Bank of the Metropolis v. New England Bank (42 U.S. 234)/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

42 U.S. 234

Bank of the Metropolis  v.  New England Bank

If this were a question between the two Boston banks, and the case depended upon their respective rights, the plaintiff in the court below would, undoubtedly, have been entitled to recover; for it is admitted, that although the notes and bills were endorsed to the Commonwealth Bank by the cashier of the New England Bank, yet no consideration was given for them; nor any advances of money made upon them; and they were placed in the hands of the first-mentioned bank as the agent of the other, merely for the purpose of collection. The question, however, is a different one between the parties to this suit, and its solution must depend, not upon the nature of the transactions between these two banks, but upon the dealings between the Commonwealth Bank and the Bank of the Metropolis.

It appears from the evidence offered by the plaintiff in error, that for several years prior to the insolvency of the Commonwealth Bank, (which happened in January, 1838,) there had been mutual and extensive dealings between the two last-mentioned banks, and an account current between them, in which they mutually credited each other with the proceeds of all paper remitted for collection when received, and charged all costs of protest, postage, &c. Accounts were regularly transmitted from the one to the other, and settled upon these principles; and upon the face of the paper transmitted, it always appeared to be the property of the respective banks, and to be remitted by each of them on its own account.

The balances in the account current fluctuated according to the amount of paper they respectively transmitted, and these balances it would seem were generally suffered to remain until they were reduced by the proceeds of the notes and bills deposited with each other in the usual course of their business. Thus, in November, 1837, the Bank of the Metropolis was debtor upon the account in the sum of $2200; but in January, 1838, when notice of the failure of the Commonwealth Bank was received, that balance had been extinguished, and the last-mentioned bank was debtor in the sum of $2900. It is not suggested that any information of the interest of the New England Bank, in the paper in question, was ever communicated to the Bank of the Metropolis until after the insolvency of the Commonwealth Bank. And the question is, whether the plaintiff in error has a right to retain the proceeds of the notes then in its hands to cover the balance of account due upon these transactions.

If the notes remitted had been the property of the Commonwealth Bank, there would be no doubt of the right to retain; because it has been long settled, that wherever a banker has advanced money to another, he has a lien on all the paper securities which are in his hands for the amount of his general balance, unless such securities were delivered to him under a particular agreement.

The paper in question was, however, the property of the New England Bank, and was endorsed and delivered to the Commonwealth Bank for collection, without any consideration, and as its agent in the ordinary course of business; it being usual, and indeed necessary, so to endorse it, in order to enable the agent to receive the money. Yet the possession of the paper was prima facie evidence that it was the property of the last-mentioned bank; and without notice to the contrary, the plaintiff in error had a right so to treat it, and was under no obligation to inquire whether it was held as agent or as owner; and if an advance of money had been made upon this paper to the Commonwealth Bank, the right to retain for that amount would hardly be disputed.

We do not perceive any difference in principle between an advance of money and a balance suffered to remain upon the faith of these mutual dealings. In the one case as well as the other, credit is given upon the paper deposited or expected to be transmitted in the usual course of the transactions between the parties.

There does not, indeed, appear to have been any express agreement that those balances should not be immediately drawn for; but it may be implied from the manner in which the business was conducted; and if the accounts show that it was their practice and understanding to allow them to stand and await the collection of the paper remitted, the rights of the parties are the same as if there had been a positive and express agreement; and such mutual indulgence on these balances would be a valid consideration; and, like the actual advance of money, give the plaintiff in error a right to retain the amount due on closing the account.

It is evident that a loss must be sustained either by the plaintiff or defendant in error by the failure of the Commonwealth Bank. We see no ground for maintaining that there is any superior equity on the side of the New England Bank. It contributed to give to the corporation which has proved insolvent credit with the plaintiff in error, by the notes and bills which it placed in its hands to be sent to Washington for collection, endorsed in such a form as to make them prima facie the property of the Commonwealth Bank, and enabled it to deal with them as if it were the real owner. The Bank of the Metropolis, on the contrary, is in no degree responsible for the confidence which the defendant in error reposed in its agent. And when this misplaced confidence has occasioned the loss in question, it would be unjust to throw it upon the bank which has been guilty of no fault or want of caution, and which was induced to give the credit by the manner in which the defendant in error placed its property in the hands of an agent unworthy of the trust.

If, therefore, the jury find that the course of dealing between the Commonwealth Bank and the Bank of the Metropolis was such as is stated in the testimony; that they always appeared to be, and treated each other as the true owners of the paper mutually remitted, and had no notice to the contrary; and that balances were from time to time suffered to remain in the hands of each other to be met by the proceeds of negotiable paper deposited or expected to be transmitted in the usual course of the dealing between them, then the plaintiff in error is entitled to retain for the amount due on the settlement of the account.

The question, whether the balances were usually suffered to lie for a time on account of negotiable paper actually deposited or expected to be received, and which formed the consideration on which the defence rested, is not perhaps as distinctly stated as it might have been in the hypothetical instruction requested by the plaintiff in error. But we think it is fairly to be inferred from the language used in the prayer, by which the defence is put upon the ground that the paper transmitted was treated by the parties as the property of each other; and as the prayer was rejected without any explanation or qualification, we have no reason for supposing that a different construction was put upon it in the Circuit Court.

The judgment must therefore be reversed.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, holden in and for the county of Washington, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this court, that the judgment of the said Circuit Court in this cause be and the same is hereby reversed, with costs; and that this cause be and the same is hereby remanded to the said Circuit Court, with directions to award a venire facias de novo.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).