139 U.S. 417 (1891), Handley v. Stutz

Citation:139 U.S. 417, 11 S.Ct. 530, 35 L.Ed. 227
Party Name:HANDLEY et al. v. STUTZ et al.
Case Date:March 30, 1891
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 417

139 U.S. 417 (1891)

11 S.Ct. 530, 35 L.Ed. 227

HANDLEY et al.

v.

STUTZ et al.

United States Supreme Court.

March 30, 1891

On appeal from the circuit court of the United States for the middle district of Tennessee.

[11 S.Ct. 530] This was a bill in equity, filed by Sebastian Stutz, of Pittsburg, Pa., by certain other persons composing the firm of Ragon Bros., of Evansville, Ind., and by others composing the frim of Louis Stix & Co., of Cincinnati, Ohio, on behalf of themselves and such other creditors of the Clifton Coal Company as should come in and contribute to the expenses of the suit, against the Clifton Coal Company and certain of its stockholders, to compel an assessment upon certain shares of stock held by the individual defendants, and payment of the same as a trust fund for the satisfaction of the debts of the company. The bill averred, in substance, that the Clifton Coal Company was incorporated under the laws of the state of Kentucky, in Jyly, 1883, with power to purchase, lease, and operate coal mines in the state of Kentucky, a copy of the articles of incorporation being annexed to the bill; that by said articles the capital stock of such corporation was fixed at $120,000, divided into shares of $100 each, with power to increase the same to $200,000, by a majority vote of the stockholders; that all the stock was then taken and paid for by the subscribers in some manner agreed upon between them; that, pursuant to the authority contained in the articles of incorporation, [11 S.Ct. 531] the stockholders, all of them being present and voting, 'at a meeting duly held for the purpose in May, 1886, unanimously resolved and ordered that the capital stock of said company be, and in fact it was, then increased to $200,000, in shares of $100 each, being an increase of 800 shares of stock of said company;' that of the 800 shares then created, the defendant Handley subscribed for 86 3/4 shares, two of the other defendants for 15 shares each, and two others for 75 shares each, certificates of which were issued by the company, and delivered to and received by said subscribers, as they were respectively entitled, but that neither one of them ever paid to the company any part of the said shares, and they each, respectively, owe the said company the full par value of the shares of the said capital stock subscribed for and issued to them.

The bill also averred that on December 30, 1886, it having been previously resolved to issue bonds to the amount of $50,000, and to secure the payment thereof by a mortgage upon its property, and said mortgage having been executed to trustees and recorded, a contract was executed and delivered to the company by certain others of the defendants, whose names were subscribed thereto, in the following terms: 'We, the undersigned, subscribe for the amount set opposite our names, respectively, to bonds of the Clifton Coal Company, aggregating $50,000. It is agreed that $50,000 capital stock be distributedpro rata among the subscribers to the above bonds;' that several of the defendants subscribed to this contract, and agreed to take bonds in different amounts; that said subscribers paid the coal company for the bonds, and that with the money thus received, to the extent of $30,000, the company paid its debts to certain of its officers and managers, who had become liable by indorsement for the company, and that nothing was or ever has been paid for or upon any of the shares of capital stock thus subscribed for, and to be distributed among them; that is to say, $50,000 of said capital stock, equivalent to 500 shares thereof, was in fact subscribed for and distributed among certain of the defendants, to whom, in May, 1887, there were issued and received by them, respectively, certificates for shares.

The bill further averred that the plaintiffs were judgment creditors of the company by judgments obtained in the courts of Kentucky; that their debts were created before all of the capital stock of said company was paid in; and that all of said $80,000 increase of the capital stock, and each and all of the amounts due to the company for any part of its capital stock, constituted a trust fund for their benefit, which they were entitled to have administered in a court of equity to the satisfaction of their said debts, the company being insolvent.

