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U.S. Supreme Court

Hinckley v. Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Co., 121 U.S. 264 (1887)

Hinckley v. Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company

Argued April 5, 1887

Decided April 18, 1887

121 U.S. 264


The defendant agreed, in writing, to purchase from the plaintiff rails to be rolled by the latter, "and to be drilled as may be directed," and to pay for them $58 per ton. He refused to give directions for drilling, and at his request, the plaintiff delayed rolling any of the rails until after the time prescribed for their delivery, and then the defendant advised the plaintiff that he should decline to take any rails under the contract.

Held: chanrobles.com-red

Page 121 U. S. 265

(1) The defendant was liable in damages for the breach of the contract.

(2) The plaintiff was not bound to roll the rails and tender them to the defendant.

(3) The proper rule of damages was the difference between the cost per ton of making and delivering the rails and the $58.

It was not improper to admit evidence which was unnecessary and which could not affect the merits of the case or evidence from which it appears no prejudice resulted.

This is an action at law brought in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois by the Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company, Limited, a Pennsylvania corporation, against Francis E. Hinckley to recover damages for the breach by Hinckley of a written contract for the purchase by him from the company of 6,000 tons of steel rails. The contract was as follows:

"Memorandum of Sale"

"The Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company, Limited, have sold and hereby agree to make and deliver to the order of F. E. Hinckley, Esq., 204 Dearborn St., Chicago, Ills., and the said Hinckley has purchased and agrees to pay for, six thousand gross tons of first-quality steel rails, to weigh fifty-two (52) pounds to the yard, and to be rolled true and smooth to the pattern to be furnished by the said Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company, Limited, pattern No. 5."

"Said rails are to be made of the best quality of Bessemer steel, and to be subject to inspection as made and shipped, and to be well straightened and free from flaws, and to be drilled as may be directed. At least ninety percent shall be in thirty (30) feet lengths, with not over ten (10) percent of shorter lengths, diminishing by one foot differences, none to be less than twenty-four (24) feet."

"All second-quality rails, or excess of shorts which may be made, not exceeding five (5) percent of each month's shipments, to be taken at the usual reduction of ten (10) percent in price, and to be piled and shipped separately (painted white on both ends) as may be ordered by the inspector. Deliveries to begin in May, 1882, in which month one

Page 121 U. S. 266

thousand tons shall be delivered, and to continue at the rate of twenty-five hundred tons per month after July 1, 1882, until finished, strikes and accidents beyond ordinary control of said steel company, and acts of Providence preventing or suspending deliveries alone excepted, in which case deliveries are to be delayed for a corresponding length of time only."

"Price to be fifty-eight dollars net per ton of 2,240 pounds of finished steel rails, ex. ship or f.o.b. cars at Chicago, Ills., seller's option."

"Terms of payment, cash on delivery of inspector's certificate for each five hundred tons as fast as delivered. If shipment is delayed without fault of said steel company, payment is to be made in cash upon completion and delivery of each five hundred tons at Chicago and inspector's certificate. Rails to be inspected at mill as fast as completed and ready for shipment."

"In witness whereof the said Hinckley has hereto set his hand and seal, and the Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company, Limited, by its duly authorized officers, hath signed and affixed its corporate seal, the day and year aforesaid."

"It is further agreed that the Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company, Limited, are not to be responsible for delays resulting from failure of railroads to furnish cars, proper efforts having been made to procure them, nor for detentions after shipment has been made."

"It is understood that the purchaser shall have the right to make one-half of the order fifty-six (56) pounds per yard, pattern No. 4 of said steel company, notice to be given thirty days before the time for the delivery of the rails."

"Chicago, Ills., February 18, 1882."


"C. H. ODELL, Broker"

One copy of the contract was signed by Hinckley, and a duplicate of it was signed by the company.

The defendant pleaded the general issue, and the case was tried by the court on the due waiver of a jury. The court made the following special finding of facts: chanrobles.com-red

Page 121 U. S. 267

"1. That the written agreement set out and described in the declaration was duly executed by the plaintiff and defendant in said cause, as alleged in said declaration."

"2. That immediately after the making of said contract, and before the time to begin the execution thereof, the plaintiff purchased the requisite amount of material from which to manufacture the six thousand tons of steel rails called for by said contract, and that after the purchase of said supplies by plaintiff, there was a decline in the value thereof, before the time for the delivery of any portion of said rails, and that lower prices for such supplies ruled during the months of May, June, July, and August, 1882."

"3. That it appears from the parol proof heard on said trial, aside from the provision in said written contract in regard to drilling directions, that it was usual and customary for the purchaser of steel rails to give directions as to the drilling thereof, and that each railroad company has its own special rules for drilling, and the drilling of such rails is considered in the trade as a part of the work of manufacture and a part of the duty of the manufacturer in order to fully complete the rails for use."

