Grymes v. Sanders Et Al

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation23 L.Ed. 798,93 U.S. 55
Decision Date01 October 1876

APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The case was argued by Mr. Conway Robinson and Mr. Leigh Robinson for the appellant, and by Mr. Edwin L. Stanton and Mr. George M. Dallas for the appellees.

MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.

The appellant was the defendant in the court below. The record discloses no ground for any imputation against him. It was not claimed in the discussion at the bar, nor is it insisted in the printed arguments submitted by the counsel for the appellees, that there was on his part any misrepresentation, intentional or otherwise, or any indirection whatsoever. Nor has it been alleged that there was any intentional misrepresentation or purpose to deceive on the part of others.

The case rests entirely upon the ground of mistake. The question presented for our determination is whether that mistake was of such a character, and attended with such circumstances, as entitle the appellees to the relief sought by their bill and decreed to them by the court below.

Peyton Grymes, the appellant, owned two tracts of land in Orange County, Va., lying about twenty-five miles from Orange court-house. The larger tract was regarded as valuable, on account of the gold supposed to be upon it. The two tracts were separated by intervening gold-bearing lands, which the appellant had sold to others. Catlett applied to him for authority to sell the two tracts, which the appellant still owned. It was given by parol; and the appellant agreed to give, as Catlett's compensation, all he could get for the property above $20,000. Catlett offered to sell to Lanagan. Lanagan was unable to spare the time to visit the property, but proposed to send Howel Fisher to examine it. This was assented to; and Catlett thereupon wrote to Peyton Grymes, Jr., the son of the appellant, to have a conveyance ready for Fisher and himself at the court-house upon their arrival. The conveyance was provided accordingly, and Peyton Grymes, Jr., drove them to the lands. They arrived after dark, and stayed all night at a house on the goldbearing tract. Fisher insisted that he must be back at the court-house in time to take a designated train east the ensuing day. This involved the necessity of an early start the next morning. It was arranged that Peyton Grymes, Jr., should have Peyton Hume, who lived near at hand, meet Fisher on the premises in the morning and show them to him, while Grymes got his team ready for their return to the court-house. Hume met Fisher accordingly, and showed him a place where there had been washing for surface-gold, and then took him to an abandoned shaft, which he supposed was on the premises. There Fisher examined the quartz and other debris lying about. But a very few minutes had elapsed when Grymes announced that his team was ready. The party immediately started back to the court-house. Arriving too late for the train, they drove to the house of the appellant: and Fisher remained there until one o'clock that night. While Fisher was there, considerable conversation occurred between him and the appellant in relation to the property; but it does not appear that any thing was said material to either party in this controversy. Fisher proceeded to Philadelphia, and reported favorably to Lanagan, and subsequently, at his request, to Repplier, who became a party to the negotiation. He represented to both of them that the abandoned shaft was upon the premises. Catlett went to Philadelphia, and there he sold the property to the appellees for $25,000. Fisher was sent to the court-house to investigate the title. He employed Mr. Williams, a legal gentleman living there, to assist him. A deed was prepared by Mr. Williams, and executed by the appellant on the 21st of March, 1866. On the 7th of April ensuing, the appellees paid over $12,500 of the purchase-money, and gave their bond to the appellant for the same amount, payable six months from date, with interest. The deed was placed in the hands of a depositary, to be held as an escrow until the bond should be paid. Catlett, under a power of attorney, received the first instalment, paid over to the appellant $10,000, and retained the residue on account of the compensation to which he was entitled under the contract between them. The vendees requested Hume to hold possession of the property for them until they should make some other arrangement. He occupied the premises until the following July, when, with their consent, he transferred the possession to Gordon. In that month, Lanagan and Repplier came to see the property. Hume was there washing for gold. He began to do so with the permission of the appellant before the sale, and had continued the work without intermission. The appellees desired to be shown the boundary-lines. Hume said he did not know where they were, and referred them to Johnson. Johnson came. The appellees desired to be taken to the shaft which had been shown to Fisher. Johnson said it was not on the premises. Hume thought it was. Johnson was positive; and he was right. The appellees seemed surprised, but said little on the subject. They proceeded to examine the premises within the lines, and, before taking their departure, employed Gordon to explore the property for gold. Subsequently this arrangement was abandoned, and they paid him for the time and money he had expended in getting ready for the work. In September, they sent Bowman as their agent to make the exploration. On his way, he stopped at the court-house, and told the appellant that the shaft shown to Fisher as on the land was not on it. The appellant replied instantly, 'that there was no shaft on the land he had sold to Repplier and Lanagan, and that he had never represented to any one that there was a shaft on the land, and that he had never authorized any one to make such a representation, nor did he know or have reason to believe that any such representation had, in fact, been made by any one.' It does not appear that his attention had before been called to the subject, or that he was before advised that any mistake as to the shaft had occurred. Bowman spent some days upon the land, and made a number of cuts, all of which were shallow. The deepest was only fifteen feet in depth. It was made under the direction of Embry and Johnson, two experienced miners living in the neighborhood. It reached a vein of quartz, but penetrated only a little way into it. They thought the prospect very encouraging, and urged that the cut should be made deeper.

