American Laundry Machinery Co. v. Skinner
|United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
|34 S.E.2d 190,225 N.C. 285
|AMERICAN LAUNDRY MACHINERY CO. v. SKINNER.
|06 June 1945
The plaintiff brought this action to recover a balance of $549.98, and interest, alleged to be due on the purchase price of laundry machinery sold to the defendant under a written sales contract, accompanied by instalment notes. The defendant denied the indebtedness, and by way of affirmative relief demanded $591.75 damages by reason of fraud alleged to have been practiced upon it in the sale--'false and fraudulent representations, warranties and guarantees' made by the agent of the plaintiff, which it is alleged induced the defendant to purchase the machinery and make certain payments upon it. The allegation is as follows:
* * *'
There was a written contract of purchase purporting to cover the antire agreement and containing the following provisions:
The contract was signed by both plaintiff and defendant in the presence of a witness. It contains no representations, warranties or guaranties such as were alleged to have been made by plaintiff's selling agent, Radermacher.
On the trial the defendant admitted making the contract and executing the installment notes, and assumed the burden of establishing his 'further defense.'
Pertinent to the alleged representations of Radermacher, the defendant was permitted to testify over the objection of the plaintiff, as follows:
Again, the defendant was permitted to testify, over objection, as follows:
Numerous exceptions were taken to the charge, which, for the most part, were intended to preserve plaintiff's position that the representations of Radermacher could not be held for actionable fraud and could not be admitted as warranties against the terms of the written instrument. Some were addressed to other phrases of the case. They may be disregarded here as not pertinent to the decision.
The following issues were submitted to the jury, and answered as indicated:
'1. Was the execution of the said sales contract and notes, described in the pleadings, induced by the fraudulent misrepresentations of the plaintiff, as alleged by the defendant in his answer? Answer: Yes.
Plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict and for a venire de novo for errors committed during the trial. The motion was denied and the plaintiff excepted. To the signing of the judgment, plaintiff objected and excepted, and appealed to this Court.
James A. Shaw, of Maxton, and Varser, McIntyre & Henry, of Lumberton, for plaintiff, appellant.
F. D. Hackett, of Lumberton, for defendant, appellee.
The appellant has made many assignments of error covering exceptions to the admission of evidence and to the instructions given to the jury. Most of them, but by no means all, are intended to protect the view taken by the plaintiff that the theory on which the case was tried was erroneous, and, therefore, led to numerous and persistent errors throughout the trial. The main objection to the trial, and the one which may be determinative of the controversy, is the refusal of the court to nonsuit the defendant's cross-action based on the allegedly false representations of plaintiff's sales agent, whereby defendant was induced to purchase the machinery, the subject of the controversy; and the refusal to enter judgment for the plaintiff upon the pleadings and admissions of the defendant in his answer and upon the trial.
Our first inquiry, therefore, is whether these representations, conceding them to have been made, can be held to constitute actionable fraud.
While these representations, as alleged in the complaint and testified to by plaintiff, are called 'representations, warranties, and guarantees' (sic)--indicating how they appeared to complainant--the labels may not be of decisive importance; but it is important to distinguish between the legal effect of fraud in the inducement, which vitiates the contract, and a parol warranty, which would have to be set up by amendment or contradiction of the written instrument. Furst & Thomas v. Merritt, 190 N.C. 397, 130 S.E. 40. Such a warranty, in the absence of fraud in the inducement, which would render the contract void, cannot be asserted by parol; not merely because the instrument here contains a positive agreement that all the representations are contained in the written instrument, but because the writing is presumed to contain all the agreement, and there is nothing in the written contract to indicate any incompleteness. McLain v. Shenandoah Life Ins. Co., 224 N.C. 837, 840, 32 S.E.2d 592; Coppersmith & Sons v. Ins. Co., 222 N.C. 14, 17, 21 S.E.2d 838; Colt Co. v. Conner, 194 N.C. 344, 139 S.E. 694; Colt Co. v. Springle, 190 N.C. 229, 129 S.E. 449; Murray Co. v. Broadway & Langston, 176 N.C. 149, 96 S.E. 990; International Harvester Co. v. Carter, 173 N.C. 229, 91 S.E. 840; Hampton Guano Co. v. Hill Live-Stock Co., 168 N.C. 442, 84 S.E. 774, L.R.A.1915D, 875; Unitype Co. v. Ashcraft Bros., 155 N.C. 63, 66, 71 S.E. 61; Case Threshing Machine Co. v. McClamrock, 152 N.C. 405, 67 S.E. 991. As a matter of fact and legal inference, the parol evidence offered by the defendant does 'vary, add to, or contradict' the written instrument, and, as we have indicated, could only be admitted on the theory that the representations constitute fraud in the inducement and destroy the contract.
Without attempting to resolve the indecision manifest in defendant's pleading and reflected throughout the trial, we examine the alleged representations in that light.
It has frequently been said, with reference, however, to the more general significance of the word, that there can be no all-embracing definition of 'fraud' but each case must be considered upon peculiar facts presented. 23 Am.Jur. Fraud and Deceit, Sec. 2; Furst & Thomas v. Merritt, supra. However, as the subject becomes more narrowly classified and we deal with particular acts alleged to be fraudulent, some more concrete rules may be applied, making the term more definitive in its content and meaning in the eyes of the law, and limiting its sufficiency as a basis of action or defense. As to positive representations constituting actionable fraud, the best known and most widely used definition of a false representation--and the one which we think comes...
To continue readingRequest your trial