Hawes v. Oakland 1881 Mr Justice Miller 1878

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation26 L.Ed. 827,104 U.S. 450
PartiesHAWES v. OAKLAND October, 1881 . The facts are stated in the opinion of the court. Mr. Charles N. Fox for the appellant. Mr. Henry Vrooman for the appellees. MR. JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court. This is an appeal from a decree in chancery dismissing the copmlainant's bill, wherein he, a citizen of New York, alleges that he is a stockholder in the Contra Costa Water-works Company, a California corporation, and that he files it on behalf of himself and all other stockholders who may choose to come in and contribute to the costs and expenses of the suit. The defendants are the city of Oakland, the Contra Costa Water-works Company, and Anthony Chabot, Henry Pierce, Andrew J. Pope, Charles Holbrook, and John W. Coleman, trustees and directors of the company. The foundation of the complaint is that the city of Oakland claims at the hands of the company water, without compensation, for all municipal purposes whatever, including watering the streets, public squares and parks, flushing sewers, and the like, whereas it is only entitled to receive water free of charge in cases of fire or other great necessity; that the company comply with this demand, to the great loss and injury of the company, to the diminution of the dividends which should come to him and other stockholders, and to the decrease in the value of their stock. The allegation of his attempt to get the directors to correct this evil will be given in the language of the bill. He says that "on the tenth day of July, 1878, he applied to the president and board of directors or trustees of said water company, and requested them to desist from their illegal and improper practices aforesaid, and to limit the supply of water free of charge to said city to cases of fire or other great necessity, and that said board should take immediate proceedings to prevent said city from taking water from the works of said company for any other purpose without compensation; but said board of directors and trustees hav
Decision Date03 March 1875

104 U.S. 450
104 U.S. 450
26 L.Ed. 827
HAWES
v.
OAKLAND
October, 1881
APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the
District of California.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

Mr. Charles N. Fox for the appellant.

Mr. Henry Vrooman for the appellees.

MR. JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

This is an appeal from a decree in chancery dismissing the copmlainant's bill, wherein he, a citizen of New York, alleges that he is a stockholder in the Contra Costa Water-works Company, a California corporation, and that he files it on behalf of himself and all other stockholders who may choose to come in and contribute to the costs and expenses of the suit.

The defendants are the city of Oakland, the Contra Costa Water-works Company, and Anthony Chabot, Henry Pierce,

Page 451

Andrew J. Pope, Charles Holbrook, and John W. Coleman, trustees and directors of the company.

The foundation of the complaint is that the city of Oakland claims at the hands of the company water, without compensation, for all municipal purposes whatever, including watering the streets, public squares and parks, flushing sewers, and the like, whereas it is only entitled to receive water free of charge in cases of fire or other great necessity; that the company comply with this demand, to the great loss and injury of the company, to the diminution of the dividends which should come to him and other stockholders, and to the decrease in the value of their stock. The allegation of his attempt to get the directors to correct this evil will be given in the language of the bill.

He says that "on the tenth day of July, 1878, he applied to the president and board of directors or trustees of said water company, and requested them to desist from their illegal and improper practices aforesaid, and to limit the supply of water free of charge to said city to cases of fire or other great necessity, and that said board should take immediate proceedings to prevent said city from taking water from the works of said company for any other purpose without compensation; but said board of directors and trustees have wholly declined to take any proceedings whatever in the premises, and threaten to go on and furnish water to the extent of said company's means to said city of Oakland free of charge, for all municipal purposes, as has heretofore been done, and in cases other than cases of fire or other great necessity, except as for family uses hereinbefore referred to; and your orator avers that by reason of the premises said water company and your orator and the other stockholders thereof have suffered, and will, by a continuance of said acts, hereafter suffer, great loss and damage."

To this bill the water-works company and the directors failed to make answer; and the city of Oakland filed a demurrer, which was sustained by the court and the bill dismissed. The complainant appealed.

Two groups of demurrer were set out and relied on in the court below, and are urged upon us on this appeal. They are:—

Page 452

1. That appellant has shown no capacity in himself to maintain this suit, the injury, if any exists, being to the interests of the corporation, and the right to sue belonging solely to that body.

2. That by a sound construction of the law under which the company is organized the city of Oakland is entitled to receive, free of compensation, all the water which the bill charges it with so using.

The first of these causes of demurrer presents a matter of very great interest, and of growing importance in the courts of the United States.

Since the d cision of this court in Dodge v. Woolsey (18 How. 331), the principles of which have received more than once the approval of this court, the frequency with which the most ordinary and usual chancery remedies are sought in the Federal courts by a single stockholder of a corporation who possesses the requisite citizenship, in cases where the corporation whose rights are to be enforced cannot sue in those courts, seems to justify a consideration of the grounds on which that case was decided, and of the just limitations of the exercise of those principles.

