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U.S. Supreme Court

Javierre v. Central Altagracia, 217 U.S. 502 (1910)

Javierre v. Central Altagracia

No. 171

Argued April 26, 1910

Decided May 16, 1910

217 U.S. 502




Where a proviso carves an exception, dependent on a condition subsequent, out of the body of a statute or contract, the party setting up the exception must prove, and has the burden, that the condition subsequent has actually come to pass.

A contract for deliveries for a term of years, of sugar, terminable meanwhile only in case a specified new Central was built, could not, in this case, be terminated unless the particular Central contemplated was built; it was not enough that a Central called by the same name had been built.

Damages in a suit at law for failure to comply with the term of a contract for delivery of crop is an adequate remedy, and specific performance and an injunction against delivery to others should have been refused in this case.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 217 U. S. 506

MR. JUSTICE Holmes delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an appeal from a decree enjoining the appellants from delivering sugar cane grown on the haciendas Florentina and Estero to the Central Eureka for the term of five crops, beginning with the crop of the year 1906-1907, or so long within that term as the appellee is ready to grind and pay for the same, and also from "selling, donating, renting, or mortgaging said haciendas," without stipulating for the carrying out of a contract made with the appellee. The contract referred to bound the appellants to have the cane grown on the haciendas ground at the sugar factory of the appellee for the term just stated at a certain price, with mutual agreements, not necessary to set forth, but, so far as appears, fair, and made upon equal terms. It was subject to a proviso, however, that if, on January 15, 1908, the projected Eureka Central should have been erected or should be in course of construction, the appellants might cancel the contract, giving notice on October 1, 1907. The notice was given, but the appellee contended that the Eureka Central referred to was abandoned, and that the central relied upon as the ground for the notice was one got up by the appellants and named Eureka with a view to getting out of their contract with the appellee.

The findings of fact are not entirely satisfactory upon the point in issue. They set out evidence and avoid a conclusion more definite than that which we shall state. It appears, however, that for some years, one Swift had been negotiating for the construction of a Central Eureka, and was continuing his efforts on December 10, 1906, when the contract was made. But in October, 1906, Javierre had telegraphed to him that negotiations with him were at an end, and there was evidence that Javierre and others had met and made an agreement on October 20 to form a corporation to set up the "said central," to be called the Central Eureka, "it being almost sure" that Swift had failed. The parties were to sell their cane to this

Page 217 U. S. 507

central for ten years. The court studiously avoids finding that this agreement was made, but does find that, if Javierre signed it, he did not consider himself bound by it, and, as has been seen, the contract with the appellee was of later date. The court also finds that it was not generally known that the planters had held the alleged meeting, or were contemplating the erection of the central, and, after stating other details, finds that the appellants have not proved by a preponderance of evidence that the contract referred to the Central Eureka started by them or that the Central Eureka mentioned was other than the one projected by Swift. It ruled that the burden of proof was on the appellants, and thereupon made the decree.

There is some preliminary argument that the finding concerning the continuance of Swift's efforts is not warranted by the pleadings. If this were true, no objection seems to have been made in the court below, where no doubt an amendment would have been allowed, if necessary. But it is a mistake. The bill merely alleges that Swift's arrangement failed "during the latter part" of 1906, and qualifies even this by the further allegation that, in the beginning of December, Javierre stated to the officers of the complainant (appellee) that he was still bound to Swift, but that the thing had failed, and that he was disposed to make a contract with them if he could have a clause providing for the case of Swift's success. The only real questions concern the ruling on the burden of proof and the propriety of the relief in such a case as this.

As to the burden of proof, if that really in any way determined the result, the ruling was correct. The appellants were seeking to escape from the contract made by them on the ground of a condition subsequent, embodied in a proviso. It was for them to show that the facts of the condition had come to pass. It is said that the bill alleges affirmatively a conspiracy to evade the undertaking, but that is merely by way of replication to the answer setting up the condition, and is nothing but a specific mode of denying that the condition had

Page 217 U. S. 508

been fulfilled. An allegation of fact that is material only as an indirect negative of something to be proved by the other party does not shift the burden of proof. Starratt v. Mullen, 148 Mass. 570. So there is nothing but the general question to be considered, and that is answered by the statement of it, and by repeated decisions of this Court. When a proviso like this carves an exception out of the body of a statute or contract, those who set up such exception must prove it. Schlemmer v. Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Ry. Co., Co. 205 U. S. 1; Ryan v. Carter, 93 U. S. 78; @ 84 U. S. 165. Therefore, it was for the appellants to prove that the central referred to by the contract had been built or started. It was not enough to prove that a central had been built and called by the same name.

The doubt as to the relief granted below is more serious, and, in the opinion of the majority of the Court, must prevail. According to that opinion, a suit for damages would have given adequate relief, and therefore the appellee should have been confined to its remedy at law. Again, the Court would not undertake to decree specific performance and to require and to supervise the raising of the crop and the grinding of the sugar, for even the now remaining period of the decree. There is a certain anomaly in granting the half-way relief of an injunction against disposing of the crops elsewhere when the Court is not prepared to enforce the performance to accomplish which indirectly is the only object of the negative decree. There is, too, a want of mutuality in the remedy, whatever that objection may amount to, as it is hard to see how an injunction could have been granted against the appellee had the case been reversed. Rutland Marble Co. v. Ripley, 10 Wall. 339. Notwithstanding these considerations, I should have preferred to affirm the decree, but, as my reasons have been stated to my brethren, and have not prevailed, it is unnecessary to repeat them now.

Decree reversed.

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