Knighton v. Des Portes Mercantile Co.

Decision Date18 April 1922
Docket Number10870.
Citation112 S.E. 343,119 S.C. 340
PartiesKNIGHTON v. DES PORTES MERCANTILE CO.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Appeal from Common Pleas Circuit Court of Fairfield County; T. S Sease, Judge.

Action by Cap L. Knighton against the Des Portes Mercantile Company. From judgment for defendant, plaintiff appeals. Affirmed.

Following are the exceptions of plaintiff to the admission of certain testimony and the charge of the trial court with reference thereto:

Watts J., and Gary, C.J., dissenting.

McDonald & McDonald, of Winnsboro, for appellant.

J. W Wanahan and G. W. Ragsdale, both of Winnsboro, for respondent.

I. H HUNT, A. A. J.

The facts are set out in the "case" as follows:

"This action was commenced by the service of a summons and complaint on the defendant on the 9th day of March, 1918. The action was brought by the plaintiff against the defendant, a mercantile corporation, to recover the sum of $612.94, being double the amount of usurious interest alleged to have been collected and received by the defendant from the plaintiff on two certain notes given by the plaintiff to the defendant, to wit: Upon one note for $274, dated the 7th day of April, 1905, and payable on the 1st of November, with interest after maturity at the rate of 8 per cent. per annum, and upon another note given by plaintiff to defendant for $230, dated March 19, 1907, and payable on the 1st of November after date, with interest after maturity at the rate of 8 per centum per annum, payable annually. The answer of the defendant set up as defense: First, a general denial; second, that the subject-matter of said suit had been compromised and settled between the parties as part of the consideration of a deed of conveyance of a tract of 150 acres of land conveyed by the defendant to the plaintiff. The case came on for trial at the September, 1919, term of the court for Fairfield county before Judge Sease and a jury. Testimony was offered by the plaintiff and the defendants, and after hearing the charge of the presiding judge the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. Upon the verdict so rendered judgment was entered on the ______ day of February, 1920. Notice of appeal to the Supreme Court was duly served. The only issues in the case arise upon the rulings of the presiding judge in allowing certain testimony to be introduced with reference to an alleged compromise and settlement of plaintiff's claim for usury, which said testimony was duly objected to (1) upon the ground, among others, that such parol testimony was incompetent, because it tended to vary, add to, or contradict the terms of a written instrument, to wit, the deed from the defendant to the plaintiff, mentioned in defendant's answer, and (2) upon his charge with reference thereto."

The exceptions will be reported.

The issues raised on the appeal in this case present no new question to this court. The general principles involved have been decided time and time again. Decisions from the early days of our judiciary to the present clearly and positively draw the line of demarcation between admissible and prohibited testimony pertaining to written instruments. While the decision in each case was dependent and grounded upon the peculiar facts and expressed language in the written instrument at that time before the court, fixed general rules and established precedents have been adhered to in each case. A review of the long list of decisions will reveal the fact that it is an irrevocable rule that, when parties put their agreements and contracts in writing, they are legally bound thereby and cannot repudiate, contradict, vary, add to, modify, or alter the expressed terms and conditions therein, unless they come within certain exceptions which are controlled by well-defined rules and established legal principles. Real and personal property rights of the citizen would be jeopardized were the terms and conditions of a written instrument, solemnly executed, dependent upon the slippery memories and the individual consciences of the parties to the transaction. Therefore the law has directed, and the courts have provided, certain well-defined rules, and exceptions thereto, wherein the rights of the parties are held inviolate and the contract enforced in conformity to its expressed terms and conditions.

