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U.S. Supreme Court

Fowle v. Lawrason's Executor, 30 U.S. 5 Pet. 495 495 (1831)

Fowle v. Lawrason's Executor

30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 495


After an arbitrament and award, an action was instituted at law upon the award, and the court being of opinion the award was void for informality, judgment was given for the defendant. A bill was then filed by the plaintiff, on the equity side of the Circuit Court for the County of Alexandria, to establish the settlement of complicated accounts between the parties, which was made by the arbitrators, and if that could not be done, for a settlement of them under the authority bf a court of chancery. This is not a case proper for the jurisdiction of a court of chancery.

Although the line may not be drawn with absolute precision, yet it may be safely affirmed that a court of chancery cannot draw to itself every transaction between individuals in which an account between parties is to be adjusted. In all cases in which an action of account would be the proper remedy at law, and in all cases where a trustee is a party, the jurisdiction of a court of equity is undoubted. It is the appropriate tribunal.

James Lawrason, the testator of the appellee, filed a bill in the Circuit Court of Alexandria, against the appellant, William Fowle, as surviving partner of Thomas Lawrason, who had died intestate, and who with William Fowle, had carried on business under the firm of Lawrason & Fowle. After the decease of James Lawrason, the suit was prosecuted by his executor.

The bill charges that the complainant, James Lawrason, being seized of one moiety of a wharf and warehouse in the Town of Alexandria, and his son, Thomas Lawrason, of the other moiety, the said Thomas being then a co-partner of Fowle; the complainant agreed to rent to the co-partnership his moiety of the same, and that on or about the day of _____, they entered on the possession and occupied them until the death of the said Thomas; that the complainant understood and supposed that he was to be paid for his moiety the annual rent of $1,600; and that he expects to prove that the said Thomas frequently acknowledged that to be the annual rent. That the complainant's interest in the property was worth that rent. That during the period, the said chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 30 U. S. 496

Lawrason & Fowle occupied the premises, dealings, and other matters of account took place between them and the complainant, which not having been settled during the life of Thomas Lawrason; it was agreed after his death that the accounts between the complainant and the firm should be settled by arbitration, and that arbitrators were accordingly appointed to make the settlement. That the arbitrators awarded the sum of two thousand dollars in favor of the complainant, which award, with the accounts on which it was founded, are exhibited. That the defendant, Fowle, refused to submit to the award, alleging that the arbitrators were under a misapprehension as to the complainant's interest in the rent. That the complainant brought a suit at law on the award, and the court decided on the trial that in consequence of some error in the submission and in the form of the award, it could not be sustained. That the effect of this decision may be to open the accounts between the parties, and if so, they can nowhere be so correctly settled as in the court of chancery. That he considers himself, however, entitled to the benefit of the settlement made by the arbitrators, and that although a suit at law might not be sustained on the award, yet in equity it is valid and binding, that he claims the benefit of it; but if this cannot be obtained, he must submit to another settlement to be made by order of the court. The bill concludes with a prayer for the settlement of accounts and for general relief.

The complainant's bill having been taken pro confesso as against the defendant, Fowle, the court at November term 1823, directed an account to be taken by the auditor between the complainant and the defendant, Fowle, as surviving partner, &c., as well in relation to the rents claimed of the firm as to all other matters of account between them; and the auditor was authorized to take such legal testimony as should be offered by the parties and to report &c. At May term, 1824, the complainant having died, Aaron R. Levering, his executor, was made complainant.

From the report of the auditor it appears that there existed chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 30 U. S. 497

no difficulty in the settlement of the general account (exclusively of rent) between James Lawrason and the defendant Fowle, as surviving partner. The balance on this account in favor of Fowle, being admitted to be $11,769.30. That as to the rents, the only difference that existed between the parties, was, whether the amount which had been claimed by James Lawrason and admitted by the auditor was to be considered as the rent of the whole of the wharf and warehouse as contended for by the defendant Fowle, or was to be considered as the rent of the warehouse and the complainant's moiety of the wharf only, leaving Fowle still accountable to the representatives of Thomas Lawrason for the rent of his moiety of the wharf. If the latter is correct, there is a balance of $2,638.83, with interest from 21 August, 1819, due the complainant from the defendant Fowle as surviving partner. If the former, there is a balance due from the complainant to the defendant of $1.295.93, with interest, &c.

From the evidence laid before the auditor, he decides and reports accordingly

"That the amount of rents claimed by the complainant ought to be considered not as his share or dividend, but as a reasonable rent for the whole of the wharf and warehouse, but as the defendant Fowle admitted that Thomas Lawrason had never made nor intimated an intention to make any charge against the company for rent on account of that half of the wharf which had been conveyed to him, this, taken into consideration with his declarations as stated in the depositions of E. and R. Riggs, induced him (the auditor) to believe that it was his (T. Lawrason's) intention that the whole rent of the property should go to his father (the plaintiff) during his life; he therefore reported the balance of $2,638,83 to be due to the complainant from the defendant Fowle."

At November term 1825, Hugh Smith and Nehemiah Carson, administrators of Thomas Lawrason, were made defendants. At April term following, the complainant filed his amended bill against them, calling on them to answer to his original bill as if they had been originally made parties to it chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 30 U. S. 498

and praying that they may be bound by any decree the court may make in the same manner and to the same extent as if they had been parties originally. At April term, 1827, the answers of the defendant Fowle and of the administrators of Thomas Lawrason were filed.

The answer of Fowle admits the co-partnership commencing in 1804 and terminating by the death of T. Lawrason in 1819. That the wharf and warehouse were rented from the complainant, then the sole owner, in, 1804 at $450 per annum, which rent was placed to the complainant's credit, on the books of the firm until the year 1808. That about that time, great improvements were made, and the property became more valuable, but as no contract was made and no sum named by the complainant for