Benedict v. Ratner, No. 11

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRANDEIS
Citation69 L.Ed. 991,45 S.Ct. 566,268 U.S. 353
Docket NumberNo. 11
Decision Date25 May 1925
PartiesBENEDICT v. RATNER

268 U.S. 353
45 S.Ct. 566
69 L.Ed. 991
BENEDICT

v.

RATNER.

No. 11.
Argued Oct. 5, 1923.
Decided May 25, 1925.

Page 354

Mr. Selden Bacon, of New York City, for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from page 354 intentionally omitted]

Page 355

Mr. Louis S. Posner, of New York City, for respondent.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 355-356 intentionally omitted]

Page 357

Mr. Justice BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Hub Carpet Company was adjudicated bankrupt by the federal court for Southern New York in involuntary proceedings commenced September 26, 1921. Benedict, who was appointed receiver and later trustee, collected the book accounts of the company. Ratner filed in that court a petition in equity praying that the amounts so collected be paid over to him. He claimed them under a writing given May 23, 1921—four months and three days before the commencement of the bankruptcy proceedings. By it the company purported to assign to him, as collateral for certain loans, all accounts present and future. Those collected by the receiver were, so far as

Page 358

appears, all accounts which had arisen after the date of the assignment, and were enumerated in the monthly list of accounts outstanding which was delivered to Ratner September 23. Benedict resisted the petition on the ground that the original assignment was void under the law of New York as a fraudulent conveyance; that, for this reason, the delivery of the September list of accounts was inoperative to perfect a lien in Ratner; and that it was a preference under the Bankruptcy Act (Comp. St. §§ 9585-9656). He also filed a cross-petition in which he asked that Ratner be ordered to pay to the estate the proceeds of certain collections which had been made by the company after September 17 and turned over to Ratner pursuant to his request made on that day. The company was then insolvent and Ratner had reason to believe it to be so. These accounts also had apparently been acquired by the company after the date of the original assignment.

The District Judge decided both petitions in Ratner's favor. He ruled that the assignment executed in May was not fraudulent in law; that it created an equity in the future acquired accounts; that, because of this equity, Ratner was entitled to retain, as against the bankrupt's estate, the proceeds of the accounts which had been collected by the company in September and turned over to him; that by delivery of the list of the accounts outstanding on September, 23, this equity in them had ripened into a perfect title to the remaining accounts; and that the title so perfected was good as against the supervening bankruptcy. Accordingly, the District Court ordered that, to the extent of the balance remaining unpaid on his loans, there be paid Ratner all collections made from accounts enumerated in any of the lists delivered to Ratner; and that the cross-petition of Benedict be denied. There was no finding of fraud in fact. On appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the order. 282 F. 12. A writ of certiorari was granted by this Court. 259 U. S. 579, 42 S. Ct. 591, 66 L. Ed. 1073.

Page 359

The rights of the parties depend primarily upon the law of New York. Hiscock v. Varick Bank of N. Y., 206 U. S. 28, 27 S. Ct. 681, 51 L. Ed. 945. It may be assumed that, unless the arrangement of May 23 was void because fraudulent in law, the original assignment of the future acquired accounts became operative under the state law, both as to those paid over to Ratner before the bankruptcy proceedings and as to those collected by the receiver;1 and that the assignment will be deemed to have taken effect as of May 23. Sexton v. Kessler, 225 U. S. 90, 99, 32 S. Ct. 657, 56 L. Ed. 995. That being so, it is clear that, if the original assignment was a valid one under the law of New York, the Bankruptcy Act did not invalidate the subsequent dealings of the parties. Thompson v. Fairbanks, 196 U. S. 516, 25 S. Ct. 306, 49 L. Ed. 577; Humphrey v. Tatman, 198 U. S. 91, 25 S. Ct. 567, 49 L. Ed. 956. The sole question for decision is, therefore, whether on the following undisputed facts the assignment of May 23 was in law fraudulent.

The Hub Carpet Company was, on May 23, a mercantile concern doing business in New York City and proposing to continue to do so. The assignment was made there to secure an existing loan of $15,000, and further advances not exceeding $15,000 which were in fact made July 1, 1921. It included all accounts receivable then outstanding and all which should thereafter accrue in the ordinary course of business. A list of the existing accounts was delivered at the time. Similar lists were to be delivered to Ratner on or about the 23d day of each succeeding month containing the accounts outstanding at such future dates. Those enumerated in each of the lists delivered prior to September aggregated between $100,000, and $120,000. The receivables were to be collected by the company. Ratner was given the right, at any time, to

Page 360

demand a full disclosure of the business and financial conditions; to require that all amounts collected be applied in payment of his loans; and to enforce the assignment although no loan had matured. But until he did so, the company was not required to apply any of the collections to the repayment of Ratner's loan. It was not required to replace accounts collected by other collateral of equal value. It was not required to account in any way to Ratner. It was at liberty to use the proceeds of all accounts collected as it might see fit. The existence of the assignment was to be kept secret. The business was to be conducted as theretofore. Indebtedness was to be incurred, as usual, for the purchase of merchandise and otherwise in the ordinary course of business. The amount of such indebtedness unpaid at the time of the commencement of the bankruptcy proceedings was large. Prior to September 17, the company collected from accounts so assigned about $150,000, all of which it applied to purposes other than the payment of Ratner's loan. The outstanding accounts enumerated in the list delivered September 23 aggregated $90,000.

