Boese v. King/Opinion of the Court
We are to consider in this case whether the final judgment of the court of appeals of New York has deprived plaintiff in error of any right, title, or privilege under the constitution or laws of the United States. This question arises out of the following facts, which are embodied in a special finding made by the court of original jurisdiction:
We dismiss from consideration all suggestions in the pleadings of actual fraud upon the part either of Locke or his assignees. The court of original jurisdiction found as a fact-and upon that basis the case was considered by the court of appeals that the assignment was executed and delivered by the former and accepted by the latter in good faith and without any purpose to hinder, delay, or defraud any creditor of Locke. It is further found as a fact that the assignment was made with the intent, bona fide, to make an equal distribution of the proceeds of the trust estate among creditors in conformity with the local statute. The supreme court of New York ruled that the statute of New Jersey was, in its nature and effect, a bankrupt law, and the power conferred upon congress to establish a uniform system of bankruptcy, having been exercised by the passage of the act of 1867, the latter act wholly suspended the operation of the local statute as to all cases within its purview; consequently, it was held, the assignment was not valid for any purpose. The court of appeals, recognizing the paramount nature of the bankrupt act of congress, and assuming that the fourteenth section of the New Jersey statute, relating to the effect upon the creditor's claim of accepting a dividend, was inconsistent with that act and therefore inoperative, adjudged that other portions of the local statute which provided for the equal distribution of the debtor's property among his creditors, and regulated the general conduct of the assignee, were not inconsistent with nor were they necessarily suspended by the act of 1867; further, that the New Jersey statute did not create the right to make voluntary assignments for the equal benefit of creditors, but was only restrictive of a previously-existing right, and imposed, for the benefit of creditors, salutary safeguards around its exercise; consequently, had the whole of the New Jersey statute been superseded, the right of a debtor to make a voluntary assignment would still have existed. The assignment, as a transfer of the debtor's property, was, therefore, upheld as in harmony with the general object and purposes of the bankrupt act, unassailable by reason merely of the fact that some of the provisions of the local statute may have been suspended by the act of 1867.
In the view which we take of the case it is unnecessary to consider all of the questions covered by the opinion of the state court and discussed here by counsel. Especially, it is not necessary to determine whether the bankrupt act of 1867 suspended or superseded all of the provisions of the New Jersey statute. Undoubtedly the local statute was, from the date of the passage of the bankrupt act, inoperative in so far as it provided for the discharge of the debtor from future liability to creditors who came in under the assignment and participated in the distribution of the proceeds of the assigned property. It is equally clear, we think, that the assignment by Locke of his entire property to be disposed of as prescribed by the statute of New Jersey, and therefore independently of the bankruptcy court, constituted itself an act of bankruptcy, for which, upon the petition of a creditor, filed in proper time, Locke could have been adjudged a bankrupt, and the property wrested from his assignees for administration in the bankruptcy court. In re Burt, 1 Dill. 440; In re Goldschmidt, 3 N. B. R. 168; In re Smith, 4 Ben. 5. The claim of Pickhardt and Kutroff existed at the time of the assignment. The way was therefore open for them, by timely action, to secure the control and management of the assigned property by that court for the equal benefit of all the creditors of Locke. But they elected to lie by until after the expiration of the time within which the assignment could be attacked under the provisions of the bankrupt act; and now seek, by this suit, in the name of the plaintiff in error, to secure an advantage or preference over all others; this, notwithstanding the assignment was made without any intent to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors. In order to obtain that advantage or preference, the plaintiff in error relies on the paramount force of the bankrupt act, the primary object of which, as this court has frequently announced, was to secure equality among the creditors of a bankrupt. Meyer v. Hilman, 91 U.S. 501; Reed v. McIntyre, 98 U.S. 509; Buchanan v. Smith, 16 Wall. 277.
It can hardly be that a court is obliged in vindication of an act of congress to lend its aid to those who, neglecting or refusing to avail themselves of its provisions, seek to accomplish ends inconsistent with that equality among creditors which those provisions were designed to secure. If it should be assumed, for the purposes of this case, that the statute of New Jersey was, as to each and all of its provisions, suspended when the bankrupt act of 1867 was passed, it does not follow that the assignment by Locke was ineffectual for every purpose. Certainly that instrument was sufficient to pass the title from Locke to his assignees. It was good as between them, at least until Locke, in some appropriate mode, or by some proper proceedings, manifested a right to have it set aside or canceled upon the ground of a mutual mistake in supposing that the local statute of 1846 was inoperative. And in the absence of proceedings in the bankruptcy court impeaching the assignment, and so long as Locke did not object, the assignees had authority to sell the property and distribute the proceeds among all the creditors, disregarding so much of the deed of assignment as required the assignees, in the distribution of the proceeds, to conform to the local statute. The assignment was not void as between the debtor and the assignees simply because it provided for the distribution of the proceeds of the property in pursuance of a statute, none of the provisions of which, it is claimed, were then in force. Had this suit been framed for the purpose of compelling the assignees to account to all the creditors for the proceeds of the sale of the property committed to their hands, without discrimination against those who did not recognize the assignment and exhibit their demands within the time and mode prescribed by the New Jersey statute, a wholly different question would have been presented for determination. It has been framed mainly upon the idea that by reason of the mistake of Locke and his assignees in supposing that the property could be administered under the provisions of the local statute of 1846, even while the bankrupt act was in force, the title did not pass for the benefit of creditors according to their respective legal rights. In this view, as has been indicated, we do not concur.
We are of opinion that, except as against proceedings instituted under the bankrupt act for the purpose of securing the administration of the property in the bankruptcy court, the assignment, having been made without intent to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors, was valid, for at least the purpose of securing an equal distribution of the estate among all the creditors of Locke, in proportion to their several demands, (Reed v. McIntyre, 98 U.S. 509;) and, consequently, we adjudge only that the plaintiff in error is not entitled, by reason of any conflict between the local statute and the bankrupt act of 1867, or by force of the before-mentioned judgment and the proceedings thereunder, to the possession of the assigned property or of its proceeds, as against the assignees, or to a priority of claim for the benefit of Pickhardt and Kutroff upon such proceeds.
The judgment is affirmed.