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HARRISON V. MORTON, 171 U. S. 38 (1898)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harrison v. Morton, 171 U.S. 38 (1898)

Harrison v. Morton

No. 245

Argued May 2-3, 1898

Decided May 23, 1898

171 U.S. 38

Syllabus

Eustis v. Bolles, 150 U. S. 361, affirmed to the points:

(1) That to give this Court jurisdiction of a writ of error to a state court, it must appear affirmatively not only that a federal question was presented for decision by the state court, but that its decision was necessary to the determination of the cause, and that it chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 171 U. S. 39

was actually decided adversely to the party claiming a right under the federal laws or Constitution, or that the judgment as rendered could not have been given without deciding it;

(2) That where the record discloses that, if a question has been raised and decided adversely to a party claiming the benefit of a provision of the Constitution or laws of the United States, another question not federal has been also raised and decided against such party, and the decision of the latter question is sufficient, notwithstanding the federal question, to sustain the judgment, this Court will not review the judgment.

This suit was brought by the plaintiff in error, Harrison, against the defendant in error, on the 8th of February, 1895, in the Baltimore City Court, to recover the sum of $300,000, damages for the breach of a contract under seal for the sale of certain patent rights.

Under the alleged contract, the plaintiff in error sold, and the defendant in error bought and agreed to pay for, a certain machine, method, and device for making barrels and kegs and all his right, title, and interest in certain pending letters patent therefor, when issued at and for the price of three hundred thousand dollars, whereof one hundred thousand dollars were to be paid in cash within ten days after the issuing of letters patent, and the remaining two hundred thousand dollars were to be paid in the full-paid, nonassessable shares of a corporation, to be incorporated and organized by the defendant in error, Morton, under the laws of Maryland, with a capital stock of five hundred thousand dollars.

The pleas were:

First. Non est factum.

Second. That the signature of the defendant in error to the alleged agreement was procured by the fraud of the plaintiff in error.

Third. That the signature of the defendant in error was procured by the undue influence of the plaintiff in error.

And also three supplemental pleas on equitable grounds:

First. That there was no consideration for the alleged agreement.

Second. That at the date of the alleged agreement, Harrison chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 171 U. S. 40

was not the owner of, and had no valid title to, the machine, method, and device mentioned in the declaration.

Third. That at the time of the alleged assignment of the patent, Harrison was not the owner of, and had not a valid title to, the said patent.

The defendant also filed a plea of set-off, and, upon demand for a bill of particulars of such set-off, filed a bill of particulars, amounting to thirty-one thousand seven hundred and ninety-one dollars and fifty-two cents ($31,791.52).

Replications were duly filed and issues joined on all of them.

The case was tried before the judge, without a jury.

At the trial, the parties asked the court to rule on certain propositions contained in what the record calls "prayers." They were as follows, with the action of the court expressed thereon:

"Plaintiff's First Prayer"

"The plaintiff, by his counsel, prays the court to rule that if it shall find from the evidence that the contract between the plaintiff and defendant, dated December 8, 1894, and read in evidence, was signed and sealed by the plaintiff and defendant, and left in the possession of the defendant as a complete and operative instrument according to its terms, and that in accordance with said contract, shortly after the execution thereof, the plaintiff executed to the defendant the assignment read in evidence of his right to the invention therein mentioned, on which application for a patent was then pending, and that defendant afterwards employed and paid patent attorneys to procure for him the patent from the government of the United States and from the governments of other countries, and if the court shall further find that the said application for a patent was allowed by the government of the United States, and subsequently that letters patent for said invention were granted, bearing date January 22, 1895, as read in evidence, and that the plaintiff, at the time of the execution of said agreement with the plaintiff, had no knowledge or notice of the agreement between Henry Campbell and the Campbell Barrel Company offered in evidence, then the plaintiff is entitled to recover. "

Page 171 U. S. 41

"('And that there is no evidence that the plaintiff had any knowledge or notice of said agreement between said Campbell and said Campbell Barrel Company.') (Rejected as offered, but granted as modified by omitting the words in italics.)"

"Plaintiff's Second Prayer"

"The plaintiff, by his counsel, prays the court to rule that the defendant has offered no evidence legally sufficient to show that the contract set out in the declaration was procured by the plaintiff from the defendant by fraud or by undue influence. (Conceded.)"

"Plaintiff's Third Prayer"

"The plaintiff, by his counsel, prays the court to rule that the defendant has offered no evidence legally sufficient to show that there was no consideration for the agreement set out in the declaration. (Rejected.)"

"Plaintiff's Fourth Prayer"

"The plaintiff prays the court to rule that, if the court shall find that, on the 11th day of September, 1894, Henry Campbell made to the plaintiff the assignment of one-half interest in his then pending application to the United States patent office for a patent for the invention in said assignment mentioned, and subsequently, on or about the 26th of November, 1894, made to the plaintiff a further assignment of all his interest in his said pending application and to the patent thereon, whenever the same should thereafter be granted, then, by virtue of said two assignments, the plaintiff acquired an inchoate title to said invention and to the patent thereon, when the same should thereafter be granted, which title it was competent for the plaintiff to sell, assign and dispose of, and if the court shall further find that, on or about the 10th day of December, 1894, the plaintiff executed to the defendant the assignment read in the evidence, and dated the 8th day of December, 1894, for the consideration therein mentioned, and that subsequently, on or about the 22d day of January, 1895, a patent was issued by the United States in the name of said Henry Campbell, for the invention described

Page 171 U. S. 42

in said several assignments from said Campbell to the plaintiff and from the plaintiff to the defendant, then the defend