U.S. Supreme Court
MCMINN v. OWEN, 2 U.S. 173 (1792)
2 U.S. 173 (Dall.)
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
April Term, 1792
This was an action of covenant on articles of agreement, dated 22nd January, 1779; by which the plaintiff sold to the defendant a plantation; and the defendant covenanted to pay L 500 immediately, and L 500 in annual instalments. The first payment was made, and bonds were given for the residue of the money.
The question now principally agitated, was whether the money was to be reduced by the scale of depreciation, or to be paid in gold and silver?
The plaintiff offered a witness to prove, that, at the time of the covenant being executed, it was agreed the instalments should be paid in whatever money was current, at the time they became due.
Ingersoll, on the part of defendant, objected to this testimony. The value of money in contracts between 1776, and 1781, is ascertained by the act of Assembly (1 Vol. Dall. Edit. p. ) No parol proof is to be admitted to contradict this: It has always been repelled. It was so in Lee v. Biddis. 1 Dall. Rep. 175. The bonds which are explanatory of the contract are given to be paid in 'lawful money of Pennsylvania.' The evidence offered is to vary the agreement. Where the parties reduce the agreement to writing, that alone is the rule. 2 Bl. Rep. 1249. Even conversation of the parties at the time of the contract is not admitted, unless there is fraud. Brown. Ch. 93. 4. Powell. 430. Ambiguous expressions are not to be explained by parol proof. So was the case of Benezet and M'Clenachan where proof being offered to shew that by the term 'specie,' used in a policy of insurance, certain paper bills were intended by the underwriters, it was refused.
Sergeant, Lewis and Levy, for the plaintiff, urged, that the kind of money was not specified, and that this was an ambiguity, like that of a devise of a man to his son John; when he has two sons of that name. Here were two kinds of money in circulation, paper and specie; and the parties do not distinguish
in the articles which they mean. The auditors appointed under the act have this power; and shall not the Court have it also? The principle of Lee and Biddis was, that the Court were bound by the words 'current lawful money' and the positive words of the act of Assembly. The proof is necessary to effect the intention of the parties, and to prevent an undue and fraudulent advantage. The case in Davis. Rep. proves, that, on principle, this money ought to be paid in such coin as is current at the time it is payable; and the act of Assembly ought to be construed in consistency with this principle.
In Graff versus Whitmer, it was determined in this Court, that such proof might be made; and even after judgment by default, in debt on bond, the cause was sent to auditors to ascertain the value or kind of money. I cannot in consequence say such proof ought to be rejected; and this very point has been settled in that of Hurst versus Kirkbride.
By the Court: Let the evidence be heard, and the point reserved for the defendant, if he shall think it proper to move for a new trial.
The verdict being for plaintiff, a motion for a new trial was accordingly made, and argued by Ingersoll, at the same time with the case of Field and Biddle: (Ant. p. 171) But the counsel for the plaintiff submitted the point without argument. And
By the Court: The rule must be discharged.
Full Text of Opinion