Under the law of New York a transfer of property as security which reserves to the transferor the right to dispose of the same, or to apply the proceeds thereof, for his own uses, is, as to creditors, fraudulent in law and void.2

Page 361

This is true whether the right of disposition for the transferor's use be reserved in the instrument3 or by agreement in pais, oral or written;4 whether the right of disposition reserved be unlimited in time5 or be expressly terminable by the happening of an event;6 whether the transfer cover all the property of the debtor7 or only a part;8 whether the right of disposition extends to all the property transferred9 or only to a part thereof;10 and whether the instrument of transfer be recorded or not.11

If this rule applies to the assignment of book accounts, the arrangement of May 23 was clearly void; and the equity in the future acquired accounts, which it would otherwise have created,12 did not arise. Whether the rule applies to accounts does not appear to have been passed upon by the Court of Appeals of New York. But it would seem clear that whether the collateral consist of chattels

Page 362

or of accounts, reservation of dominion inconsistent with the effective disposition of title must render the transaction void. Ratner asserts that the rule stated above rests upon ostensible ownership, and argues that the doctrine of ostensible ownership ship is not applicable to book accounts. That doctrine raises a presumption of fraud where chattels are mortgaged (or sold) and possession of the property is not delivered to the mortgagee (or vendee).13 The presumption may be avoided by recording the mortgage (or sale). It may be assumed, as Ratner contends, that the doctrine does not apply to the assignment of accounts. In their transfer there is nothing which corresponds to the delivery of possession of chattels. The statutes which embody the doctrine and provide for recording as a substitute for delivery do not include accounts. A title to an account good against creditors may be transferred without notice to the debtor14 or record of any kind.15 But it is

Page 363

not true that the rule stated above and invoked by the receiver is either based upon or delimited by the doctrine of ostensible ownership. It rests not upon seeming ownership because of possession retained, but upon a lack of ownership because of dominion reserved. It does not raise a presumption of fraud. It imputes fraud conclusively because of the reservation of dominion inconsistent with the effective disposition of title and creation of a lien.

The nature of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
175 practice notes
  • Union Trust Co. of Maryland v. Townshend, No. 4370
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • February 23, 1939
    ...of contract, no different in character from his failure to pay the debt. Lone Star Cement Corp. v. Swartwout, supra; Benedict v. Ratner, 268 U. S. 353, 364, 45 S.Ct. 566, 69 L.Ed. 991. This is not true, however, of an agreement that a fund in the possession of another, or to come into his p......
  • In re American Fuel & Power Co., No. 9845
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • October 9, 1945
    ...had taken possession, the mortgage bondholders are not entitled to a lien on these excepted assets. The doctrine of Benedict v. Ratner, 268 U.S. 353, 364, 45 S.Ct. 566, 69 L.Ed. 991, is said to support their argument that reservation of full control by the mortgagor of the excepted assets, ......
  • Magnolia Petroleum Co. v. Thompson, No. 11410-11413.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • December 4, 1939
    ...is controlled by the laws of that state. Ruhlin v. New York Life Ins. Co., 304 U.S. 202, 58 S.Ct. 860, 82 L.Ed. 1290; Benedict v. Ratner, 268 U.S. 353, 359, 45 S.Ct. 566, 69 L.Ed. 991; Buford v. Kerr, 8 Cir., 90 F. 513, 514. No Illinois decision has been found in which a deed or other conve......
  • Black White Taxicab Transfer Co v. Brown Yellow Taxicab Transfer Co 13 16, 1928, No. 174
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 9, 1928
    ...46 S. Ct. 52, 70 L. Ed. 195. I see no reason why it should have less effect when it speaks by its other voice. See Benedict v. Ratner, 268 U. S. 353, 45 S. Ct. 566, 69 L. Ed. 691; Sim v. Edenborn, 242 U. S. 131, 37 S. Ct. 36, 61 L. Ed. 199. If a State Constitution should declare that on all......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
175 cases
  • Union Trust Co. of Maryland v. Townshend, No. 4370
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • February 23, 1939
    ...of contract, no different in character from his failure to pay the debt. Lone Star Cement Corp. v. Swartwout, supra; Benedict v. Ratner, 268 U. S. 353, 364, 45 S.Ct. 566, 69 L.Ed. 991. This is not true, however, of an agreement that a fund in the possession of another, or to come into his p......
  • In re American Fuel & Power Co., No. 9845
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • October 9, 1945
    ...had taken possession, the mortgage bondholders are not entitled to a lien on these excepted assets. The doctrine of Benedict v. Ratner, 268 U.S. 353, 364, 45 S.Ct. 566, 69 L.Ed. 991, is said to support their argument that reservation of full control by the mortgagor of the excepted assets, ......
  • Magnolia Petroleum Co. v. Thompson, No. 11410-11413.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • December 4, 1939
    ...is controlled by the laws of that state. Ruhlin v. New York Life Ins. Co., 304 U.S. 202, 58 S.Ct. 860, 82 L.Ed. 1290; Benedict v. Ratner, 268 U.S. 353, 359, 45 S.Ct. 566, 69 L.Ed. 991; Buford v. Kerr, 8 Cir., 90 F. 513, 514. No Illinois decision has been found in which a deed or other conve......
  • Black White Taxicab Transfer Co v. Brown Yellow Taxicab Transfer Co 13 16, 1928, No. 174
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 9, 1928
    ...46 S. Ct. 52, 70 L. Ed. 195. I see no reason why it should have less effect when it speaks by its other voice. See Benedict v. Ratner, 268 U. S. 353, 45 S. Ct. 566, 69 L. Ed. 691; Sim v. Edenborn, 242 U. S. 131, 37 S. Ct. 36, 61 L. Ed. 199. If a State Constitution should declare that on all......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT