Ives v. Merchants Bank of Boston/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

53 U.S. 159

Ives  v.  Merchants Bank of Boston

At November term, 1843, in the Circuit Court of Rhode Island, the Merchants Bank of Boston recovered against the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company, by decree in an admiralty suit, the sum of $22,224 and costs of suit. From which decree the respondents appealed to this court; and on December 14, 1843, Moses B. Ives, the present plaintiff in error, became bound as surety for the appellants in a penal bond of $2500, with a condition, 'that the said Navigation Company should prosecute their appeal with effect, and should well and truly pay all such costs and damages as should be adjudged for them to pay by said Supreme Court, or by said Circuit Court, by reason of said appeal, in case of failure. At December term, 1847, the appeal was heard before the Supreme Court, and the decree affirmed, with costs and six per cent. damages. On return of the mandate, a judgment was entered in the Circuit Court against the Navigation Company, for the original amount; and also for $6,078.20 damages, arising by reason of the appeal, and for $529.98, being costs covered by the appeal bond. The entire sum for principal, damages, and costs, being $28,452.78. Execution issued for the aggregate sum, and the steamboat Massachusetts was sold, 20th July, 1848, for $25,000, by virtue of the writ. The vessel had been attached when the proceeding was commenced, and continued subject to a lien until sold; but, not bringing a sum equal to the final decree, Ives was sued on his appeal-bond, and the Circuit Court gave judgment against him for the amount of the penalty, and also for six per cent. interest on the $2500, from October 10th, 1848, being the time when he was served with the writ; the penalty and interest amounting to $2,605.80, for which judgment was rendered at the June term, 1849. To bring up this judgment, Ives sued out the present writ of error.

First, it is insisted, and assigned for error, that the $25,000, made by a sale of the vessel, covered about eighty per cent. of the amount included in the execution, and ought to have been proportioned to every part of the demand, and if thus applied to damages and costs, would have reduced them to about $1200, and that plaintiff in error was responsible for no more.

Ives was bound to pay such damages as might be awarded by the Supreme Court, and costs; and could have been sued and a judgment had against him, had no execution issued. He was positively bound to the amount of his bond, and could not be heard to allege an extinguishment of it in part, because of a payment made by his principals, leaving an amount due equal to the bond.

This is the plain equity of the case. If the appeal had not been taken, and the property attached had been sold in due time after the first decree for $25,000, no damages would have been sustained by the plaintiffs below, and as the surety was instrumental in delaying satisfaction, it is equitable that he should respond to such damage as his act occasioned, and which enlarged the amount. The second ground relied on to reverse is, that by uniform practice costs are deducted from the first proceeds collected on an execution including them; and that a surety for costs is never held liable when an amount sufficient to cover costs is made of the principal.

It is not necessary at present to decide this matter of practice, nor shall we do so, as the unsatisfied damages, exclusive of costs, far exceeded the judgment rendered by the Circuit Court.

The third and remaining question is one of general importance and some difficulty. The surety was bound in a penal bond, and this penalty the Circuit Court exceeded, by allowing interest on it from the time of demand by suit; and it is insisted that in this there was error. The action was debt, with an allegation of damages sustained by its detention. The parties came to a hearing on an agreed case which set forth the facts, and submitted the law arising on them to the court; and, as the 26th section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 only gives the courts power to assess damages and to render judgment for so much as is due according to equity, in cases of default or confession, or on demurrer, it does not apply in cases heard on agreed facts, or tried upon pleadings and proofs. This court so held in Farrar & Brown v. The United States, 5 Pet., 385, and which construction we follow. In the same cause it was adjudged that, in an action of debt against the sureties of a surveyor who had received moneys of the United States to disburse, and given bond with sureties to account for them, the practice was to render judgment in debt for the penalty, to be discharged by the amount actually due, and that this amount could not exceed the penalty.

In cases where unascertained damages are claimed, about which there is a contest, the foregoing is the proper rule; although it was departed from in the case of McGill v. The Bank of the United States, 12 Wheat., 514, where payments had been made by the sureties after a defalcation, and an account was taken between the parties, and interest calculated on both sides and a balance struck, which, when added to previous payments, exceeded the penalty of the bond. But these cases widely differ from the present. Here the surety was bound to pay damages that might be adjudged against his principal in the Supreme Court. They were established and settled at $6,078.26; and this judgment bore six per cent. interest from its date. It was conclusive as against the principal; and equally conclusive of the fact, that the surety was bound to pay it to the extent of $2500. Then this amount was due by the bond, which could have been at once enforced by suit; and if the Supreme Court had been vested with power to render judgment against the surety on the appeal-bond, as is the case in some of the states, no reason would seem to exist, why the bond should not bear interest from the date of judgment in the Supreme Court against the surety as well as against the principal. But as Ives only guaranteed the payment of damages, and it was a duty imposed on the principal to pay the entire judgment, the moderate rule has been applied of requiring interest from the time that demand of payment was made by suit; a rule now so generally established in similar cases, by state courts of high authority, that this court could not violate it without manifest impropriety.

Of course we are dealing with an appeal-bond, and do not intend to go beyond the case before us. It is, therefore, ordered, that the judgment rendered by the Circuit Court be affirmed.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record, from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Rhode Island, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this court, that the judgment of the said Circuit Court in this cause be, and the same is hereby, affirmed, with costs and damages, at the rate of six per centum per annum.


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).