Clark v. Clark/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

58 U.S. 315

Clark  v.  Clark

Ferdinand Clark applied for the benefit of the bankrupt law, and filed a schedule of his debts, and another of his property and rights of property. Pursuant to the latter schedule, the assignee in bankruptcy sold all Clark's interest in the property, and rights of property, at auction, for the sum of two dollars; Clark himself bidding at the sale, but ordering the title to be made by the assignee to his (Clark's) sister, who relinquished to him by a formal deed on the next day. By virtue of this purchase Clark claims to be bona fide owner of all the property, and rights of property, he had given in or indicated on his schedule.

The bill alleges that the claim against the Republic of Mexico, for an unlawful seizure of the cargo of a vessel owned by the bankrupt, called The Louisiana, the proceeds of which are in dispute, was not described in any manner to make the same available to Clark's creditors; nor was any such information or evidences of the claim put into possession of the assignee as would enable him to recover it, but that all the information and evidences were fraudulently whthheld by said bankrupt, and that his assets and effects generally were so described in his schedule that the assignee was ignorant of their true value, and in fact reported to the court that the same could not be sold; and that because of this fraud the sale was void.

This allegation is put in issue by the answer, and was sustained by the circuit court, which ordered the moneys awarded to Clark by the commissioners, acting under our treaty of peace with Mexico, to be paid over to the assignee in bankruptcy, and distributed by him among the bankrupt's creditors. From this decree Clark appealed.

If the right of property to the claim for indemnity was concealed so that the assets were sold for a nominal amount, and to Clark himself in the name of his sister, then Clark's purchase was fraudulent, and the decree below, setting aside the purchase, was proper. This is the rule prescribed by the 4th section of the bankrupt law; and which rule would be enforced by the general principles governing a court of equity, independently of the bankrupt law.

In his first schedule, the bankrupt did not mention the claim against the Republic of Mexico, but in an amendment, filed in December, 1844, after he had received his discharge, this claim is alluded to in connection with others, as follows:--

'United States government of America'-Claim.

Spanish government, do.

Buenos Ayres government, do.

'Mexican Republic subject to a mortgage.'

This statement gave no information that the bankrupt claimed remuneration against the government of Mexico for an illegal seizure of the cargo of the schooner Louisiana. The proof is that Clark was prosecuting this claim before he applied for the benefit of the bankrupt law, which was in January, 1843, and relied on its ultimate recognition and payment through commissioners acting under treaties with Mexico. He continued to pursue the claim, steadily and earnestly, up to the time it was allowed in 1851, when there was awarded to him 86,786 29/100 dollars.

Clark's letters to Mr. Caustin, his agent in Washington, who prosecuted the claim, show, as does the deposition of Mr. Caustin, also, that in December, 1844, when the amended schedule was filed, the bankrupt had a right to expect ultimate success, and did rely on it with much confidence. Clark's papers and correspondence were extensive in regard to the matter, and which must have been concealed from the assignee in bankruptcy, or he would not have reported the assets as of no value in 1845, when they were sold.

From the obscurity of the schedule, and the concealment of the evidences of a right of property from the assignee and the creditors, we feel satisfied that the bankrupt intended to rid himself of his debts, and to secure to himself the effects in dispute by contrivance, and that part of the contrivance was a purchase in the name of his sister, for his own benefit.

Some minor objections to the decree below have been raised, which it is proper to notice.

First, it is insisted that the circuit court of the District of Columbia had no jurisdiction of the parties under the act of March 3, 1849, § 8, to carry into effect our treaty with Mexico of 1848. The 8th section provides that in all cases arising under the act, where any person or persons other than those in whose favor the award was made, claimed the money awarded, should within thirty days after the date of the award notify the secretary of the treasury of his intention to contest the payment of the money to the party to whom it was awarded, and file with the district attorney a bond, &c., then the money should be retained in the treasury, subject to legal investigation in the courts of justice; and the party claiming the fund might file his bill in the circuit court in the District of Columbia, which should have jurisdiction to determine the right of property. In this instance the award was made on the 15th day of April, 1851, and on the 15th day of May following, Benjamin C. Clark, of Boston, a judgment creditor, filed his bill in the circuit court claiming the fund awarded to Ferdinand Clark, and gave the notice and bond required by the act of 1849, § 8.

This was a creditor's bill, on behalf of the complainant and all other creditors of the bankrupt, and which alleged that the complainant had reason to believe the assignee, Palmer, was dead, and invites him, if living, or any subsequent assignee that might be appointed, to come in, &c. It was ascertained that Palmer was dead, and Hackett was appointed successor to Palmer, May 19, 1851, and on the 30th day of that month made himself a party to Benjamin C. Clark's bill, by petition in the nature of an original bill. Other creditors came in, likewise, but all of them after the thirty days had expired.

It is insisted that Benjamin C. Clark, as a general creditor of the bankrupt, had no standing in court, his debt having been discharged by the certificate of bankruptcy. Secondly, that Clark had never made himself a party to the bankrupt proceedings, by proving his debt, and therefore Hackett must stand on his own bill, and cannot connect himself with that of Clark.

3. 'That the circuit court of the District of Columbia had no jurisdiction in this case, except that conferred by said 8th section. The fund was in the treasury of the United States, and the parties were non-residents. Inasmuch as Hackett, the assignee, had not given the bond nor filed the notice specified in said 8th section, upon which the jurisdiction of the court was to attach, the bill should have been dismissed.'

The bankrupt is personally discharged from his debts, and so are his future acquisitions; but, the property and rights of property which vested in the assignee are subject to the creditors of the bankrupt, as they were liable in his hands before he applied for the benefit of the act; and the money in controversy was held in trust for the creditors, in whatsoever hands it was found. Benjamin C. Clark was a cestui que trust, and the treasury a stakeholder between Ferdinand Clark and his creditors; Palmer, the assignee, had died, and there being no trustee, the creditor had a right to file a bill and detain the fund for the creditors generally, to be administered by an assignee subsequently appointed by the bankrupt court.

The circumstance that Benjamin C. Clark has not proved his debt, and made himself a party to the proceedings in bankruptcy, is immaterial; the proof that debts were owing by Ferdinand Clark can be made at such times as the bankrupt court may prescribe by its rules and orders; and we are not aware that any objection can be interposed to reject Benjamin C. Clark's claim in the bankrupt court of New Hampshire. All the creditors seem to be in the same condition, no one having proved his debt. Benjamin C. Clark having the right to sue and detain the fund in the treasury, Hackett could properly come in, and make himself a party to the proceeding.

It is also insisted that this action is barred by the 8th section of the bankrupt law, which provides that no suit shall be maintainable against any person claiming an adverse interest touching property or rights of property surrendered by the bankrupt, unless the same shall be brought within two years after the declaration and decree in bankruptcy, or after the cause of action shall first have accrued.

The interest adversely claimed, and which the statute protects, if not sued for within two years, is an interest in a claimant other than the bankrupt; but, supposing that Ferdinand Clark had been placed in that condition, as to the fund in the treasury, by his pretended purchase of his own assets, yet as no cause of action accrued to the assignee in bankruptcy against Clark, until he got possession of the money, and as he never held the fund adversely, it follows that the act does not apply; but if it did, the fund had no existence till the award was made, which was only thirty days before the suit was brought. We order that the decree of the circuit court be affirmed.

This cause came on to be heard on transcript of the record from the circuit court of the United States for the District of Columbia, holden in and for the county of Washington, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof it is now here ordered, adjudged, and decreed by this court that the decree of the said circuit court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed, with costs.


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).