It further appeared from the testimony that the company was organized soon after its articles of incorporation were filed; that its chief office was at Mannington, Ky., and that it began business at once, and made large outlays and expenditures for machinery, buildings, materials, and labor. In the early part of the year 1886 the company was led to believe that its coal would coke, and therefore its products could be profitably extended for grate and steam purposes to iron-making coke. To embark in the manufacture of coke, however, money was needed, and a meeting of the stockholders was held March 31, 1886, at which a resolution was passed, reciting that $50,000 was needed with which to erect coke-ovens, buildings, improvements, ect., to further develop the property; and it was unanimously resolved to issue $50,000 of bonds of the company, in sums of $1,000 each, due 30 years from April 1st, with 6 per cent. interest, and secured by a trust mortgage upon the property of the company, and the president was authorized to dispose of such bonds as in his discretion seemed best. The mortgage was executed to the designated trustee, and recorded. It was found, however, that the bonds could not be sold, and to meet the demands upon the company for money it borrowed a large amount upon its notes, indorsed by its directors and stockholders, and, to secure the lenders and indorsers, the $50,000 of bonds were deposited in two banks in Anshville, Tenn., as additional collateral security for the loans. Finding that no one would purchase the bonds, and being advised that in order to effect their sale it would be better to add an equal amount of stock to the bonds, and propose to the purchasers of such bonds to give as a gratuity $1,000 of stock with each $1,000 bond, a meeting of the stockholders of the company was held at Nashville, May 31, 1886, at which all the stockholders were present in person or by proxy, although without any call or previous notice, and 'it was unanimously resolved that the capital stock of the company be increased to $20,000, as authorized by the charter.' This resolution was not then entered upon the records of the corporation, but was formulated in the shape of a pencil memorandum, and adopted unanimously, although no vote appeared to have been taken, and no formal record was made of the meeting until the summer of 1888. No notice of such change in the amount of its capital stock was recorded or published, as required by the laws of Kentucky. The subscribers to the bonds subsequently executed the agreement set forth in the bill, and bonds to the amount of $45,000 were delivered to the subscribers with equal amounts of certificates of 'paid-up' stock, the receipts reciting that it 'was issued with bonds for same amount, as per agreement.' The certificates on their face recited that the shares of stock were fully paid up, 'and were non-assessable,' or language to that effect. Five thousand dollars of the bonds were left in one of the national banks at Nashville as collateral security for a loan to the company, no one having subscribed for them. The remaining $30,000 shares of increased stock, which were not needed to secure the subscribers to the bonds, appeared to have been distributed pro rata amoung the old stock holders. In the latter part of 1887, and in the early part of the following year, plaintiffs [11 S.Ct. 532] obtained judgments against the company, which were unsatisfied, and in September, 1887, by an order of the circuit court of Hopkins county, Ky., the entire property of the company was placed in the hands of a receiver, and its operations stopped.

On February 8, 1889, this bill was filed against the coal company and the holders of this increased stock to compel payment therefor, and to recover the amounts of the judgments against the company. The court dismissed the bill as to three of the defendants not served with process, and as to the rest held them liable to all the creditors of the company whose debts originated after the alleged increase of stock, and fixed May, 1886, as the date of such increase. As to debts contracted prior to that date, they were excluded, because as between the company and the stockholders, the latter held such stock properly, and without liability to the company, and all creditors who dealt with the company prior to such increase, and not upon the faith of such stock, had no equity to demand more than the company itself could. Five of the defendants against whom decrees were rendered in excess of $5,000 appealed to this court, and the circuit court suspended the execution of the decree as to those who could not appeal, until this court should determine the rights of the appellants.

The opinion of the circuit court is reported in 41 F. 531.

COUNSEL

Page 421

Edwin H. East and Jas S. Pilcher, for appellants.

Page 422

W. Evans, for appellees.

OPINION

Mr. Justice BROWN, after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

1. Although the resolution of May 31, 1886, increasing the stock of the company from $120,000 to $200,000, was not formally entered at that time upon the books of the company, and nothing but a pencil memorandum was then made of the proceedings of the meeting, no objection can be taken to its validity by reason of such omission. The testimony shows clearly what took place at this meeting. It appears from the memorandum made by Mr. Allen, the acting secretary, to have been 'unanimously resolved that the capital stock of the company be increased to $200,000, as authorized by the charter, the...

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