Bowman declined to do any thing more, and left the premises. No further exploration was ever made. Johnson says, 'I know the land well, and know there has been gold found upon it, and a great deal of gold, too,—that is to say, surface-gold,—but it has never been worked for vein-gold. The gold that I refer to was found by the defendant, Grymes, and those that worked under him.' He considered Bowman's examination 'imperfect and insufficient.' He had had 'twenty-three years' experience in mining for gold.'

Embry's testimony is to the same effect, both as to the surface-gold and the character of the examination made by Bowman. The premises lie between the Melville and the Greenwood Mines. Before the war, a bucket of ore, of from three to four gallons, taken from the latter mine, yielded $2,400 of gold. This, however, was exceptional. In the spring of 1869 a vein was struck, from forty to fifty feet below the surface, yielding $500 to the ton. Work was stopped by the influx of water. It was to be resumed as soon as an engine, which was ordered, should arrive. Ore at that depth, yielding from eight to ten dollars a ton, will pay a profit. Embry says he is well acquainted with the courses of the veins in the Melville and the Greenwood Mines, and that 'the Greenwood veins do pass through the land in controversy, and some of the Melville veins do also.' Speaking of Bowman and his last cut, he says:——

'At the place I showed him where to cut he struck a vein, but just cut into the top of it; he did not go down through it, or across it. From the appearance of the vein, I was very certain that he would find gold ore, if he would cut across it and go deep into it, and I told him so at the time; but he said that they had sent for him to return home, and he couldn't stay longer to make the examination, and went off, leaving the cut as it was; and the exploration to this day has never been renewed. I am still satisfied, that, whenever a proper examination is made, gold, and a great deal of it, will be found in that vein; for it is the same vein which passes through the Greenwood Mine, which was struck last spring, and yielded $500 to the ton. His examination in other respects, as well as this, was imperfect and insufficient. I don't think he did any thing like making a proper exploration for gold. I don't think he had more than three or four hands, and they were not engaged more than eight or ten days at the utmost.'

In September, 1866, Repplier instructed Catlett to advise the appellant, that, by reason of the mistake as to the shaft, the appellees demanded the return of the purchase-money which had been paid. In the spring of 1867, Lanagan, upon the same ground, made the same demand in person. The appellant replied, that he had parted with the money. He promised to reflect on the subject, and address Lanagan by letter. He did write accordingly, but the appellees have not produced the letter. This bill was filed on the 21st of March, 1868.

A mistake as to a matter of fact, to warrant relief in equity, must be material, and the fact must be such that it animated and controlled the conduct of the party. It must go to the essence of the object in view, and not be merely incidental. The court must be satisfied, that but for the mistake the complainant would not have assumed the obligation from which he seeks to be relieved. Kerr...

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