Huntington v. Savings Bank

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

96 U.S. 388

Huntington  v.  Savings Bank

APPEAL from the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.

This bill, for an account and a distribution of profits, was filed by Fanny A. Huntington, administratrix, and Frank H. Gassaway, administrator, of William S. Huntington, deceased, against the National Savings Bank of the District of Columbia, a corporation chartered by an act of Congress approved May 24, 1870 (16 Stat. 137), the provisions of which are stated in the opinion of the court.

Shortly after the passage of the act, Huntington, and fifteen other persons named therein as corporators, met, organized, and elected the officers provided for. A bond in the penal sum of $200,000, conditioned to pay and to satisfy, to every depositor or person entitled, such sum as the party may be entitled to, within thirty days after such deposit shall be demanded, was filed with the clerk of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, and approved by one of the judges thereof. No capital was ever paid into the bank by any of the corporators, nor has it ever issued any stock, or divided shares.

The bill alleges that the bank has done a large business, and sustained no considerable losses, and that, therefore, all its profits, and the present large value of its capital stock and franchises, belong to said sixteen corporators; that neither Huntington in his lifetime, nor the complainants since his death, ever received more than about $3,000 of dividends or profits of said bank; that, while other corporators have received larger dividends, the rights of the complainants have not been recognized, but that, on the contrary, the defendant pretends that upon the death of Huntington all the rights in said business and the franchises survived to the other corporators, and that, as expressive of that view, and to injure the complainants, the defendant has, long since the death of Huntington, adopted a by-law to that effect; that the sureties on the bond are sureties of the corporation and not of each other, and that the liability of each and all of them continues until a new bond is demanded and given, as required by law; and that the right of the surviving members to choose the successor of a deceased member is an assumption wholly unsupported by law. The bill then prays for an account of receipts, expenditures, and profits since the organization of the bank, together with the dividends paid to each corporator; and that the franchises, property, and privileges be valued, and the defendant decreed to pay to the complainants one-sixteenth part thereof.

The answer of the defendant alleges that the profits realized were the property of the individuals who organized under the charter, and that they accrued from the personal credit of the several corporators and their attention to the use of the funds deposited with the bank, and not from the employment of any capital; but denies that said alleged profits, capital stock, and franchises are of great value. It then avers that no division of profits was made among the corporators until after July, 1873, and the death of Huntington; and that the amount so divided was subsequently, in order to meet large losses incurred by reason of the financial panic, refunded by the surviving corporators; but that, in the mean time, the share of the profits due Huntington up to the time of his death, in March, 1872, had been paid to the complainants. It then denies any continuing interest of the complainants in said profits after his death, and alleges that the by-law complained of was not adopted with a view of precluding any rights which had accrued, but for the purpose of defining in the future the relation of the members of the corporation.

The answer further admits that the corporators signing the bond were sureties of the corporation and not of each other; and avers that they did not execute it as corporators, and that it was not capital, nor was its execution by the corporators required by the charter or by-laws, nor was it the consideration of the relations of the parties inter sese; and that, if it were, so far as Huntington's estate is concerned, such consideration would have failed, in consequence of the insolvent condition of his estate and its inability to respond in aid of the other corporators against liabilities and claims.

A general replication was filed, but no proofs were taken. The case was heard on the pleadings, and the bill dismissed. The complainants then appealed to this court.

Mr. Benjamin F. Butler and Mr. Joseph H. Bradley for the appellants.

1. By the provisions of the charter, the company had a capital of $200,000, as security for the repayment of the deposits with interest. Capital is the security for the payment of the debts of a corporation, in whatever form it may be, whether in cash, property, bonds, or notes. It is the fund from which calls upon the stockholders and dividends are to be paid. Nichols v. Tracy, 1 Sandf. (N. Y.) Ch. 278; Durar v. Insurance Company, 4 Zab. (N. J.) 171; Angell & Ames, Corp., sects. 157, 556; The People v. Batchelor, 28 Barb. (N. Y.) 310; Hightower v. Thornton et al., 8 Ga. 486.

It was immaterial what that capital was, so long as the security was satisfactory to and approved by the Supreme Court of the District. The bond given by Huntington and others was to continue until it should be replaced by some other satisfactory to that court, and is consequently binding on his estate.

2. The by-law passed after his death could have no effect on his rights.

3. If the analogy of a partnership is to be followed, the death of Huntington worked no dissolution of his partnership; for it was in an incorporeal body, to the existence of which there was no limit except the will of Congress.

So long, therefore, as his capital is used and employed, the survivors must account with his representatives for all profits. Collyer, Part. (4th Am. ed.), book 2, c. 1, sects. 129-131; Story, Part., sect. 343 and notes; Carey, Part. 290, 291.

Mr. Walter S.C.ox, contra.

MR. JUSTICE STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.


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).