Union Trust Company v. Morrison/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

125 U.S. 591

Union Trust Company  v.  Morrison

The plea that the claim was not presented in time we think is wholly untenable. It was brought to the notice of the court by the receiver himself a few days after his appointment. The case, however, was still pending in the state court on appeal, and it was yet uncertain what would be the result. The injunction was not definitely dissolved until June, 1879. The liability of Morrison on his bond was still unadjudicated, and not in a condition to be presented by him as a fixed and determinate claim against the railroad company and its property. Suit was then brought against him, and judgment rendered on the 30th of September, 1880. The foreclosure proceedings were still pending. In May, 1881, the final decree of foreclosure of the railroad property was made, and the time for presenting claims was fixed, to expire on the 1st day of July, 1881. Morrison presented his claim by filing his intervening petition within that time. He stated his entire case. He had not paid the judgment against him, it is true; but, in equity (if he had any equity at all), he ought to have been protected from making that payment. It ought to have been made by the receiver out of the property which came into his hands. The reason he (the receiver) did not pay it seems to have been want of pecuniary funds. As will be seen, he had disposed of these funds in other ways. But surely, if Morrison had an equitable right to be protected, he ought not be shut out from all remedy, because he did not do what ought to have been done by the receiver himself, or by the parties whom the receiver represented. We think that the court below was perfectly justified in sustaining the exception to the master's report so far as it was based on the idea that Morrison's claim was barred by reason of his not actually paying the Holbrook judgment until after the period of limitation fixed by the court for the presentation of claims. The claim was presented in time, and, when presented, was ripe for the protection asked for by the petitioner. If he was afterwards compelled to make the payment himself, which those who received the railroad property ought to have made, it only converted his claim for protection into a claim for indemnity, and made his equity all the stronger. The plea of want of notice on the part of the purchasers of the railroad is equally groundless. The purchasers were really the bondholders themselves. They were represented in the foreclosure suit by the Union Trust Company. They purchased expressly subject to the lien of any and all claims against the railroad property and assets which were then before the court by intervening petition, and which should be, upon final determination and adjudication, decreed to be paid as paramount liens. Morrison's claim was in this category. It was then before the court by his intervening petition. The purchasers were bound to take notice of it. They had notice of it. The pretense of want of notice is entirely without foundation.

