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U.S. Supreme Court

Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. Co. v. Hoyt, 149 U.S. 1 (1893)

Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company v. Hoyt

No. 180

Argued March 30, 1893

Decided April 17, 1893

149 U.S. 1


When the record contains special findings of fact, but no bill of exceptions, the errors of law relied upon by a plaintiff in error must be considered and determined upon the findings.

If a contracting party absolutely binds himself to perform things which subsequently become impossible of performance, or to pay damages for the nonperformance thereof, and the thing which causes the impossibility might have been foreseen and guarded against in the contract, or arose from the act or default of the promisor, he will be held to the strict performance of his contract; but if the cause of the impossibility be of such a character that it cannot reasonably be supposed to have been in the contemplation of the contracting parties when the contract was made, he will not he held bound by general words, which, though large enough to include it, were not used with reference to the possibility of the particular contingency which afterwards happened.

A railway company and several individuals entered into a contract for the construction of a grain elevator by the latter, wherein the company agreed

"that the total amount of grain received at said elevators shall be at least five million bushels on an average for each year during the term of this lease, and in case it shall fall short of that amount the said party

Page 149 U. S. 2

of the first part agrees to pay to the said party of the second part one cent per bushel on the amount of such deficiency, settlements to he made at the close of each year, and whenever it shall appear at the close of any year that the total of grain received during so much of the term of this lease as shall then have elapsed does not amount to an average of five million bushels for each year, the party of the first part shall pay to the parties of the second part one cent per bushel for the amount of such deficiency; but, in case it shall afterwards appear that the total amount received up to that time equals or exceeds the average amount of five million bushels per annum, the amount so paid to the party of the second part shall be refunded or so much thereof as the receipts of the year shall have exceeded five million bushels, so that the whole amount paid on account of deficiency shall be refunded, should the total receipts for the entire term equal or exceed fifty million bushels in all, or an average of five million bushels for each year."

Held that the railway company only agreed that the quantity of grain which it would deliver at the elevators or tracks connected therewith, in the usual way in cars, for storage and handling; should amount on an average to at least 5,000,000 bushels per annum for a period of ten years, and that, in case the grain so delivered or brought to the elevators for delivery fell short of that quantity, it would pay one cent per bushel on the amount of such deficiency.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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