Fox v. Gardner
ERROR to the Circuit Court for the Western District of Wisconsin; the case being thus:
Fox & Howard had contracted with a railroad company to make its railroad, and on the 4th of October, 1870, employed one N. Young as a contractor (excavator) under them. By the terms of the contract with Young, Fox & Howard were to pay him, on the 15th of December, 1870, a certain sum per cubic yard of earth excavated; payments to be made as follows:
'To the laborers employed in doing said work the amount ascertained to be due to them for their services and the balance to the said Young.'
Young finished his work November 24th, 1870, and being in debt to one Burrows, as also to three other persons severally, to the extent of $3692, gave to him and them drafts on Fox & Howard for different amounts, in all making that sum, payable December 15th, 1870. Fox & Howard accepted the drafts in this form:
'Accepted and promised to be paid out of any money due N. Young, in our hands, after payment of laborer's lien and orders previously accepted. Done this 1st day of December, at eight o'clock P.M.
'FOX & HOWARD.'
About the same time various laborers under Young, and thus creditors of Young, also gave drafts (in all for $502), on him in favor of Burrows, who cashed or discounted them, and by Young's directions Fox & Howard charged him, Young, with the amount of the drafts as cash paid to him; they agreeing, at the same time, with Burrows, to pay to him the amount of the drafts, but not actually paying them.
When Young gave these different drafts he was insolvent; and on the 7th of January, 1871, a petition in bankruptcy was filed against him, on which he was, upon the same day, decreed a bankrupt.
One Gardner being appointed his assignee brought this suit in the court below, September 12th, 1872, against Fox & Howard, to compel the payment to him of what they had owed Young, and had agreed to pay to Burrows and the others, in the manner already stated. The ground of the suit was of course that the transactions were void under the thirty-fifth section of the Bankrupt Act, quoted supra, 365.
The court charged the jury that before the plaintiff could recover he was bound, under the thirty-fifth section of the act, to show: 1st. That Young was insolvent when the drafts were given. 2d. That Fox & Howard had reasonable cause to believe him insolvent. 3d. That the person or persons, in such case respectively, to whom the drafts were given, had reasonable cause to believe Young insolvent. And further, that Fox & Howard had reasonable cause to believe that the person or persons to whom they were so given had, when they took the same, reasonable cause to believe Young insolvent. But that if he satisfied the jury, by the evidence, of all these things, the acceptances of Fox & Howard were void, and did not amount to payments in the action.
Under these instructions the jury found for the assignee the amounts claimed, and Fox & Howard brought the case here on exceptions to the charge.
Mr. R. T. Merrick (with whom was Mr. B. G. Caulfield), for the plaintiff in error:
The court below was mistaken in its construction of the thirty-fifth section of the Bankrupt Act. That section does not authorize suits by an assignee against debtors of the bankrupt who have discharged their debts to him, or paid money to other persons for his use, within the period of four or six months specified in the act. It only authorizes suits against such creditors of the bankrupt as have fraudulently received such payments. Only the parties benefited by a fraudulent preference under the Bankrupt Act are liable to the assignee.
The doctrine of the District Court leads to the most disastrous consequences. For if a debtor cannot respect the orders of a man in embarrassed circumstances except at his peril, then he will necessarily precipitate the condition of insolvency and bankruptcy which a different course might have prevented. It is believed that this doctrine is contrary to common justice and the established principles of law.
As respects Fox & Howard, the verdict and judgment below were very hard. If affirmed here those persons have to pay the same debt twice; once to Burrows and the other holders of their acceptances, and again to the assignee in bankruptcy.
Mr. W. F. Vilas, contra.
Mr. Justice HUNT delivered the opinion of the court.