Hill v. Harding (130 U.S. 699)/Opinion of the Court
The question presented by this writ of error is quite distinct from that which arose when the case was before this court at a former term, as reported in 107 U.S. 631, 2 Sup. Ct. Rep. 404. The only point then decided was that the defendant, on his application made after verdict and before judgment, was entitled to a stay of proceedings to await the determination of the court in bankruptcy upon the question of his discharge. The question not then passed upon, and now presented, is whether, since he has obtained his discharge in bankruptcy, there is anything in the provisions of the bankrupt act to prevent the state court from rendering judgment on the verdict against him, with a perpetual stay of execution, so as to prevent the plaintiffs from enforcing the judgment against him, and leave them at liberty to proceed against the sureties in the bond or recognizance given to dissolve an attachment made more than four months before the commencement of the proceedings in bankruptcy. Such attachments being recognized as valid byt he bankrupt act, (Rev. St. § 5044,) a discharge in bankruptcy does not prevent the attaching creditors from taking judgment against the debtor in such limited form as may enable them to reap the benefit of their attachment. When the attachment remains in force, the creditors, notwithstanding the discharge, may have judgment against the bankrupt, to be levied only upon the property attached. Peck v. Jenness, 7 How. 612, 623; Doe v. Childress, 21 Wall. 642. When the attachment has been dissolved, in accordance with the statutes of the state, by the defendant's entering into a bond or recognizance, with sureties, conditioned to pay to the plaintiffs, within a certain number of days after any judgment rendered against him on a final trial, the amount of that judgment, the question whether the state court is powerless to render even a formal judgment against him for the single purpose of charging such sureties, or, in the phrase of Chief Justice WAITE in Wolf v. Stix, 99 U.S. 1, 9, whether 'the judgment is defeated by the bankruptcy of the person for whom the obligation is assumed,' depends, not upon any provision of the bankrupt act, but upon the extent of the authority of the state court under the local law. Whether that authority is exercised under the settled practice of the court, as in Illinois, or only by virtue of an express statute, as in Massachusetts, there is nothing in the bankrupt act to prevent the rendering of such a judgment. The bond or recognizance takes the place of the attachment as a security for the debt of the attaching creditors; they cannot dispute the election given to the debtor by statute, of substituting the new security for the old one; and the giving of the bond or recognizance, by dissolving the attachment, increases the estate to be distributed in bankruptcy. The judgment is not against the person or property of the bankrupt, and has no other effect than to enable the plaintiff to charge the sureties, in accordance with the express terms of their contract, and within the spirit of that provision of the bankrupt act which declares that 'no discharge shall release, discharge, or affect any person liable for the same debt for or with the bankrupt, either as partner, joint contractor, indorser, surety, or otherwise.' Rev. St. § 5118; In re Albrecht, 17 N. B. R. 287; Hill v. Harding, 116 Ill. 92, 4 N. E. Rep. 361; Bank v. Higgins, 124 Mass. 115.
If the bond was executed before the commencement of proceedings in bankruptcy, the discharge of the bankrupt protects him from liability to the obligees, so that, in an action on the bond against him and his sureties, any judgment recovered by the plaintiffs must be accompanied with a perpetual stay of execution against him; but his discharge does not prevent that judgment from being rendered generally against them. Wolf v. Stix, above cited. If the sureties should ultimately pay the amount of any such judgment, and thereby acquire a claim to be reimbursed by their principal the amount so paid, which is a point not now in issue, it would be because his liability to them upon such a claim did not exist at the time of the commencement of the proceedings in bankruptcy, and therefore could not be proved in bankruptcy nor barred by the discharge, and consequently would not be affected by any provision of the bankrupt act.
The courts of Illinois, in the judgment rendered in this case, having assumed the validity of the defendant's discharge in bankruptcy, he has not been prejudiced by the rulings denying leave to file after verdict a formal plea of the discharge in bankruptcy, and admitting in evidence an unverified copy of the discharge, and refusing his request for a trial by jury upon that issue. Judgment affirmed.