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Wills v. Claflin/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

92 U.S. 135

Wills  v.  Claflin

Claflin & Co., assignees of certain promissory notes, sued Wills, Gregg, & Co., assignors of said notes, on their contract of assignment made in the State of Illinois. The inquiry is, whether a case of liability was made out on the trial, under the peculiar provisions of the statute of Illinois on the subject. This statute makes promissory notes assignable by indorsement in writing, so as to vest the legal interest in the assignee; but the liability of the assignor is not absolute, but conditional. He agrees to pay the note, if the assignee, by the exercise of due diligence, prosecutes the maker to insolvency; but if the institution of a suit against the maker would be unavailing, or if the maker, when the note falls due, is out of the jurisdiction of the court, and therefore beyond the reach of legal process, the assignor is equally as liable as if due diligence by suit had been used. Gross's Comp., 1869, p. 462.

There was no attempt to coerce payment of the makers by suit; and the assignees assume that they were excused, under the circumstances, from instituting it. The declaration avers insolvency, non-residence, and that a suit would have been unavailing. On the trial, the Circuit Court, against the objection of the defendants, admitted evidence that a petition in bankruptcy was filed Jan. 20, 1870, in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, against Kimball and Butterfield, the makers of the notes sued on; and that a judgment was rendered against them Jan. 29, 1870. The admission of this evidence is assigned for error on the ground that there was no allegation in either count of the declaration which justified it, or the charge of the court that the adjudication in bankruptcy excused the assignees from instituting suit against the makers.

There are two averments in the second count of the declaration, as follows:--

First, 'And the plaintiffs aver, that at the time when each of said promissory notes became, by its terms, due and payable, the said Simeon Pickard, and the said Kimball, and the said Butterfield, were each and all insolvent, and unable to pay the amount of the notes by them respectively subscribed as aforesaid, or any part thereof, and hitherto from thence have continued insolvent, and unable to pay the amount of the notes by them respectively subscribed as aforesaid, or any portion thereof.'

Second, 'And the said plaintiffs aver that the institution of a suit against the said Simeon Pickard, or against the said Kimball, or the said Butterfield, at the time the notes so by them as aforesaid respectively subscribed became due and payable, or at any time since, or now, would have been and would be wholly unavailing.'It is contended that these two averments must be treated as one, and that they mean that a suit against the makers would have been unavailing by reason of their insolvency.

If this were so, it would by no means follow that the record was inadmissible to sustain that issue; but, be this as it may, these averments, as we construe them, are distinct, and independent of each other. The first is complete in itself, because, if the makers were insolvent, it would have been idle to bring a suit against them. But there are other things besides insolvency which might render a suit unavailing; as, for instance, want of consideration in the note, or, as in this case, an adjudication in bankruptcy.

The second averment was not limited to any particular cause, but was general in its character, and left the pleader free to show on the trial any reason why a suit would be unavailing. It does not contain specifications enough to enable the party to defend himself (Crouch v. Hall, 15 Ill. 264), and an objection by way of demurrer would have prevailed. But the question here is, not whether it is bad on demurrer, but whether it is good after verdict.

'At common law, after verdict, if the issue joined be such as necessarily to require on the trial proof of the facts defectively or imperfectly stated or omitted, and without which it is not to be presumed that the judge would direct the jury to give, or the jury would have given, the verdict, such defect, imperfection, or omission, is cured by the verdict.' 1 Chitty's Plead. (10th Am. ed.) 673, and cases cited in note. And this rule is adopted in Illinois. In Greathouse v. Robinson, 3 Scam. 8, it was held that the defendant, to avail himself of a defective averment in a declaration, must demur to it. 'If he elects to plead to the declaration, and go to trial, he has no right to insist upon the exclusion of evidence because some necessary averment is omitted or defectively set forth.' There was, therefore, no valid reason why the record of the adjudication of bankruptcy should have been excluded. It was not only competent but conclusive evidence in support of the allegation, that a suit against the makers would have been unavailing; for the Bankrupt Act prevents the institution and prosecution of suits against parties in bankruptcy.

The first note was due Jan. 18, 1870, two days before the petition in bankruptcy was filed; and the first term of court held at Chicago, after the note became due, was on the first Monday of the following month. At this time the adjudication in bankruptcy was in force, and a suit against the bankrupts forbidden.

There was parol testimony (received without objection) to show that the debts of the petitioners were settled, and the proceedings in bankruptcy dismissed; but there was nothing to fix the time when the order of dismissal was made. The burden of doing this rested on the defendants, and so the jury were told.

As this view of the case is decisive of it, it is unnecessary to notice the other assignments of error.

Judgment affirmed.


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).