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Brooklyn v. Insurance Company/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

99 U.S. 362

Brooklyn  v.  Insurance Company


The questions presented for consideration upon this writ of error seem to have been concluded by the former decisions of this court.

The facts set out in the second plea do not constitute a defence to this action. It is not averred in that plea that the insurance company had, at the time it purchased the coupons in suit, any knowledge or actual notice of the special conditions embodied in the election notice, and repeated in the formal subscription of May 23, 1870. Nor is it therein alleged that the bonds to which these coupons were originally attached contained recitals indicating that the subscription had been voted and made upon any conditions whatever. The defendant in error was undoubtedly bound to take notice of the provisions of the statute under which the bonds had been issued. But it was under no legal obligation to inquire as to the precise form or terms of the subscription, whether it was absolute or only conditional.

Had the insurance company, before consummating its purchase of the coupons, examined the act incorporating the Chicago and Rock River Railroad Company, it would have ascertained: 1st, That the statute made no provision for conditional subscriptions. 2d, That upon the approval by a majority of the legal voters of any incorporated city, town, or township, along or near the route of the road, at an election called and held for such purpose, in the mode prescribed by law, it was made, by the express words of the statute, the duty of the president of the board of trustees, or other executive officer of such town, and of the supervisor of such township, to make the subscription voted for, receive certificates therefor, and execute to the company bonds of the required amount, bearing interest, payable annually, and signed by such president, executive officer, or supervisor, and attested by the clerk of the municipality it whose name the bonds were issued. 3d, That, within ten days after the approval of a subscription by popular vote, it was the duty of the clerk to transmit to the county clerk a statement of the vote given, the amount voted, and the rate of interest to be paid; and, within like period, after bonds were issued, to file with the county clerk a certificate showing the amount and number of bonds issued, and the rate of interest to be paid. If it be suggested that the statement thus directed to be transmitted to and filed with the county clerk would inform the purchaser whether the subscription was conditional or absolute, a sufficient response is, that such statement might have been in conformity with the letter of the statute without setting forth the precise nature of the subscription. But a conclusive answer is, that there is no averment that any such statement was prepared, transmitted, or filed, or if filed, that it indicated the conditional nature of the subscription, by reference either to the election notice, or to the formal subscription of May 27, 1870. The plea shows that 'the town and the citizens' (to adopt the language of the plea) were assured by the agents and representatives of the railroad company that the latter intended, in good faith, to perform the special conditions annexed to the subscription, and that all rumors to the contrary were without just foundation. These assurances were credited, and, in reliance upon them, the supervisor and clerk executed and delivered the bonds, knowing, at the time, that the conditions imposed by popular vote, as well as by the terms of the subscription, had not been complied with. Thus was faith in the promises of a railroad company substituted for a contract which, had the town stood upon it, would either have secured the construction of the road, as contemplated, or guarded its people against a burden which has been imposed upon them through the fraudulent conduct of railroad officials, and the violation, by its own officers, of the trust committed to them. By the act of the town's constituted authorities, who, by the statute, had the right, under certain circumstances, to execute and deliver the bonds and coupons, the railroad company was enabled to put them upon the money market in advance of the construction of the road. It is now too late for the town to claim exemption, as against bona fide purchasers, upon the ground that the railroad company disregarded its promise to construct the road, or upon the ground that its own officers delivered the bonds in violation of special conditions, of which the purchasers has no knowledge or notice either from the statute or otherwise. The remedy of the city is against the railroad company, and its own unfaithful officers, who, it is alleged, were in fraudulent combination with the company.

For the reasons already stated, the fourth plea must also be held to be insufficient. The bonds were signed by the officers designated for that purpose by the charter of the railroad company, and, after the vote and subscription, it does not seem to have been necessary that the board of auditors or other corporate authorities of the town should have participated in their issue and delivery.

The fifth plea is radically defective. The suit commenced and determined in the Circuit Court of Lee County was a proceeding wholly in personam, against the holders and owners of bonds and coupons which had been issued in the name of the town, and delivered to the railroad company. Upon principle and authority, no decree therein rendered could bind any one not personally served with process, or who did not appear. It could not affect the rights of non-resident holders of bonds and coupons, proceeded against by constructive service. Such service, as to them, was ineffective for any purpose whatever. Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714, and authorities there cited.

We come now to consider the remaining assignment of error, viz., that the court erred in rendering judgment upon the verdict. This objection rests upon the ground that although there were two issues to try,-those arising under the first and third pleas,-the jury were sworn to try 'the issue,' and found only 'the issue' for the defendant in error.

We observe, from the record, that after the demurrer to the second, fourth, and fifth pleas was sustained, the city failed to appear, by attorney, at the trial before the jury. After verdict, a motion was entered to set aside the verdict and judgment and grant a new trial. But no written grounds were filed in support of the motion. Nor did the city appear at the hearing of the motion, and urge any reason for its being granted. It was, consequently, denied, and, in this court for the first time, specific objection is made that the jury were sworn to try, and, in fact, tried but one issue, and that it is impossible from the orders of the court to say what issue was tried. We decline to consider the objection. If the attention of the court below had been called to this matter, the objection might have been obviated. There is no bill of exceptions showing to what point the evidence was directed, and we will assume, under the circumstances of the case, that all the issues were tried which were presented in due form for trial, or which the parties desired to be disposed of. Laber v. Cooper, 7 Wall 565.

Our conclusion is that no error was committed in the court below.

Judgment affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY did not sit in this case, nor take any part in deciding it.

NotesEdit

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).