U.S. Supreme Court PRINGLE v. MCCLENACHAN, 1 U.S. 486 (1789)
1 U.S. 486 (Dall.)
Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County
December Term, 1789
This cause being referred, a report was made in favor of the Plaintiff, to which the following exceptions were filed by the Defendant:
1st. For that the Referees have entirely omitted to charge the Plaintiff John Pringle, with the sum of L.146. specie. for a loss on a Policy of Insurance that he underwrote to the Defendant, Blair M'Clenachan, upon the Brig Nancy, Richey, master, on a voyage from Cadiz to Philadelphia in 1775.
2. For that in the month of December 1776 there was a balance due from John Pringle to Blair M'Clenachan of L.2455. 13. 4. as appears by the account current furnished the Referees;
and yet the Referees, by continuing down the subsequent items of account in Continental Money, to August 1780 (when they struck a balance of L. 21191. 13. 0. Continental Money, at 70 for one have reduced the balance of L2455. 13, 4. Specie, due to Blair M'Clenachan in 1776, by a scale of depreciation of 70 for one, so that instead of L2445. 13. 4. Blair M'Clenachan has credit for about L35 .1. 8. specie. 3. For that in an item of L 6403. 17. 8. Continental Money, on a transaction of November 1778 to the debit of Blair M'Clenachan, they have ommitted to charge him with that sum in November 1778, and reduce it by the scale of 70 for one, as they did the balance in August, but have taken that single item out of the general, mass of the account, which amounts to upwards of L360 000, Continental Money, and reduced it by a scale of 6 for one; which, upon their own principles, will turn to the disadvantage of Blair M'Clenachan L 975. 16. 7. specie. 4. That Blair M'Clenachan, in September 1777, drew a bill of exchange on Neury, payable in London, for L. 200 sterling, in favor of John Pringle, which was protested; and the Defendant, Blair M'Clenachan, never had notice thereof, until the latter end of 1778, or beginning of 1779, and the Referees have charged the Defendant for the same, the sum of L.656. 19. 3. specie, and by reason of the Referees having scaled the aforesaid balance of L.21191 13. 0. at 70 for one, the said Blair M'Clenachan, has to his credit for the said bill only the sum of L. 8. 11. 5. specie. After argument, the President delivered the opinion of the Court as follows:
Shippen, President. The court have deliberately considered this case, and are unanimously of opinion, that the Referees, although men of knowledge and integrity, have hastily adopted a principle not warranted by law, which, it sanctified by this court, would be productive of manifest injustice. The accounts that had been exhibited by one party to the other, were certainly evidence against him who exhibited them, as to the articles which they contained, but could not be considered as evidence, much less conclusive evidence, of what was not stated or distinguished in them; I mean, the value of the specie and depreciated money. This appears to have been a principal subject of dispute between the parties, and ought to have been open to discussion before the Referees. Yet, under the idea that this was conclusive evidence, they have totally refused to consider the items of the account as to their real value, or to exercise their judgments upon them; but, by applying a certain rate of depreciation to the balance of the whole account, they have involved a large sum of hard money in a depreciation of seventy for one. They have also sealed sums which had been omitted in the accounts, in a very different manner from what they have done other advances made about the same time, by which an unequal measure of justice is dealt out to the parties.
The principle that the Referees adopted, having been taken up before it could be known on which side it would operate, either beneficially or injuriously, they are not chargeable with any designed partiality; but it was surely too hazardous and uncertain an experiment, to be a proper foundation for doing equal justice.
Although the court, in the present instance, have entered further into the merits of the case, than they usually do on reports of Referees, they do not think that they depart from the spirit of former decisions, as they ground their judgment upon the conduct of the Referees in declining the consideration of the most material subject of the controversy; and that too, upon a mistaken principle, leading to real injustice to one of the parties.
Let the Report be set aside.