Town of Weyauwega v. Ayling/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

99 U.S. 112

Town of Weyauwega  v.  Ayling


The first question certified in this case is answered in the affirmative. The legal voters of the town, by a vote duly taken pursuant to statutory authority for that purpose, directed the issue of the negotiable bonds in controversy. As soon as this vote was given, it became the duty of the chairman of the board of supervisors and the clerk of the town to cause the bonds to be made out and delivered to the railroad company. Such was the requirement of the statute under which the vote of the town was taken. The designated officers had no discretion in the premises.

After the vote, an appropriate form of bond and coupons was lithographed and printed, with blanks in the bond for the signatures of the chairman and clerk. As printed, the bonds bore date June 1, 1871. At that time Fenelon was chairman and Verke clerk. The signatures of these officers were lithographed and printed on the coupons. Before the bonds were actually signed by Verke, he had resigned his office and moved out of the town. Another clerk had been appointed and qualified in his place. Apparently to save the expense of a new lithograph and another printing of the bonds, Verke, after going out of office, affixed his signature to those which had been printed. These bonds so signed by Verke and by Fenelon, who actually was chairman at the time, were taken by Fenelon and delivered to the railroad company. This having been done, Ayling, the defendant in error, purchased the bonds to which the coupons sued on were attached, and paid their full value without notice of any claim of defence to their due execution. Under these circumstances, we think the town is estopped from proving that Verke in fact signed the bonds after he went out of office. If Ayling had put himself on inquiry when he made his purchase he would have found, 1, that the town had authority to vote the bonds; 2, that the necessary vote had been given; 3, that at the date of the bonds Verke was clerk and Fenelon chairman; 4, that their signatures were genuine; and, 5, that the bonds had actually been delivered to the railroad company by Fenelon, who was at the time chairman. If a bank puts out a note for circulation bearing the signature of one who was in fact president of the bank when the note bore date, no one will pretend that it could be shown as a defence to the note when sued upon by a bona fide holder, that the signature of the person purporting to be president was affixed after he went out of office. So if one puts out a note purporting to be signed by himself, but which was in fact signed by another having at the time no authority from him, he cannot prove the forgery or want of authority in the signer as against a bona fide holder. The reason is obvious. The bank by issuing the note, and the individual by delivering the paper which purported to be his obligation, adopted what they thus put out as their own, and became bound accordingly.

The same principle applies in this case. There is no pretence that the obligation of these bonds is other or different from that authorized by the voters. So far as the record shows, the town has received and retains the consideration for which they were voted. No bad faith is imputed to any one. It is true the chairman alone made the actual delivery to the railroad company; but the presumption is, that what he did was assented to by the clerk in office at the time. Certainly it could not have been contemplated that, to make a binding obligation, both the chairman and clerk must have been present when the delivery to the railroad company was made; and as the presumption always is, in the absence of any thing to the contrary, that a public officer while acting in his official capacity is performing his duty, it must be assumed for all the purposes of this case that the bonds were delivered to the railroad company by the chairman with the assent of the clerk, and, therefore, that they were issued as negotiable instruments by the proper officers of the town. It the fact was otherwise, it was incumbent on the town to make the necessary proof.

It is unnecessary to answer any of the other questions certified, further than has already been done. The answer to the first question is decisive of the case.

Judgment affirmed.

Notes[edit]

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).