16 US 200 Shepherd v. Hampton

16 U.S. 200

3 Wheat. 200

4 L.Ed. 369


February 19, 1818

ERROR to the district court of Louisiana.

The plaintiffs filed their petition or libel in the court below, stating, that on the 12th day of December, 1814, they entered into a contract with the defendant for the purchase of 100,000 pounds weight of cotton to be delivered by the defendant to the plaintiffs on or before the 15th day of February, ensuing the date of said contract, the said cotton to be of prime quality, and in good order, and for which the plaintiffs stipulated to pay at the rate of ten cents per French pound; and in case the price of cotton, at the time of delivery, should exceed the above limited price, then the petitioners were to allow the common market price on 50,000 pounds of said cotton: and alleging a breach of the agreement on the part of the defendant in not delivering the cotton, &c.

The case agreed stated the contract as set forth in the petition, and that 49,108 pounds of cotton were delivered by the defendant under the contract about the time mentioned therein, to wit, on the 15th day of February, 1815, when the highest market price of cotton at New-Orleans was 12 cents per pound; that the defendant refused to deliver the remaining 50,892 pounds of cotton; that for some days after the said 15th day of February, 1815, the price of cotton remained stationary at about 12 cents; that it then began to rise, and continued gradually to rise until the commencement of this suit, when the market price was 30 cents per pound, and that the plaintiffs frequently called upon and demanded of the defendant the execution of said contract between the said 15th of February, 1815, and the time of bringing the present suit, and were ready and offered to comply with all the stipulations on their part, which was refused by the defendant.

Upon this state of the case the defendant contended, that the rule of damages for the breach of the contract must be the market price of cotton on the day the contract ought to have been executed.

The plaintiffs contended, that they were entitled to the difference between the price stipulated, and the highest market price up to the rendition of the judgment.

It was agreed, that if the court should be of opinion that the law is with the defendant, then judgment should be entered for the plaintiffs for the sum of 100 dollars damages; but if the court should be of opinion that the law was with the plaintiffs, then judgment should be entered for the plaintiffs for the difference between ten cents, the stipulated price, and thirty cents per pound, the present market price on the said 50,892 pounds of cotton, amounting to 10,178 dollars and 40 cents.

The cause was heard, according to the practice in the state of Louisiana, by the court below, on the case agreed, neither party demanding a jury.a Whereupon, after judgment, judgment was entered up for the plaintiff for the sum of 100 dollars damages, with costs, and the cause was brought by writ of error to this court.

Feb. 16th.

Mr. Winder for the plaintiffs, contended, that they were entitled to recover the difference between the stipulated price of the cotton and the highest market price at any time after the contract was made, up to the rendition of the judgment. He cited the authorities in the margin.b

No counsel appeared to argue the cause on the other side.

Feb. 19th.

Mr. Chief Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the court.

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The only question is, whether the price of the article at the time of the breach of the contract, or at any subsequent time before suit brought, constitutes the proper rule of damages in this case. The unanimous opinion of the court is, that the price of the article at the time it was to be delivered, is the measure of damages. For myself only, I can say that I should not think the rule would apply to a case where advances of money had been made by the purchaser under the contract; but I am not aware what would be the opinion of the court in such a case.


Judgment affirmed.


Louisiana, being a French colony, was originally governed by the custom of Paris, and such royal ordinances as were applicable. In August, 1769, when Louisiana passed under the dominion of Spain, the Spanish governor O'Reilly, published a collection, or rather an abstract of the administrative regulations adopted in the Spanish colonies, and a few leading principles contained in the Spanish laws, referring for further elucidations to the text in the Partidas, the Recopolacion of the Indies, & c. but at the same time, retaining in full force, until farther orders, (which have never been given,) the French laws such as they were at the time Spain took possession of he country. In the mean time the administration of justice being chiefly in the hands of Frenchmen, (except in the city of New-Orleans,) they continued to be governed altogether by the French laws, save only in cases where the few rules contained verbatim in O'Reilly's ordinance positively applied. Things remained in this situation until the government of the United States took possession of the province in 1803, when the increasing commerce of New-Orleans brought into action the whole body of the Spanish laws, and especially the laws of Toro and the ordinance of Bilboa, which last is regarded as the text law in commercial matters. Every thing in the ancient laws repugnant to the constitution of the United States was taken away, and all other subsisting laws were confirmed by the act of congress of the 26th of March, 1804, ch. 391.; which also gave the right of trial by jury in all criminal cases of a capital nature, and in all civil and criminal cases, if required by either of the parties. In 1808, the civil code was adopted which is principally a trancript of the Code Napoleon or civil code of France. Where that is silent, its omissions are supplied by a resort to principles derived from the Roman law, and the codes founded on it, including the laws of Spain, France, and the commentaries upon them The works of elementary writers, and the Enlish and American reporters are cited in the courts, not as binding authority, but as the opinions of learned men entitled to respect and attention. A regular series of reports of the decisions of the supreme court of the state is published by Mr. Martin, one of the judges. A civil suit is commenced by a petition or libel setting forth briefly the nature of the demand, to which the defendant answers; and the cause is set down for hearing, without any special or dilatory pleadings. The trial is by jury, only when required by either of the parties.


Bussey v. Donaldson, 4 Dall. 306. Douglass et al. v. McAllister, 9 Cranch. 208. Nelson et al. v. Morgan, 2 Martin's New-Orleans Rep. 256. Coit v. Lansing, 2 Caine's Cases, 215. Shepherd v. Johnson, 2 East. 211. Fisher v. Prince, 3 Burr. 1363. Whitten v. Fuller, 2 W. Bl. 902.