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Colonial Cases

Morris v. Smith, 1885

[property valuation]

Morris v. Smith

United States Consular Court, Shanghai
Scidmore, 21 September 1885
Source: North China Herald, 25 September 1885

Shanghai, 21st Sept., 1885
Before G. H. Scidmore, Esq., U.S. Vice Consul-General in Charge.
  Mr. E. Robinson appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr. Drummond for the defence.
  This case was resumed today.  The plaintiff, it may be remembered, claimed Tls. 250 for professional services rendered by him in making valuations of properties in Hongkew mortgaged by Chee Yu-chee to the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank and others.   Mr. G. H. Wheeler, of the firm of Russell & Co., partner of the defendant, was examined and cross-examined as a witness for the defence, and said he had no recollection of the plaintiff being employed to value the property in question.  He remembered two or three interviews taking place between Mr. Smith and the plaintiff, and he remembered that some papers relating to the property in question were handed by Mr. Smith to the plaintiff; but there was not the slightest possibility of the firm employing Mr. Smith to value the property, as they did not know he was a professional valuer, and besides this they already had a valuation of the property in their possession.
  Mr. Robinson wished to call a professional witness to prove that Tls. 250 was a reasonable amount to claim if the plaintiff had been employed; but his Honour said this was not necessary, as Mr. Kingsmill's evidence to the same effect had not been contradicted.
  Mr. Drummond hen summed up for the defence, stating that the question resolved itself simply into one of the relative credibility of the plaintiff on the one hand and the defendant and his witnesses on the other.  The plaintiff had nothing whatever in writing to show that he had been employed; and both the defendant and Mr. G. H. Wheeler stated positively that they had not employed him.  Mr. Drummond, on conclusion, characterized the claim as nothing better than an attempt at extortion.
  Mr. Robinson, in replying for the plaintiff, strongly resented the terms in which Mr. Drummond had referred to his client, and said the case was simply one of a disputed claim between gentlemen.  He did not doubt that both Mr. Smith and Mr. Wheeler honestly believed they were speaking the truth when they said they had not employed the plaintiff; but he pointed out that neither of them professed to remember very exactly what had passed, and contended that his client, who had been more directly interested in the matter, was more likely to remember exactly what had taken place.  He said the evidence showed that, whether the defendant had asked for the valuation or not, he received it, and made some slight use of it; and Mr. Robinson quoted from Pollock on Contracts and other legal authorities to show that by accepting professional services which he could not have thought were gratuitously rendered, the defendant had made himself liable to pay the value of those services, whether he asked for them or not.
  His Honour reserved judgment.
24th Sept.
  His Honour delivered judgment as follows:=
  This action is brought by petitioner to recover from defendant the sum of Tls. 250 for services alleged to have been rendered the latter in giving a professional valuation of certain property situated in Shanghai.
  The testimony produced establishes the following main facts:-
  During the latter part of May of this year the petitioner had a number of interviews with the defendant in relation to certain property belonging to one Chee Yu Chee at Shanghai, at one of which interviews the petitioner suggested to defendant the advisability of defendant's firm, or the China Merchants' Steam Navigation Company, obtaining control of said property.  The defendant at the rime in substance informed petitioner that he (defendant) did not think the petitioner could tell any more about the properties in question than was contained in the papers relating thereto, then in  defendant's possession. These papers, however, the defendant then delivered to the petitioner, and permitted him to carry them away and examine them.  The petitioner returned these papers to the defendant the following day, and at the same time gave the latter a verbal statement of his valuation of the property in question.
  What use the defendant made of this information does not appear, but it is in evidence that the valuation by the petitioner of one part of the property was considered of such importance that the defendant at the time made a note with his own and upon the paper relating thereto. There is no proof that the defendant distinctly informed petitioner that he (petitioner) was employed to make the valuations, but the Court is of opinion that the defendant knowingly made use of petitioner's services, and also knew at the time that petitioner was seeking employment. That the petitioner is a civil engineer, and that services of this character are clearly within the general business of such a profession, are positions, I believe, well supported by the evidence before the Court.
  The law in cases of this nature is thus set forth:
  "Where a party, knowingly and without objection, permits another to render services for him of any kind whatever the law implies a promise to pay what the service is reasonably worth."  Shelton v. Johnson, 40 Iowa, p. 84. "Generally where labour is performed for the benefit of another without his express request, yet if he knows of the work, and tacitly assents to it, an implied promise will arise to pay a reasonable compensation." - James v. Bixby, 11 Mass., p. 34.
See also upon the same point, Pollock on Contracts, p.10; Blackstone's Commentaries, Book III, p.p. 159 et seq; Story on Contracts, sec. 132.
 There being no express contract between the parties, the next question that arises is whether Tls. 250 are a reasonable compensation for petitioners services.  Upon this subject I quote from "Wait's Actions and Defences" vol. III, p. 580:-
  "Where the contract is indefinite as to the compensation to be paid, the reasonable value of the services may be recovered.  And this value is generaly ascertained by the usual price paid for like services at the time and place of performance."
  Only one witness - an expert - was examined as to the value of services rendered in a case like the present one, and his testimony was that Tls. 250 was not an exorbitant charge.
  In view of the foregoing, the judgment of the Court is, that the defendant pay to the petitioner the sum of two hundred and fifty (250) Taels and the Court costs of this action.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School