The consideration in a deed of conveyance is neither an essential nor a vital element therein, unless it be of a contractual nature. It has no legal status except to estop the grantor from alleging that it was without consideration and to prevent a resulting trust in the grantor. The validity of a deed does not depend upon the real consideration being expressed therein. The expressed consideration is the least important of all the elements of that instrument. It, in itself, grants no right, vests no title, and warrants no promise. Its purpose and function is complete when it fixes and identifies itself as either a "good" or "valuable" consideration. The law and the courts are not concerned as to the actual or real consideration of the instrument. The question is: Is it of such character as to vest the title to the property therein described? It is a fact of general knowledge and a practice, well known to the courts, that the real consideration of a deed is often withheld for secret reasons and business purposes. A consideration, to be sufficient, need not be adequate; it need only be a valuable consideration, however small.

"A deed is also valid in law, whether the consideration has been actually paid or not, where there is a recital of its payment." Corpus Juris, vol. 18, p. 162.
"Where a deed is based on a valuable consideration, it is immaterial whether it be wholly paid in money, or partly in other things of value." Corpus Juris, vol. 18, p. 164.
"Although a deed ordinarily states the consideration, and the expression of a valuable consideration is essential to a deed of bargain and sale, yet a conveyance may be operative and of binding effect even though the consideration is not expressed therein, and a bargain and sale deed is good, although it does not express that the consideration money has been paid. Nor need the amount of the consideration be stated in the conveyance in order to make it a valid one and pass title. Nor does a false statement of the consideration operate as a nullification. The recital in a deed that the consideration thereof had been paid as of the same date, when in fact it has been previously received as a loan, is not such a variance of fact as to discredit the deed." Corpus Juris, vol. 18, p. 177.

The consideration expressed in a deed must be either "good" or "valuable." The rule is that, when either is expressed, parol evidence cannot be admitted to show the other, but it may be admitted to show a greater or less of the same character. That rule, however, is subject to the qualification that, where fraud is alleged, it is competent to show by parol that a deed purporting to be based upon a valuable consideration was, in fact, based upon a good consideration. Latimer v. Latimer, 53 S.C. 484, 31 S.E. 304.

Among the earlier decisions of this court on this question may be noted the case of Curry v. Lyles, 2 Hill, 404, decided in 1834. The decision in that case seems to have so impressed the judiciary of this state that it has been cited and approved by this court time and again from the date of its filing to the present. The opinion of the court was delivered by Judge Johnson and received the concurrence of Judges O'Neall and Harper. The opinion of the court was, in part, as follows:

"The authorities cited by the counsel for the motion sustain very fully the position taken in the ground of the motion, that parol evidence was admissible to show that the true consideration agreed to be paid by the defendant for the land conveyed to him by the plaintiff, was $1,150 instead of $1,100, as expressed in the conveyance. The general rule certainly is, that parol evidence will not he admitted to contradict, alter or vary the terms of a written contract; and the reason of it is, that the writing is supposed to express the true intention of the parties, and is not subject to the frailties of memory. It cannot, therefore, apply to these formulas which enter into almost every deed, and which are unnecessary to its validity and binding effect. In framing the contract, the intention of the parties is necessarily directed to the thing that is to be done or granted, and with respect to these, it will be supposed that they have expressed precisely what was intended; but with respect to things that are immaterial, and without which the contract would be binding, it will not be supposed that these are always stated with reference to the precise state of the facts. A deed, for example, takes effect from the delivery, without reference to the date which it bears, and would be binding, although it had no date. So a deed without any consideration, one merely voluntary, is binding on the grantor, and so whether it expresses a partial or the full consideration paid. It was not necessary, therefore, to the full and perfect operation of the deed from the plaintiff to the defendant, that it should express the precise consideration agreed to be paid, and it will not be inferred that it was intended to be so expressed.
The King v. The Inhabitants of Scammonden, 3 Term Rep. 474, is directly to the point. An agreement for the purchase of an estate expressed the consideration to be L28, and the question was whether parol evidence was admissible to show that L30 was the true consideration, and Lord Kenyon said it was clear that the party might prove other considerations than those expressed in the deed, and he referred to the case of Filmer v. Gott, 7 Bro. P. C. 70, where the
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