318 U.S. 434 (1943), 452, Corn Exchange National Bank & Trust Co.

Docket Nº:No. 452
Citation:318 U.S. 434, 63 S.Ct. 679, 87 L.Ed. 884
Party Name:Corn Exchange National Bank & Trust Co.
Case Date:March 08, 1943
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 434

318 U.S. 434 (1943)

63 S.Ct. 679, 87 L.Ed. 884

Corn Exchange National Bank & Trust Co.

No. 452

United States Supreme Court

March 8, 1943

Argued February 2, 3, 1943

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Within four months of bankruptcy, the debtor had assigned accounts receivable as security for concurrent loans. Notice to those who owed the accounts was not given, although, under applicable local law, notice was necessary in order to preclude possible superior right in subsequent bona fide purchasers of the accounts.

Held, that the assignments were preferential under § 60(a) of the Bankruptcy Act, and thus avoidable by the trustee in bankruptcy under § 60(b) thereof. P. 439.

129 F.2d 24, 894, affirmed.

Certiorari, 317 U.S. 617, to review the reversal of an order of the bankruptcy court which affirmed orders of the Referee allowing certain claims of the petitioners as secured claims against the bankrupt estate.

JACKSON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to determine the application of the preference provisions of § 60(a) of the Bankruptcy Act as amended by the Chandler Act of June 22, 1938,1 to loans made on assignments of accounts receivable.

Page 435

The Quaker City Sheet Metal Company became embarrassed for want of working capital in 1938. Creditors representing a large percentage of claims later proved in bankruptcy agreed to subordinate their claims to those which might be incurred for new working capital. A creditor's committee took supervision of the business, and, in 1938, arranged with the petitioner Bank to advance from time to time money for payroll and other needs on concurrently made assignments of accounts receivable. At the time of bankruptcy, the Company was indebted to the Bank for loans so made on contemporary assignments between January 19, 1940, and April 5, 1940. On April 12, 1940, petitioner Dearden made a loan on similar security. An involuntary [63 S.Ct. 681] petition in bankruptcy was filed against the Company on April 18, 1940, followed by adjudication on May 7, 1940. When the assignments were made, they were recorded on the Company's books, but neither petitioner had ever given notice of assignment to the debtors whose obligations had been taken as security. Because of this omission, the trustee challenged their right to the benefits of their security. He was overruled by the referee and the District Court, but his position was sustained by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit2 on an interpretation of § 60(a) which conflicts with an interpretation by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.3 Hence, we granted certiorari.4 Section 60(a), as amended and applicable, reads:

A preference is a transfer, as defined in this Act, of any of the property of a debtor to or for the benefit of a creditor for or on account of an antecedent debt, made or suffered by such debtor while insolvent and within four

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months before the filing by or against him of the petition in bankruptcy, . . . the effect of which transfer will be to enable such creditor to obtain a greater percentage of his debt than some other creditor of the same class. For the purposes of subdivisions a and b of this section, a transfer shall be deemed to have been made at the time when it became so far perfected that no bona fide purchaser from the debtor and no creditor could thereafter have acquired any rights in the property so transferred superior to the rights of the transferee therein, and, if such transfer is not so perfected prior to the filing of the petition in bankruptcy . . . , it shall be deemed to have been made immediately before bankruptcy.

Section 1(30) specifically provides that "transfer" includes an assignment.5

The Circuit Court of Appeals has determined, and we accept its conclusion, that, at all relevant times, it was the law of Pennsylvania, where these transactions took place, that, because of the failure of these assignees to give notice to the debtors whose obligations were taken, a subsequent good faith assignee, giving such notice, would acquire a right superior to theirs.6 It held that the assignments were preferences under § 60(a), and therefore, under the terms of § 60(b),7 inoperative against the trustee.

This is undoubtedly the effect of a literal reading of the Act. Its apparent command is to test the effectiveness of a transfer, as against the trustee, by the standards which

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applicable state law8 would enforce against a good faith purchaser. Only when such a purchaser is precluded from obtaining superior rights is the trustee so precluded. So long as the transaction is left open to possible intervening rights to such a purchaser, it is vulnerable to the intervening bankruptcy. By thus postponing the effective time of the transfer, the debt, [63 S.Ct. 682] which is effective when actually made, will be made antecedent to the delayed effective date of the transfer, and therefore will be made a preferential transfer in law, although, in fact, made concurrently with the advance of money. In this case, the transfers, good between the parties, had never been perfected as against good faith purchasers by notice to the debtors, as the law required, and so the conclusion follows from this reading of the Act that the petitioners lose their security under the preference prohibition of § 60(b).

Such a construction is capable of harsh results,9 and it is said that it will seriously hamper the business of "non-notification financing," of which the present case is an instance. This business is of large magnitude, and it is said to be of particular benefit to small and struggling borrowers.10

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Such consequences may, as petitioners argue, be serious, but we find nothing in Congressional policy which warrants taking this case out of the letter of the Act.

The Committee of the House of Representatives which reported § 60(a) as quoted above was fully aware of the vicissitudes of its predecessors.11 These are recited in detail elsewhere, and need not be repeated here beyond a general statement that, for thirty-five years, Congress has consistently reached out to strike down secret transfers, and the courts have, with equal consistency, found its efforts faulty or insufficient to that end.12 Against such a

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background, § 60(a) was drawn and reported to Congress with this explanation of its purpose and effect:

The new test is more comprehensive, and accords with the contemplated purpose of striking down secret liens. It is provided that the transfer shall be deemed to have been made when it has become so far perfected [63 S.Ct. 683] that neither a bona fide purchaser nor creditor could thereafter have acquired rights superior to those of the transferee. As thus drafted, it includes a failure to record and any other ground which could be asserted by a bona fide purchaser or a creditor of the transferor, as against the transferee. A provision also has been added which makes the test effective even though the transfer may never have actually become perfected.13

Whatever advantages may inhere in non-notification financing which might have made Congress reluctant to jeopardize it, the system also has characteristics which make it impossible for us to conclude that it is to be distinguished from the...

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