Kennedy v. Gibson/Opinion of the Court
This is an appeal in equity, from the decree of the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland. The bill was filed by the appellant. For the purposes of the points necessary to be considered, the case may be briefly stated. The appellant has been duly appointed receiver of the Merchants' Bank of Washington City, under the 50th section of the act of June 3d, 1864, and brings this bill to charge the defendants, who are alleged to be stockholders of the bank, with the personal liability prescribed by the 12th section of the act. The facts necessary to warrant the appointment of a receiver are sufficient set forth. It is averred, that he 'has already ascertained that the assets and credits of the association are wholly insufficient to pay its debts and liabilities, and that it will be necessary to the complete and entire administration of the trust reposed in him, that recourse shall be had to the personal liability imposed upon the stockholders;' that two thousand shares of the capital stock, amounting to $200,000, were issued by the bank to its stockholders; that it will be necessary to collect from them this amount, to make good the deficiency in the means to meet the balance of the indebtedness of the bank, which will remain after the application of all the available assets, to the discharge of its liabilities, and, that 'after such application is made, a balance of indebtedness will remain due, largely exceeding the said sum of $200,000.' The stockholders, besides the defendants, are named, and it is alleged that a part of them reside in the District of Columbia, and one of them in the State of New York. The prayer of the bill is, that an account may be taken, and that each of the defendants shall be decreed to pay to the receiver his pro rata share of the indebtedness of the bank, which may remain, after applying to the liabilities all its effects, as required by the act before mentioned, and for general relief. The bill is signed by the special counsel of the receiver. The name of the attorney of the United States does not appear in the case. The defendants demurred. Our opinion will cover all the points brought to our attention by their counsel in the argument, without particularly stating them.
The receiver is the agent of the United States, and according to the 56th section of the act,  this suit should have been conducted by their attorney. But this provision is merely directory. The question which arises is between the United States and its officer. The rights of the defendants are in no wise concerned, and they cannot be heard to make the objection, that this duty of the local law officer of the government has been devolved upon another. It is to be presumed there were sufficient reasons to warrant this departure from the letter of the law.
The 50th section of the act provides, that the receiver, under the direction of the comptroller of the currency, shall take possession of the books and assets of every description of the association, collect all the debts and claims belonging to it, and may-proceeding in the manner prescribed-sell, or compound bad and doubtful debts, and sell all its real and personal property; 'and may, if necessary to pay the debts of such association, enforce the individual liability of the stockholders.' He is required to pay all the moneys he may realize, to the Treasurer of the United States, subject to the order of the comptroller, and to report to the comptroller all his proceedings. The comptroller is required to give notice to all persons having claims against the association to present and prove them; and after making provision for refunding to the United States 'any deficiency in redeeming the notes of such association, as mentioned in this act,' to make a ratable dividend of the moneys paid over to him by the receiver, 'on all claims which have been proved to his satisfaction, or adjudicated in a court of competent jurisdiction.' He is to make further dividends, from time to time, as the means shall come into his hands, 'on all claims previously proved or adjudicated, and the remainder of the proceeds, if any, shall be paid over to the stockholders of such association, or their legal representatives.' The receiver is the instrument of the comptroller. He is appointed by the comptroller, and the power of appointment carries with it the power of removal. It is for the comptroller to decide when it is necessary to institute proceedings against the stockholders to enforce their personal liability, and whether the whole or a part, and if only a part, how much, shall be collected. These questions are referred to his judgment and discretion, and his determination is conclusive. The stockholders cannot controver it. It is not to be questioned in the litigation that may ensue. He may make it at such time as he may deem proper, and upon such data as shall be satisfaction to him. This action on his part is indispensable, whenever the personal liability of the stockholders is sought to be enforced, and must precede the institution of suit by the receiver. The fact must be distinctly averred in all such cases, and if put in issue must be proved.
The liability of the stockholders is several and not joint. The limit of their liability is the par of the stock held by each one. Where the whole amount is sought to be recovered the proceeding must be at law. Where less is required the proceeding may be in equity, and in such case an interlocutory decree may be taken for contribution, and the case may stand over for the further action of the court-if such action should subsequently prove to be necessary-until the full amount of the liability is exhausted. It would be attended with injurious consequences to forbid action against the stockholders until the precise amount necessary to be collected shall be formally ascertained. This would greatly protract the final settlement, and might be attended with large losses by insolvency and otherwise in the intervening time. The amount must depend in part upon the solvency of the debtors and the validity of the claims. Time will be consumed in the application of these tests, and the results in many cases cannot be foreseen. The same remarks apply to the enforced collections from the stockholders. A speedy adjustment is necessary to the efficiency and utility of the law; the interests of the creditors require it, and it was the obvious policy and purchase of Congress to give it. If too much be collected, it is provided by the statute, that any surplus which may remain after satisfying all demands against the association, shall be paid over to the stockholders. It is better they should pay more than may prove to be needed than that the evils of delay should be encountered. When contribution only is sought, all the stockholders who can be reached by the process of the court may be joined in the suit. It is no objection that there are others beyond the jurisdiction of the court who cannot for that reason be made codefendants.
The claims of creditors may be proved before the comptroller, or established by suit against the association. Creditors must seek their remedy through the comptroller in the mode prescribed by the statute; they cannot proceed directly in their own names against the stockholders or debtors of the bank. The receiver is the statutory assignee of the association, and is the proper party to institute all suits; they may be brought both at law and in equity, in his name, or in the name of the association for his use. He represents both the creditors and the association, and when he sues in his own name it is not necessary to make either a party to the suit.
The 59th section of the act of February 25th, 1863, provides that all suits by or against such associations may be brought in the proper courts of the United States or of the State. The 57th section of the act of 1864, relates to the same subject, and revises and enlarges the provisions of the 59th section of the preceding act. In the latter, the word by in respect to such suits is dropped. The omission was doubtless accidental. It is not be supposed that Congress intended to exclude the associations from suing in the courts where they can be sued. The difference in the language of the two sections is not such as to warrant the conclusion that it was intended to change the rule prescribed by the act of 1864. Such suits may still be brought by the associations in the courts of the United States. If this be not the proper construction, while there is provision for suits against the associations, there is none for suits by them, in any court. 
The 59th section directs 'that all suits and proceedings arising out of the provisions of this act, in which the United States or its officers or agents shall be parties, shall be conducted by the district attorneys of the several districts, under the direction and supervision of the solicitor of the treasury.' Considering this section in connection with the succeeding section, the implication is clear that receivers also may sue in the courts of the United States by virtue of the act, without reference to the locality of their personal citizenship. 
The bill in the case before us contains no averment of any action by the comptroller touching the personal liability of the stockholders. The demurrer of the defendants was therefore properly sustained, and the decree of the Circuit Court is
^2 13 Stat. at Large, 116.
^3 Theriat v. Hart, 2 Hill, 381, note.
^4 United States v. Babbit, 1 Black, 61.