"4. That by letters dated April 3 April 20, April 26, and April 28, from plaintiff's agents to defendant, and which letters were duly received by defendant before May, 1882, defendant was request ed to furnish drilling directions for the rails to be delivered in May under said contract, and defendant not only neglected to comply with such request and furnish such directions, but defendant also notified plaintiff in reply to such request that he, defendant, was not then prepared to receive the rails which were to be delivered under said contract in the month of May."

"Again, about the 15th of June, defendant informed plaintiff that he was becoming discouraged about being able to take the rails. That, about June 23, plaintiff notified defendant that it was ready to commence rolling the rails for the July deliveries, as well as to cover the thousand tons specified in the contract for delivery in May, of which plaintiff had postponed

Page 121 U. S. 268

delivery at defendant's request, and asked for drilling directions from the defendant, but defendant wholly neglected to give such drilling directions."

"That about the 26th of July, defendant in substance informed plaintiff's agents that his financial arrangements for money to pay for said rails pursuant to said contract had failed, and that he could not take said rails unless plaintiff would sell them to him on six and twelve months' credit, for which the notes of the railroad company for which defendant was acting would be given, which defendant would endorse, and also further secure with first mortgage bonds, as collateral at fifty cents on the dollar, but unless he could secure the rails on such terms, he could not take them, and that plaintiff declined to accept said proposition for the purchase of said rails on credit, and I further find that, on the 30th of August, 1882, plaintiff notified defendant that the time for the completion of his contract for the purchase of said rails had expired, and requested defendant to advise it whether he would accept the rails or not. To this request defendant made no reply."

"I further find that while plaintiff did not expressly agree with defendant to postpone the time for the delivery of the rails to be made and delivered under said contract, yet plaintiff did in fact delay the rolling and delivery of the rails to be delivered in May, and that, by reason of the repeated statements of defendant that he was not ready to give drilling directions, not ready to use said rails, and not ready to accept them, plaintiff did postpone rolling said rails, and in fact never rolled any rails to be delivered on said contract, but that plaintiff was at all times during the months of May, July, and August ready and able, in all respects, to fulfill said contract and make said rails, and the same would have been ready for delivery, as called for by said contract, if defendant had furnished drilling directions, and had not stated to plaintiff's agents that he was not ready to furnish said drilling directions, and not ready to accept said rails."

"I further find that on or about the 15th day of September, 1882, defendant was formally requested to furnish drilling

Page 121 U. S. 269

directions and to accept said rails, and that he replied to such request that he should decline to take any rails under said contract, and that he had made arrangements to purchase rails of others at a good deal lower price."

"I therefore find, from the testimony in this case, that defendant, by requesting plaintiff to postpone the delivery of said rails, and by notifying the plaintiff that he was not ready to accept and pay for said rails, excused the plaintiff from the actual manufacture of said rails and a tender thereof to defendant."

"And I further find that defendant's statement to plaintiff, on the 26th of July, that he could not pay cash for said rails, as called for by the contract, and that we wished to buy them on credit, was in fact a notice that he would not be able to pay for said rails if rolled and tendered to him by plaintiff."

"I therefore conclude, and so find as a matter of fact, from the evidence in the case, that said plaintiff in apt time requested defendant to furnish directions for the drilling of said rails, and that defendant neglected and refused to do so, and that although plaintiff was ready and able to fully perform said contract, and make and deliver said rails to defendant as required by said contract, defendant refused to accept and pay for said rails."

"5. That plaintiff manufactured and sold to other persons 4,000 tons of steel rails, from the materials so purchased, with which to perform said contract with defendant, for which said rails plaintiff received $54.60 per ton, delivered at a port on Lake Huron, and that plaintiff made a profit of $1.60 per ton on said 4,000 tons; that by reason of defendant's refusal to accept said rails, the plaintiff had no employment for its mill for a time, and was obliged to stop its mill for about three weeks in the month of August, 1882."

"6. That it would have cost plaintiff $50 per ton to have manufactured and delivered the rails called for by said contract to defendant, according to the terms of said contract, so that plaintiff's profits, if it had not been prevented from fulfilling said contract by the conduct of defendant, would have been $8.00 per ton on each ton or rails called for by said contract. "

Page 121 U. S. 270

"And because of said facts, I find that defendant was guilty of a breach of said contract, and that plaintiff hath sustained damage, by reason of such breach, in the sum of $42,400."

On these findings, a judgment was entered for the plaintiff for $42,400 damages, and for costs. 17 F.5d 4. To review that judgment the defendant has brought this writ of error. After the record was filed in this Court, it being discovered that there was an error in computation in entering the judgment for $42,400, instead of $41,600, the circuit court allowed the plaintiff to remit the difference, $800, and an order was entered accordingly, as of the date of the judgment. chanrobles.com-red

Page 121 U. S. 272


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