This practice has grown until the corporations created by the laws of the States bring a large part of their controversies with their neighbors and fellow-citizens into the courts of the United States for adjudication, instead of resorting to the State courts, which are their natural, their lawful, and their appropriate forum. It is not difficult to see how this has come to pass. A corporation having such a controversy, which it is foreseen must end in litigation, and preferring for any reason whatever that this litigation shall take place in a Federal court, in which it can neither sue its real antagonist nor be sued by it, has recourse to a holder of one of its shares, who is a citizen of another State. This stockholder is called into consultation, and is told that his corporation has rights which the directors refuse to enforce or to protect. He instantly demands of them to do their duty in this regard, which of course they fail or refuse to do, and thereupon he discovers that he has two causes of action entitling him to equitable relief in a court of chancery; namely, one against his own company, of which he is a

Page 453

corporator, for refusing to do what he has requested them to do; and the other against the party which contests the matter in controversy with that corporation. These two causes of action he combines in an equity suit in the Circuit Court of the United States, because he is a citizen of a different State, though the real parties to the controversy could have no standing in that court. If no non-resident stockholder exists, a transfer of a few shares is made to some citizen of another State, who then brings the suit. The real defendant in this action may be quite as willing to have the case tried in the Federal court as the corporation and its stockholder. If so, he makes no objection, and the case proceeds to a hearing. Or he may file his answer denying the special grounds set up in the bill as a reason for the stockholder's interference, at the same time that he answers to the merits. In either event the whole case is prepared for hearing on the merits, the right of the stockholder to a standing in equity receives but little attention, and the overburdened courts of the United States have this additional important litigation imposed upon them by a simulated and conventional arrangement, unauthorized by the facts of the case or by the sound principles of equity jurisdiction.

That the vast and increasing proportion of the active business of modern life which is done by corporations should call into exercise the beneficent powers and flexible methods of courts of equity, is neither to be wondered at nor regretted; and this is especially true of controversies growing out of the relations between the stockholder and the corporation of which he is a member. The exercise of this power in protecting the stockholder against the frauds of the governing body of directors or trustees, and in preventing their exercise, in the name of the corporation, of powers which are outside of their charters or articles of association, has been frequent, and is most beneficial, and is undisputed. These are real contests, however, between the stockholder and the corporation of which he is a member.

The case before us goes beyond this.

This corporation, like others, is created a body politic and corporate, that it may in its corporate name transact all the

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business which its charter or other organic act autho izes it to do.

Such corporations may be common carriers, bankers, insurers, merchants, and may make contracts, commit torts, and incur liabilities, and may sue or be sued in their corporate name in regard to all of these transactions. The parties who deal with them understand this, and that they are dealing with a body which has these rights and is subject to these obligations, and they do not deal with or count upon a liability to the stockholder whom they do not know and with whom they have no privity of contract or other relation.

The principle involved in the case of Dodge v. Woolsey permits the stockholder in one of these corporations to step in between that corporation and the party with whom it has been dealing and institute and control a suit in which the...

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543 practice notes
  • Ross v. Bernhard, No. 42
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 2, 1970
    ...579, 25 S.Ct. 355, 49 L.Ed. 606 (1905); City of Quincy v. Steel, 120 U.S. 241, 7 S.Ct. 520, 30 L.Ed. 624 (1887); Hawes v. City of Oakland, 104 U.S. 450, 26 L.Ed. 827 (1882). Soon after Hawes v. Oakland, supra, the preconditions to a shareholder's suit were promulgated as Equity Rule 94, 104......
  • Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, Nos. 403
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 17, 1936
    ...to enforce every legal right, courts, instead of chosen officers, would be the arbiters of the corporation's fate. In Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450, 462, 26 L.Ed. 827, a common stockholder sought to enjoin the Contra Costa Water-Works Company from permitting the city of Oakland to take wit......
  • Rose Hall, Ltd. v. CHASE MANHATTAN OVERSEAS BANK., Civ. A. No. 79-182.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • June 27, 1980
    ...the directors of the corporation, and in some instances the stockholders, to bring the action and they have refused. Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450, 461, 26 L.Ed. 827 (1881); Ainscow v. Sanitary Co. of America, 21 Del.Ch. 35, 36-37, 180 A. 614 (Ch.1935); see In re Kauffman Mutual Fund Actio......
  • Alford v. Shaw, No. 132PA85
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 7, 1986
    ...18 How. 331, 15 L.Ed. 401 (1855), fully recognized and set out the common law requirements for derivative actions in Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450, 14 Otto 450, 26 L.Ed. 827 (1882). With respect to the right of the shareholder to bring a derivative action, the Court That the vast and incre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
543 cases
  • Ross v. Bernhard, No. 42
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 2, 1970
    ...579, 25 S.Ct. 355, 49 L.Ed. 606 (1905); City of Quincy v. Steel, 120 U.S. 241, 7 S.Ct. 520, 30 L.Ed. 624 (1887); Hawes v. City of Oakland, 104 U.S. 450, 26 L.Ed. 827 (1882). Soon after Hawes v. Oakland, supra, the preconditions to a shareholder's suit were promulgated as Equity Rule 94, 104......
  • Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, Nos. 403
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 17, 1936
    ...to enforce every legal right, courts, instead of chosen officers, would be the arbiters of the corporation's fate. In Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450, 462, 26 L.Ed. 827, a common stockholder sought to enjoin the Contra Costa Water-Works Company from permitting the city of Oakland to take wit......
  • Rose Hall, Ltd. v. CHASE MANHATTAN OVERSEAS BANK., Civ. A. No. 79-182.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • June 27, 1980
    ...the directors of the corporation, and in some instances the stockholders, to bring the action and they have refused. Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450, 461, 26 L.Ed. 827 (1881); Ainscow v. Sanitary Co. of America, 21 Del.Ch. 35, 36-37, 180 A. 614 (Ch.1935); see In re Kauffman Mutual Fund Actio......
  • Alford v. Shaw, No. 132PA85
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 7, 1986
    ...18 How. 331, 15 L.Ed. 401 (1855), fully recognized and set out the common law requirements for derivative actions in Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450, 14 Otto 450, 26 L.Ed. 827 (1882). With respect to the right of the shareholder to bring a derivative action, the Court That the vast and incre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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