Ambler v. Wyld

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First page of the opinion Ambler v. Wyld, in Decisions of Cases in Virginia by the High Court of Chancery, by George Wythe. 2nd ed. Richmond: J. W. Randolph, 1852.

Ambler v. Wyld, Wythe 235 (1793),[1] discussed whether the High Court of Chancery could hear an appeal from a case that had been brought to the wrong trial court.


In August 1778, Wyld agreed to buy lots and houses in Yorktown from Ambler. On September 18, 1778, Wyld and Ambler arranged for three underwriters to estimate the value of the properties, and those people concluded that the property had a value of £1000. On October 20, 1778, Wyld paid Ambler £500, agreeing to pay the remaining £500 within the next twelve months. In autumn of 1779, Wyld offered to pay Ambler the remaining £500 in paper money, but Ambler refused, insisting that Wyld pay the remaining amount in coin - paper money had devalued considerably versus coin in the time since the original agreement.

On February 10, 1782, Ambler got the underwriters to sign a paper stating that the September 1778 estimate was for £1000 in coin. In 1783, Ambler filed a suit in Henrico County Court to recover £600 in coin from Wyld, which would have been in addition to the £500 Wyld had already paid Ambler. Ambler offered the February 1782 letter signed by the underwriters into evidence, but Wyld objected and the judge ordered that the letter be withheld from the jury. Nevertheless, the jury took the letter with it while deliberating. The jury gave Ambler a verdict for about £374. Wyld moved for a new trial based on the jury's taking the letter with them, but the judge rejected the motion, stating that the letter was signed by three witnesses in the case, and appeared to duplicate their testimony. Wyld appealed the decision to the General Court of Virginia, which upheld the verdict.

On March 16, 1791, Wyld filed a bill in equity against Ambler in York County Court, claiming that Ambler denied that the September 1778 valuation existed when asked to produce it. Wyld also argued that the Henrico County Court refused to hear his witnesses, who would have shown that the underwriters made their estimate in current legal tender, not specifically coin. York County Court granted the bill and heard testimony from several of Wyld's witnesses, including two of the underwriters, all of whom said that the underwriters made the original estimate for £1000 in then-valid money, not specifically coin. One of the underwriters said that if coin was mentioned in the February 10, 1782, letter that he signed, it was a mistake. York County Court ordered Ambler to pay Wyld about £395, and Ambler appealed the decision to the High Court of Chancery.

The Court's Decision

The High Court of Chancery held that York County Court had no power hear a bill in equity to overturn another county court's decision, and dismissed that court's verdict. The Chancery Court added, though, that had the judge and jury of Henrico County Court known several facts it was unaware of, it would have granted a new trial. The High Court of Chancery said that it had the power to hear an appeal from the York County Court's decision, even though the case should not have been there originally, and ordered the Henrico County Court to retry the case.

The Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia upheld the High Court of Chancery's decision.[2]


  1. George Wythe, Decisions of Cases in Virginia by the High Court of Chancery with Remarks upon Decrees by the Court of Appeals, Reversing Some of Those Decisions, 2nd ed., ed. B.B. Minor (Richmond: J.W. Randolph, 1852), 235.
  2. Ambler v. Wyld, 2 Va. (2 Wash.) 36 (1794).