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GREGORY V. MORRIS, 96 U. S. 619 (1877)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gregory v. Morris, 96 U.S. 619 (1877)

Gregory v. Morris

96 U.S. 619


1. The rule of the common law that the lien of the vendor of personal property to secure the payment of purchase money, is lost by the voluntary and unconditional delivery of the property to the purchaser does not prevent the parties from contracting for a lien which, as between themselves, will be good after delivery.

2. Where a party entitled to recover a certain amount in gold coin takes, with the approbation of the court, a judgment which may be discharged in currency, the judgment should be for a sum equivalent in value to the specified amount of that coin as bullion.

3. Where the record does not show that the finding of the jury is contrary to the instruction of the court, the presumption is that they followed it.

4. Where a witness testifies, in his direct examination, to a purchase, made by him, it is competent, on cross-examination, to ask him whether his contract was in writing, and, if it was, to identify the paper.

On Feb. 26, 1873, W. A. Morris and A. J. Gregory executed a written contract at Austin, Texas, for the sale to the latter, in accordance with a schedule of prices in gold, of a large number of cattle. The contract provided that Morris was to retain a lien on the cattle until the purchase money, amounting to nearly $8,000, should be paid, and it, for the purpose of preserving said lien, authorized him to designate some person as his agent to go along with and retain possession of the cattle. In the event of the balance of the purchase money not being paid on or before Oct. 1 following, such agent was to sell all or such portion of the cattle as would pay the purchase money then due, as well as the wages and other expenses of the agent. After the contract was signed, Morris executed to one Poteet a power of attorney authorizing him chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 96 U. S. 620

to accompany the cattle, and retain the lien provided for. The cattle arrived on the Laramie Plains some time in September. Oct. 4, the purchase money not having been paid by Gregory, Poteet took forcible possession of the cattle and drove them from the ranch where they were grazing to that of one Alsop, some distance off. Gregory then brought replevin against Morris and Poteet to recover possession of the cattle and damages for their wrongful detention.

The defendants, in their answer, denied all the allegations of the petition and specially that they wrongfully detained the cattle. At the trial, the plaintiff having introduced evidence tending to prove possession and ownership, the value of the cattle, the taking and detention of them, and his demand for their return, the defendants offered the written contract and other documentary evidence, which offer was objected to by the plaintiff, and the objection sustained. The defendants, having by leave amended their answer, were permitted to introduce the special matter which, under their original answer, had been excluded by the court. The plaintiff thereupon excepted. Upon the close of the testimony, the court gave certain instructions to the jury, which were excepted to at the time by the plaintiff, and are set out in the assignments of error.

The court, without objection, charged the jury, that,

"there being no question of title to the cattle put in issue by the pleadings, but of possession only, if you find for the defendants, you will find 'that they had the right of possession,' and will assess such damages as they have sustained by reason of being deprived of that possession, and the opportunity of selling the cattle according to the contract."

The plaintiff prayed for certain instructions, which were refused by the court. They are stated in the seventh assignment of error.

The jury found for the defendants and assessed their damages $7,454.90. A motion by the plaintiff for a new trial having been overruled and judgment rendered, which was affirmed by the supreme court of the territory, he sued out this writ, and here assigns for error that said supreme court erred:

1. In sustaining the ruling of the district court in instructing chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 96 U. S. 621

the jury as follows, to-wit,

"The jury must compute the damages, and return their verdict on that computation in dollars and cents, and, if the jury find the contract on the part of the plaintiff was to pay a certain sum of money in gold, they will compute the difference between gold and currency, and render their verdict in dollars and cents in currency."

2. In sustaining the ruling of said district court in giving to the jury the following instruction:

"That the written contract between Morris and Gregory, in connection with the bill of sale, the receipt, and the power of attorney to Poteet, necessarily explain and define the rights and interests of the parties to this action in the property in question."

3. In sustaining the ruling of said district court in giving to the jury the following instruction:

"That by and under those papers the defendants had a legal right to take possession of the cattle in question on or after the first day of October last, and retain such possession, for the purpose of selling them, according to the terms of said contract."

4. In sustaining the ruling of said district court in giving to the jury the following instruction:

"That if the jury find that Poteet, in pursuance of his power of attorney, took possession of said cattle and removed them to Alsop's ranch for the purpose of selling them according to the terms of said contract, then they must find the right of possession in the defendants at the commencement of this action, and must assess such damages for the defendants as are just and proper."

5. In sustaining the ruling of said district court in giving to the jury the following instruction:

"That the pleadings in this case put in issue only the right of possession at the time of the service of the writ of replevin, and you are instructed that the right of the plaintiff in these cattle at that time was only a right of redemption as a mortgagor after condition broken, and that he had no right to the possession of the cattle, and no right to take them, by replevin or otherwise, from these defendants, or either of them, until he had paid or tendered the amount due on the contract."

6. In sustaining the ruling of said district court in giving to the jury the following instruction:

"If the jury find that by the terms of the written contract, which must govern in this

Page 96 U. S. 622

case, that the defendants, on the first day of October, 1873, had a right to sell these cattle, the right to sell necessarily carries with it the right of possession."

7. In sustaining the ruling of the said district court in refusing to give to the jury the following instructions:

"If the vendor, Morris, made an agreement of sale and delivery, and in conformity therewith did sell and deliver cattle to Gregory, the vendee, and by the terms of the agreement made between the parties the vendor was to have and maintain a lien upon the chattels, or cattle, for the balance of the purchase price, by keeping the said cattle in the possession of the vendor during the journey from Texas to Wyoming, until the first day of October, 1873, the vendee, Gregory, after receiving th