Knowlton Et Ux v. Campbell

Citation48 W.Va. 294,37 S.E. 581
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
Decision Date24 November 1900
PartiesKNOWLTON et ux. v. CAMPBELL.


If a written contract is ambiguous on its face, limited oral evidence may be admitted, either at law or in equity, to explain its meaning (that is, evidence to show the situation of the contracting parties, the circumstances surrounding them, and their acts afterwards in executing the contract, in order to reflect their intention in making the contract), but not evidence of their interlocutions, declarations, or conversations before or at the time of the consummation of the contract. If the contract is not ambiguous on its face, it. must speak for itself, and no oral evidence can be admitted, either at law or in equity, to contradict, alter, or explain it. But a court of equity may, for a mistake mutual to both parties, reform the contract in a suit brought expressly to correct such mistake, and then oral evidence of any kind is admitted to establish the mistake; but this cannot be done in a court of law, which must take the contract as written. (Syllabus by the Court.)

Error to circuit court, Tyler county; Romeo H. Freer, Judge.

Action by Thomas and Mary Knowlton against T. J. Campbell. Judgment for plaintiffs, and defendant brings error. Reversed.

F. L. Blackmarr and P. A. Shanor, for plaintiff in error.

J. H. Strickling, for defendants in error.

BRANNON, J. Knowlton and wife brought an action against Campbell before a justice of Tyler county, which went to the circuit court by appeal, and the case was there tried by a jury, which returned a verdict against Campbell for $300; and, judgment having been rendered on the verdict, Campbell comes to this court by a writ of error.

The nature of the case is this: Knowlton and wife made an oil lease to Campbell of atract of land containing the following clause: "The party of the second part agrees to complete a well within sixty days from the execution of this lease, or, in lieu thereof, thereafter pay to the party of the first part sixty dollars per month until work is commenced." Campbell began the work incident to the boring of an oil well within 60 days from the date of the lease, but did not complete the well for 12 or 13 months thereafter; being unable to do so for want of water necessary in the work, as he claimed and gave evidence tending to show, —being compelled to await the building of a pipe line for the conveyance of water. The plaintiff claimed the monthly rent of $60 for certain months after the commencement of the work and before its completion (that is, the completion of the well), basing his claim on the theory that though the work was commenced, in good faith, within 60 days from the date of the lease, he was entitled to the monthly rental for the time after the 00 days till the completion of the well. Campbell claims that, as he began work within 60 days, he is liable to no rent, under the language of the contract above quoted. On the trial the plaintiffs were allowed to ask Knowlton the question: "State what the bargain or agreement was in relation to the paying of rental by Mr. Campbell to you upon the lease." Knowlton answered: "The agreement was that the rental was to be paid to me until the well was completed, while that paper there says until work was commenced; and I supposed that that was the way it was written in the lease, — rental to be paid until the well was completed." The case turns upon the question whether that oral evidence was properly admitted over the defendant's objection. I think that this ruling of the court departs from law often stated and well settled. That evidence made that contract speak to the jury a different language and effect from its plain words. In Long v. Perine, 41 W. Va. 314, 23 S. E. 611, it is laid down that "a writing being the repository of the final agreement of the parties, and the highest and safest evidence of it, in the absence of fraud or mistake oral evidence of prior or contemporaneous stipulations or conversations will not be admitted to incorporate them in it, so as to add to, alter, or contradict the agreement spoken by the writing." In Hukill v. Guffey, 37 W. Va. 425, 16 S. E. 544, it is held that "parol evidence will not be received to ingraft upon or incorporate with a valid written...

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38 cases
  • Edmiston v. Wilson
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • 27 Junio 1961
    ...72 W.Va. 50, 77 S.E. 365; Crim v. O'Brien, 69 W.Va. 754, 73 S.E. 271; Null v. Elliott, 52 W.Va. 229, 43 S.E. 173; Knowlton v. Campbell, 48 W.Va. 294, 37 S.E. 581; Fishack v. Ball, 34 W.Va. 644, 12 S.E. 856; Deitz v. Providence Washington Insurance Company, 33 W.Va. 526, 11 S.E. 50, 25 Am.St......
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  • In re Miley
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • 25 Abril 1911
    ... ... W.Va. Oil Co., 17 W.Va. 135, 149, 150; Hurst v ... Hurst, 7 W.Va. 289; Scraggs v. Hill, 37 W.Va ... 706, 17 S.E. 185; Knowlton v. Campbell, 48 W.Va ... 294, 37 S.E. 581; Martin v. R.R. Co., 48 W.Va. 542, ... 37 S.E. 563 ... As to ... the contention that Carr ... ...
  • Uhl v. Ohio River R. Co
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • 8 Marzo 1902
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