Telegraph Company v. Davenport Telegraph Company

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

97 U.S. 369

Telegraph Company  v.  Davenport Telegraph Company

APPEALS from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio.

These are suits in equity to compel the defendant, a corporation created under the laws of New York, to replace, in the name of the complainants, certain shares of its capital stock alleged to have belonged to them, and to have been transferred without their authority on its books to other parties; and to issue to them proper certificates for the same; and also to pay to them the dividends received on the shares since such unauthorized transfer. In case the company fail to replace the stock, the complainants ask for alternative judgments for the value of their respective shares.

The facts upon which the suits rest are these: In March, 1865, Charles Davenport, a citizen of Ohio, died, leaving a widow and two minor children, the complainants here, his heirs. He was possessed at the time, besides other property, of eleven hundred and seventy shares of the capital stock of the Western Union Telegraph Company, which, upon the settlement of his estate, were distributed equally between the widow and children, in whose names, respectively, they were entered on the books of the company, and to whom separate certificates were issued. She was appointed guardian of the children. To her, as such, the certificates were delivered, declaring on their face that only upon their surrender and cancellation they were transferable in person or by attorney on the books of the company. On the back of each one was printed a blank form of transfer and power of attorney. She put those belonging to the children, with the one issued to her, and some government bonds, in a tin box, which was locked and deposited in the Fourth National Bank of Cincinnati for safe keeping. Her brother, Robert W. Richey, at that time and for some years afterwards an officer in the bank, had access to the box. He kept the key to it during her absence from Cincinnati, in order to get for collection the coupons attached to the bonds when they became due.

In February, 1871, he took from this box the certificate of three hundred and ninety shares belonging to the complainant, Henry Davenport, and forged his name to the transfer and power of attorney on its back, adding his own signature as that of an attesting witness. In this form he sold the certificate; and the purchasers, using the forged power of attorney, obtained a transfer of the shares on the books of the company. Subsequently, Mrs. Davenport was in Cincinnati, and on one occasion sent for the box, but returned it to the bank without opening it or examining its contents, and being about to depart for Europe, she left the key with her brother. Soon afterwards, he took from the box the certificate of shares belonging to the other complainant, Katharine Davenport, and forged her name to a like transfer and power of attorney, adding, as in the former case, his own signature as that of an attesting witness. In this form her certificate was also sold, and by the purchaser a transfer was obtained under the forged power of attorney on the books of the company. When these forgeries were committed, both children were minors, Henry being seventeen, and Katharine fifteen years of age. Henry was at the time at school in Switzerland, and in the summer of 1871 Mrs. Davenport and Katharine went to Europe. None of them were informed of the pretended transfers of the stock until the spring of 1873, and in 1874 these suits were brought. They were originally commenced in one of the courts of the State of Ohio, and were removed to the Circuit Court of the United States upon application of the defendant. That court rendered a decree for each complainant, and the company appealed to this court.

The cause was argued by Mr. Grosvenor Porter Lowrey and Mr. J. Hubley Ashton for the appellant, and by Mr. John F. Follett for the appellees.

MR. JUSTICE FIELD, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.


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