabama, and, not having time to attend to his application, desired me to forward one in his name. The measures given are as nearly correct as I can remember; but, as the building is worth double the amount proposed, the measures are not of much importance. I have long been familiarly acquainted with the house. One thing I should state, that it is built of red sandstone, which in my opinion will not stand fire. Mr. Tayloe's family inhabits the house, and he will return in January or February; meanwhile, I am to communicate to him your answer.


On the 30th of November, 1844, the following answer was received.

'M. F. I. Co., Baltimore, November 30, 1844.

'J. MINOR, ESQ.:----

'Dear Sir,--Yours of 25th and account of 28th are received. I have forwarded Mr. B.'s policy. Mr. Tayloe's risk

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will be taken at the same rate as Mr. Bernard's, viz. 70 cts. on $8,000, p. $56. Policy, $1.

'Yours, respectfully,

'GEO. B. COALE, Secretary.'

When this letter was received by Minor, Tayloe was in Alabama, and Minor addressed to him the following letter, which he directed to Demopolis, Alabama, and which was sent from Demopolis to Macon, where Tayloe then was.

'Fredericksburg, December 2, 1844.

'This day I received from the secretary of the board of the Merchants' Fire Insurance Company of Baltimore an answer to your application for insurance to the amount of $8,000 on the Mount Airy house; rate 70.

Premium on $8,000 .... $ 56.00 Policy ............... 1.00 ------- $ 57.00

'Should you desire to effect the above insurance, send me your check, payable to my order, for $57, and the business is concluded.'

This letter, having been misdirected by Minor, did not reach the appellant until the 20th of December, 1844, and on the next day he wrote Minor the following letter.

'Macon, Marengo County, Ala., 21st Dec., 1844.

'Dear Minor,--Yours of the 2d came to hand yesterday, and I send you my check for fifty-seven dollars, as the premium of insurance on Mount Airy house. You will please deposit the policy in the Bank of Virginia, in your town, &c. &c.'

Mem. indorsed, 'Mem. rec'd December 31st, 1844.'

(Check Inclosed.)

'Marengo County, Ala., 21st Dec., 1844.

'$57. Bank of Virginia, Fred'g, pay John Minor, Esq., or order, fifty-seven dollars, premium of insurance on Mt. Airy house.


Written across the face,--'This check not to be presented.'

On the 22d of December, 1844, the house was burned down.

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On the 1st of January, 1845, Minor addressed a letter to Tayloe, from which the following is an extract.

'Fredericksburg, Jan. 1st, 1845.

'My dear friend,--Your letter of the 21st ultimo came to hand yesterday, unhappily too late. You have before this time, perhaps, received information that the centre building of Mount Airy was burnt on Sunday week (Dec. 22d),' & c., &c.

Mr. Minor was informed of the loss by Mr. Charles Tayloe, on the day after it took place.

In the summer of 1845, Tayloe called at the office of the company, and had some conversation respecting the insurance and the burning of his house, and in November, 1845, furnished them with the preliminary proofs of the loss which are always required to be handed in as soon as possible after the loss, by the conditions annexed to the printed policies of the company.

To the letter accompanying the preliminary proof, the company returned the following answer.

'Merchants' Fire Insurance Co., Baltimore, Dec. 15th, 1845.

'W. H. TAYLOE, ESQ.:----

'Dear Sir,--The Merchants' Fire Insurance Company has received your letter of 24th November, 1845, containing notice of claim for loss by fire on 22d December, 1844, and I am instructed to reply that the company declines to pay the claim as thereby made by you, and that, under the circumstances of the case, it does not waive any grounds of defence whatever, but will avail itself of all and any that by law it may.

'Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

(Signed,) GEO. B. COALE, Sec'y.'

During the progress of the suit, the following admission was filed in the Circuit Court by the respective counsel.


'It is admitted that the printed advertisement (marked complainant's No. 1) of John Minor, dated on the 27th July, 1842, giving notice of his agency, was published by him in a newspaper published in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It is also admitted, that the letter of said Minor to Wm. H. Tayloe, the complainant, dated December 2d, 1844 (marked complainant's No. 2), was written by said Minor, and addressed to said Tayloe, at Demopolis, Alabama, and afterwards sent from Demopolis

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to Macon, Alabama, at the dates of the two postmarks thereon, where said Tayloe then was; and that the letter from said Minor to said Tayloe, dated 1st January, 1844 (1845), (marked complainant's No. 3,) was written by said Minor. It is agreed that the charter of the said defendants (Act of Maryland, 1835, ch. 65, and supplements) may be used by either party, and read from the printed laws, as if proved; and also it is admitted that the printed blank policy, filed with the defendants' answer as an exhibit, is the form uniformly used by said defendants from its incorporation till this time, and that the exhibits G, H, and I, with the defendants' answer, are admitted; and all of said above papers may be used, at the trial of the above cause, as if the same had been regularly proved by the respective parties.

'JOHN GLENN, for Complainant.

JOHN J. LLOYD, for Defendants.'

In April, 1846, Tayloe filed his bill in the Circuit Court. It stated the substance of the facts above mentioned, and concluded thus:----

'To the end, therefore, that he may have redress on the premises, and that by a decree of this court the said defendants may be ordered and adjudged to pay to your orator the amount of actual loss which he has sustained, to an amount not exceeding eight thousand dollars, and that he may have such further relief as his case may require: may it please your honors to order that a writ of subpoena may issue, directed to said Merchants' Fire Insurance Company of Baltimore, to be and appear in this court to answer this bill, and to stand to and abide by the decree in the premises; and he will ever pray, &c.



The answer of the appellees admits, that John Minor was the agent of the appellees, at Fredericksburg, Virginia, 'to receive and forward to appellees proposals for insurance against fire'; that said agent did, on 25th of November, 1844, in behalf of the appellant, send a proposal for insurance, which was answered on the 30th of November, 1844; but that no reply was received from appellant till the 31st of December, 1844, by a letter inclosing appellant's check for the amount of the premium. That immediately on the receipt of said reply, the appellant was informed that it came too late; that the dwelling proposed to be insured had been burnt on the 22d of December, 1844, and that the check had not been and would not be presented

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for payment, and that said check was cancelled. The answer further exhibits a copy of the printed from of the policy uniformly used by the appellees in 1844, and before and since that time, and avers that it contains the terms and conditions on which the appellees insured, and that all answers of the appellees to applications for insurance against fire have always been with...

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