Bryan Croom vs. Joseph Swan for John Oliver
About This Case
John Oliver was employed as an overseer on Bryan Croom’s Gadsden County plantation at Rocky Comfort. In January of 1838, Oliver, acting as an agent for Croom, sold one of Croom’s horses to Captain John Shaw of the 5th Regiment of the Florida Militia Volunteers. Oliver had guaranteed the horse was sound, and Shaw rode it out on an expedition against the Seminoles the same day that he purchased it.
Unfortunately, the horse proved to be unsound. According to a witness, Shaw had to abandon the use of the horse within a day or two after the company left Quincy, and the horse remained idle. Shaw sued Oliver for false warranty to recover the $150.00 he paid, plus damages. But by May of 1838 Oliver had died, and the suit succeeded against his estate, which was being administered by Joseph Swann.
Swann attempted to recover the money for the estate from Croom. In the Territorial Superior Court for Leon County, Swann offered as evidence the depositions of witnesses showing that Oliver was in the employ of Croom at the time he sold the horse, and that he was authorized by Croom to sell; that Croom had received the proceeds of the sale; and that Croom had said that Swann would have to refund to Shaw, but he was the proper person to lose the money, if any one did.
Croom’s attorney in the lower court, Thomas Baltzell, moved that the record was not sufficient evidence of alleged warranty by Oliver, or evidence of any authority by Croom to Oliver to make such warranty. The court refused the motions, and the jury returned a verdict for Swann. Croom then appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. By the time of the appeal, Baltzell had become a Justice of the Supreme Court and recused himself from sitting on this case.
The Court found for Croom and reversed the judgment of the lower court. It decided that an agent cannot maintain an action against his principal (in this case, Croom) to recover the amount paid by him on a judgment obtained against him for a false warranty, without showing that he was authorized by his principal to make the warrant.
Also, the Court found that the record of the judgment was not evidence of authority from the principal to the agent to warrant. The receipt by Croom of the proceeds of the sale of the horse, sold by Oliver, was not evidence of authority to Oliver to warrant, nor was it a ratification of the warranty, since there was no evidence to show that at the time of receiving the proceeds he knew that a warranty had been given by the agent.
Finally, the Court decided that when an agent makes a false warranty, the principal is liable to the purchaser and not to the agent, unless he can show that a deception has been practiced on him by his principal, and that in pursuance of orders or instructions, he bona fide made the false representations, and is compelled to pay damages to the purchaser. Croom would have been liable to Captain Shaw, but not to his agent.