Huntington v. Savings Bank/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

96 U.S. 388

Huntington  v.  Savings Bank

The bill of the complainants assumes that, as personal representatives of William S. Huntington, deceased, they have an equitable ownership of one-sixteenth part of the franchises, property, and privileges of the defendant corporation, and that, as such representatives, they are entitled to call for an account of the profits made, and to demand payment to them of one-sixteenth part of the value of the franchises and property as well as profits. Whether this assumption is well founded or not, whether the estate of their intestate has any pecuniary interest in the corporate franchise and property, can be determined only after a careful examination of the defendant's charter. The corporation was created by an act of Congress, approved May 24, 1870, entitled 'An Act to incorporate the National Union Savings Bank of the District of Columbia.' By that act, George H. Plant, William S. Huntington, and twenty-one other persons named, and their successors, were declared to be a body politic and corporate, under the corporate name mentioned, having succession, capable of suing and being sued, of having a common seal, and generally of doing and performing all things relative to the object of the institution lawful for any individual or body politic or corporate to do.

The object of the institution was declared in the fourth section. By that it was enacted that 'the corporation may receive on deposit, for the use and benefit of the depositors, all sums of money offered for that purpose,' and invest the same in the manner therein described. The section then added: 'The income or interest of all deposits shall be divided among the depositors, or their legal representatives, according to the terms of interest stipulated.'

The eighth section required an annual report to be made to Congress, specifying the number of depositors, total number of deposits, amount invested in bank stock and deposited in bank on interest, amount secured by bank stock, amount invested in public funds, loans on mortgage of real estate, loans on personal securities, amount of cash on hand, total dividends of the year, and annual expenses of the institution; all of which to be certified and sworn to by the treasurer and five managers, or more.

The ninth section required the books of the corporation, at all times during their hours of business, to be kept open for the inspection and examination of the comptroller of the currency or depositors.

The eleventh section enacted that the corporation should file with the clerk of the Supreme Court of the District a bond with security, in the penal sum of $200,000, approved by one of the judges of the court, conditioned to pay to every depositor or person entitled such sum as the party may be entitled to, within thirty days after such deposit shall be demanded; which bond might be sued by any depositor or person entitled, after such demand and refusal to pay.

Other provisions of the act require the officers of the corporation to give security and take an oath for the faithful discharge of their duties; and forbid any officer, director, or committee charged with the duty of investing the deposits to borrow any portion thereof, or use the same, except in paying the expenses of the corporation.

These are all the provisions that have any relation to the question we are considering. It is to be noticed that the charter does not authorize the creation of any corporate stock or capital, nor does it contemplate the existence of any other than the deposits which may be made. The corporators are not required to contribute any thing. There are, of consequence, no shareholders. Not a word is said in the instrument respecting any dividends of capital, or even of profits, to others than the depositors. Certainly, no express authority is given to make dividends to the corporators; and we discover nothing from which such authority can be inferred. The dividends of which a return is required by the eighth section to be made to Congress are evidently those spoken of in the fourth, as made to the depositors. The rules to be applied to the construction of corporate grants are well known. A corporation created by statute can exercise no powers and has no rights except such as are expressly given or necessarily implied. In this case, so far from there being an implication of any pecuniary interest in the corporators, or any duty due to them from the corporation, the contrary is expressly declared. The institution having no capital stock, whatever liability, if any, there may be to the corporators must be satisfied out of the profits made from the deposits. But the charter, when conferring the power to receive money on deposit, limits it to receiving for 'the use and benefit of the depositors,' and directs how it may be invested. It further declares that 'the income or interest of all deposits shall be divided among the depositors or their legal representatives,' not among the depositors and the corporators. It is true, the income or interest is to be divided among the depositors, 'according to the terms of interest stipulated;' implying, perhaps, that the dividend may be less than the interest received by the corporation; but there is nothing in the charter that indicates the excess is for the benefit of the corporators. It is to provide for the necessary expenses of the institution authorized to be paid, and perhaps to raise a contingent fund to meet possible losses.

During the argument, our attention was called to the eleventh section of the charter, which requires the corporation to file a bond with security, in the penal sum of $200,000, conditioned to pay and satisfy depositors; and it is argued that this bond may be considered as capital contributed by the corporators named in the charter: and hence we are asked to infer that they have a pecuniary interest which entitles them to a division of the profits, as also to a share of the capital, and to a beneficial interest in the franchise. If this were so, the complainants' bill does not aver that William S. Huntington was one of the obligors in the bond, or that he was even in that mode one of the contributors to capital stock. But, if it be assumed that he was, it would still be true that the bond was in no sense capital owned by the corporation or by the corporators. It was required by the charter solely for the security of the depositors or creditors of the institution. The corporation was required to give the bond with security, but what the security should be was left to the approval of a judge of the Supreme Court of the District. There was no requirement that the corporators should sign the bond, much less that all of them should. The security might have been given by strangers exclusively, or by one or more of the corporators. If given by the latter, the obligors would have been bound, not as corporators, but as any other persons having no connection with the institution.

We think the complainants have mistaken the nature of the corporation. It is not a commercial partnership, nor is it an artificial being the members of which have property interests in it, nor is it strictly eleemosynary. Its purpose is rather to furnish a safe depositary for the money of those members of the community disposed to intrust their property to its keeping. It is somewhat of the nature of such corporations as church-wardens for the conservation of the goods of a parish, the college of surgeons for the promotion of medical science, or the society of antiquaries for the advancement of the study of antiquities. Its purpose is a public advantage, without any interest in its members. The title of the act incorporating it indicates its purpose; namely, an act to incorporate a national savings bank: and the only powers given to it were those we have mentioned, powers necessary to carry out the only avowed purpose, which was to enable it to receive deposits for the use and benefit of depositors, dividing the income or interest of all deposits among its depositors or their legal representatives. It is, like many other savings institutions incorporated in England and in this country during the last sixty years, intended only for provident investment, in which the management and supervision are entirely out of the hands of the parties whose money is at stake, and which are quasi benevolent and most useful, because they hold out no encouragement to speculative dealing or commercial trading. This was the original idea of savings banks. Scratchley's Treatise on Savings Banks, passim; Grant's Law of Bankers, 571, where, in defining savings banks, it is said the bank derives no benefit whatever from any deposit, or the produce thereof. Such are savings banks in England, under the statutes of 9 Geo. IV., c. 92, sect. 2, and 26 & 27 Vict., c. 87. Very many such exist in this country. Among the earliest are some in Massachusetts, organized under a general law passed in 1834, which contained a provision like the one in the act of Congress, that the income or profit of all deposits shall be divided among the depositors, with just deduction of resonable expenses. They exist also in New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Connecticut, and other States. Indeed, until recently, the primary idea of a savings bank has been, that it is an institution in the hands of disinterested persons, the profits of which, after deducting the necessary expenses of conducting the business, inure wholly to the benefit of the depositors, in dividends, or in a reserved surplus for their greater security. Such, very plainly, is the defendant corporation in this case. The complainants have, therefore, no pecuniary interest in it, and no right to the relief they ask.

Decree affirmed.


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).