The only serious ground of defense to the petition is the legal question,-whether a claim arising under the circumstances, and at the time, in which this did, has an equity to be paid out of the property of the railroad company sold under the mortgage and conveyed to the present company. The ground of the claim is that a portion of the property covered by the mortgage, being in peril of abstraction and loss, was rescued and saved to the mortgage by the act of the petitioner. It is denied that the property was in any peril, because, as contended by the respondents, it could not have been take in execution by reason of the prior lien of the mortgage. But it must be conceded that, until the mortgage was enforced by entry or judicial claim, the personal property of the railroad company was subject to its disposal in the ordinary course of business, and, as such, was liable to be seized and taken on execution for its debts. This is not only common law, but the positive law of Illinois. By the constitution of 1870 (article 11, § 10) it is declared that 'the rolling stock, and other movable property belonging to any railroad company or corporation in this state, shall be considered personal property, and shall be liable to execution and sale in the same manner as the personal property of individuals.' Even if it would have been subject to the mortgage, when taken on execution, nevertheless it could have been taken, and this would necessarily have distrubed, and perhaps interrupted, the operations of the railroad, by separating the property seized from the corpus of the estate. The trustees of the mortgage might have prevented such a catastrophe, it is true, by filing a bill of foreclosure, and for an injunction and receiver; but they did not choose to take this course until nearly three years afterwards; on the contrary, they allowed the railroad to continue to use the property, and to take care of it for them, and stood by and saw Morrison (who had no interest in the matter) put his hands into the fire and rescue the rolling stock of which they were to receive the benefit,-both directly, by receiving the property itself without contest or controversy, and indirectly, by keeping the property road as a going concern. Morrison's money, or the fruits of it, has gone into their pockets. And, in this regard, we make no distinction between the mortgagees, the bondholders whom they represented, the nominal purchasers Horsey and Canda, or the present company. They were all one and the same in interest. If the property became justly affected by the equity of the petitioner's claim, it remains so affected in the hands of the present company A circumstance to which some weight is due is the chattel mortgage given by the railroad company to Morrison on the four locomotives therein described, to secure him and his co-sureties against the payment of Holbrook's judgment. It shows that they intended to look to the property and not alone to the personal security of the company. He did not attempt to enforce this mortgage, it is true, and did not have it renewed, but followed out the original idea of preserving the stock entire, and keeping up the property as a going concern. Instead of giving this mortgage, the company might, with perfect propriety, have placed funds in the hands of the sureties to enable them to protect themselves, and the transaction would not have been questioned. By not doing so, the receipts and revenues which would have been required for this purpose, went in the end to the benefit of the bondholders. It enabled the company to continue its operations for the time being, and resulted in supplying the receiver with means of purchasing outside property, which, by order of the court, he conveyed to the purchasers of the road, or their assignees. The main pretense for not protecting Morrison and his co-sureties was that the receiver never had receipts in his hands with which he could have protected them; and this assertion seems to have been creditied by the intervenor. But this pretense cannot be true. It is refuted by the record itself. The order of January 19, 1882, recites that the deed from the special commissioner who sold the railroad under the decree of foreclosure did not fully cover and convey the legal title to certain real estate acquired by and conveyed to Smithers as receiver, purchased by him under authority of the court, and he was, therefore, ordered to convey all such property, as well as all personal property and rolling stock purchased by him while receiver, to the purchasers of the railroad, or their assigns. This shows that he had receips with which he purchased new property, real estate and rolling stock, which went to increase the corpus of the fund of which the bondholders received the benefit. The intervenor's equity is a very strong one. His case clearly came within the scope and intent of the decree made February 4, 1878, which authorized the receiver to protect those sureties on appeal and injunction bonds, who ought to be protected in equity and good conscience by reason of the protection afforded the property and assets of the railroad company through or by means of the giving of such bonds. The complainants (the mortgagees) raised no objection to that decree. Until after the sale of the railroad, and until the trust came to be wound up, the only plea was that the receiver had not realized sufficient funds from the current receipts of the road to enable him to protect the intervenor. This plea, (if a good one,) as we have seen, is not sustained by the facts. He actually expended moneys in the purchase of new property, real estate, and rolling stock, and paid over to the purchasers everything that came into his hands before and after the sale, not used for expenses. It is not shown what these purchases and payments amounted to; but they were probably considerable, and the complainants and receiver could easily have shown that they were insufficient for the indemnification of the intervenor, if such had been the fact. The proof was in their hands, and not in his. It is further to be borne in mind that the purchasers of the railroad accepted a deed therefor from the commisioner under an order of the court expressly declaring that they should hold the property subject to all taxes legally due, to the lien of all unpaid receiver's certificates; and also subject to the lien of any and all claims against the railroad property then before the court by intervening petitions, which should be, upon final determination and adjudication, decreed to be paid as liens paramount to the indebtedness secured by the mortgage. The intervenor's claim is precisely in that category. The case is a special one; and in view of the discretion which the court of first instance is obliged to exercise in matters of this character, taking all the circumstances into consideration, we cannot say that equitable relief was unduly extended in allowing the intervenor's claim. An examination of the cases bearing upon the subject do not lead to a contrary conclusion. See Fosdick v. Schall, 99 U.S. 235; miltenberger v. Railway Co., 106 U.S. 286, 1 Sup. Ct. Rep. 140; Trust Co. v. Souther, 107 U.S. 591, 2 Sup. Ct. Rep. 295; Burnham v. Bowen, 111 U.S. 776, 4 Sup. Ct. Rep. 675; Trust Co. v. Railway Co., 117 U.S. 434, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 809; Dow v. Railroad Co., 124 U.S. 652, ante, 673; Sage v. Railroad Co., ante, 887. The appellants place much reliance on the case of Burnham v. Bowen, where it was held that debts for operating expenses are privileged debts, entitled to be paid out of current income; and that if such income is diverted by the mortgage trustees or the receiver for the improvement of the property, such debts will be decreed to be paid out of the mortgage fund. But it was added by way of caution: 'We do not now hold, any more than we did in Fosdick v. Schall, or Huidekoper v. Locomotive Works, that the income of a railroad in the hands of a receiver, for the benefit of mortgage creditors who have a lien upon it under their mortgage, can be taken away from them and used to pay the general creditors of the road. All we then decided, and all we now decide is, that, if current earnings are used for the benefit of mortgage creditors before current expenses are paid, the mortgage security is chargeable in equity with the restoration of the fund which has been thus improperly applied to their use.' It is this remark on which the appellants rely. It is not our intention, however, to decide anything in the present case in conflict with it. The claim in that case was fr operating expenses only, and the rule laid down had special reference to them. The present claim is of a different character, based upon a bona fide effort made by the intervenor to preserve the fund itself from waste and spoliation after the mortgage was in arrears and the right to reduce it to possession had accrued. But even here, as we have seen, if the claimant could pursue only the earnings, it is shown that they have been appropriated to the purchase of property which has been added to the fund. Much of the argument of the appellants is based on the hypothesis that the claim of the interevenor was a claim to be subrogated to the lien of the Holbrook judgment; and it is argued that this lien was subordinate to that of the mortgage held by the complainants. We do not understand that the claim was presented in any such view. The Holbrook judgment and execution could have greatly deranged the business of the company as a going concern. The rolling stock could have been seized and removed. Whether such seizure could, or could not, have been prevented by the mortgagees is a different question. It would, at all events, have required legal proceedings, and probably serious litigation; and this the mortgagees did not see fit to undertake. To save the property from being taken, to prevent the catastrophe which its taking would have caused, and the serious questions which would have arisen had it actually been sold, the intervenor gave his bond to obtain an injunction. It was not done for the purpose of being subrogated to the questionable rights of Holbrook under his judgment; but to prevent the certain injury to the property itself, which the attempted enforcement of those rights would have involved. It is unnecessary, therefore, to discuss the rights of an execution creditor, levying on the personal property of a railroad company in Illinois, as against those of a mortgagee. We express no opinion upon that subject. The claim was presented upon the equities arising in favor of the intervenor for taking the action he did, and thus securing the results which followed, and upon the other circumstances of the entire case taken together; and it was upon these grounds that the claim was allowed by the court below. The decree of the circuit court is 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).