Louisiana v. Wood/Opinion of the Court
| Louisiana v. Wood by
Opinion of the Court
That the bonds in question are invalid, is conceded. Such is the effect of Anthony v. County of Jasper (101 U.S. 693), decided at the last term. It is equally true that the legal effect of the transactions by which the plaintiff and his assignors got possession of the bonds was a borrowing by the city of the money paid for what was supposed to be a purchase of the bonds. As the broker through whom the business was done was the agent of the city and acting as such, the case, so far as the city is concerned, is the same as though the money had been paid directly into the city treasury and the bonds given back in exchange. The fact that the purchasers did not know for whom the broker was acting is, for all the purposes of the present inquiry, immaterial. They believed they were buying valid bonds which had been negotiated and were on the market, when in reality they were loaning money to the city, and got no bonds. The city was in the market as a borrower, and received the money in that character, notwithstanding the transaction assumed the form of a sale of its securities.
The city, by putting the bonds out with a false date, represented that they were valid without registry. The bonds were bought and the price was paid under the belief, brought about by the conduct of the city, that they had been put out and had become valid commercial securities before the registry law went into effect. It would certainly be wrong to permit the city to repudiate the bonds and keep the money borrowed on their credit. The city could lawfully borrow. The objection goes only to the way it was done. As the purchasers were kept in ignorance of the facts which made the bonds invalid, they did not knowingly make themselves parties to any illegal transaction. They bought the bonds in open market, where they had been put by the city in the possession of one clothed with apparent authority to sell. The only party that has done any wrong is the city.
In Moses v. MacFerlan (2 Burr. 1005), it is stated as a rule of the common law, that an action 'lies for money paid by mistake, or upon a consideration which happens to fail, or for money got through imposition.' The present action can be sustained on either of these grounds. The money was paid for bonds apparently well executed, when in fact they were not, because of the false date they bore. This was clearly money paid by mistake. The consideration on which the payment was made has failed, because the bonds were not, in fact, valid obligations of the city. And the money was got through imposition, because the city, with intent to deceive, pretenuded that the false date the bonds bore was the true one. While, therefore, the bonds cannot be enforced, because defectively executed, the money paid for them may be recovered back. As we took occasion to say in Marsh v. Fulton County (10 Wall. 676), 'the obligation to do justice rests upon all persons, natural or artificial, and if a county obtains the money or property of others without authority, the law, independent of any statute, will compel restitution or compensation.'
It is argued, however, that, as the city was only authorized by law to borrow money at a rate of interest not exceeding ten per cent per annum, the money cannot be recovered back, because a sale of the bonds involved an obligation to pay interest beyond the limited rate, and the borrowing was, therefore, ultra vires. There was no actual sale of bonds, because there were no valid bonds to sell. There was no express contract of borrowing and lending, and consequently no express contract to pay any rate of interest at all. The only contract actually entered into is the one the law implies from what was done, to wit, that the city would, on demand, return the money paid to it by mistake, and, as the money was got under a form of obligation which was apparently good, that interest should be paid at the legal rate from the time the obligation was denied. That contract the plaintiffs seek to enforce in this action, and no other.
Again, it was contended that, as the money in this case was borrowed to take up bonded indebtedness, the transaction was ultra vires, because the effect of the eleventh section of the act of 1872 was to repeal all earlier laws authorizing the borrowing of money for such purposes. We do not so understand that section. The old power to borrow, which the charter gave, was left unimpaired, but, under this new provision, registered bonds might be issued in place of old ones, if the city and the holders of the old bonds could agree on terms and the people gave their assent. In this way the holders of old bonds might avail themselves of the special tax which the law of 1872 required should be levied to meet the obligation of all registered bonds; but the city was not prevented from borrowing money to pay old bonds if it saw fit to do so, or if it could not agree on the terms of exchange.
The judgment below was right, and it is consequently
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