In re Petroleum Corporation of America, 19415.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Citation417 F.2d 929
Docket NumberNo. 19415.,19415.
PartiesIn the Matter of PETROLEUM CORPORATION OF AMERICA, Bankrupt. HAWAIIAN INVESTORS, Appellant, v. H. L. THORNDAL, Trustee in Bankruptcy of Petroleum Corporation of America, Bankrupt, Appellee.
Decision Date05 November 1969

417 F.2d 929 (1969)

H. L. THORNDAL, Trustee in Bankruptcy of Petroleum Corporation of America, Bankrupt, Appellee.

No. 19415.

United States Court of Appeals Eighth Circuit.

November 5, 1969.

417 F.2d 930

Bruce M. Van Sickle, of McGee, Van Sickle, Hankla, Backes & Wheeler, Minot, N.D., for appellant.

Frank F. Jestrab, of Bjella & Jestrab, Williston, N.D., for appellee; Harry M. Pippin, Williston, N.D., with him on the brief.

Before VOGEL, MATTHES and BRIGHT, Circuit Judges.

BRIGHT, Circuit Judge.

On this appeal, we consider the propriety of a judgment on counterclaims aggregating more than $165,000.00 entered by the referee in bankruptcy and confirmed by the district court against appellants, called Hawaiian Investors. We have jurisdiction. Bankruptcy Act, § 24, 11 U.S.C. § 47.

Prior to 1959, some 267 residents of Hawaii, looking for profit in North Dakota oil, separately entered into contracts with Petroleum Corporation of America (PCA), a Colorado corporation then doing business in North Dakota, whereby PCA agreed to assign to each Investor a percentage interest in specific oil and gas leases on North Dakota property. The Hawaiians invested in excess of 1.6 million dollars.

PCA was adjudicated bankrupt on January 3, 1959. As a result, instead of reaping profits, the Hawaiian Investors sustained a complete loss of their investments.1

Each Hawaiian Investor filed a creditor's claim in the initial bankruptcy proceedings for the amount that he or she had paid PCA pursuant to the contracts. PCA's trustee in bankruptcy, H. L. Thorndal, denied these claims and asserted counterclaims alleging that each Hawaiian Investor, as a "mining partner" of PCA, was indebted to the trustee for debts PCA had incurred in the oil drilling operations.2 Each Hawaiian Investor denied the allegations and each contested the bankruptcy court's jurisdiction to adjudicate the counterclaims.

On August 23, 1960, the referee in bankruptcy, the late Charles M. Pollock, denied the creditors' claims of the Hawaiian Investors. Referee Pollock also ruled that he had jurisdiction to hear the counterclaims. The district court reviewed and approved these rulings. In

417 F.2d 931
1963, the Hawaiian Investors unsuccessfully sought a dismissal of the counterclaims or a change of venue to Hawaii. This litigation remained at rest until 1966 when, following liquidation of substantially all of the bankrupt's estate, the trustee asked Referee Pollock's successor to schedule a hearing to assess money damages against the Hawaiian Investors as "co-partners of the bankrupt"

The present referee assumed that Referee Pollock's 1960 order established that the Hawaiian Investors and PCA were mining partners3 and that as such the Hawaiian Investors incurred joint and several liability to all of the creditors in each drilling venture. Thus, the present referee scheduled a hearing for the sole purpose of determining the amount of such liability.4 After hearing evidence which established the amount of expenses and charges that were still unpaid as against different well drilling projects, the present referee, in January of 1968, entered judgment jointly and severally against the Hawaiian Investors.5 They appeal from the order of the district court which affirmed that judgment.

The Hawaiian Investors in essence here protest that they have never been adjudicated to be mining partners of PCA. They deny any liability to the trustee for the claims he asserts against them. These contentions require a brief review of some of the early bankruptcy records and proceedings affecting these appellants.

On April 14, 1960, Referee Pollock informed counsel that he would hear one claim as a test case, that of Raymond D. K. Lau which had been selected by counsel for the Hawaiian Investors, to determine the rights of the "contract holders". On August 23, 1960, Referee Pollock ruled that Lau possessed an ownership interest rather than a creditor's claim against the bankrupt. The referee recited as one conclusion of law that Lau and PCA were "mining partners".

However, Referee Pollock, noting that even if Lau could be deemed a creditor his claim would be subordinate to the rights of general creditors, stated in a contemporaneous memorandum opinion:

"From the evidence at hand, it would appear conclusively claimant purchased an interest in physical assets of the bankrupt, separate and distinct from an interest in the company, and further agreed to enter into a joint venture with bankrupt in developing such properties. This could well be called a `mining partnership\', using the vernacular of the trade.
But whether or not the claimants be called mining partners, co-adventurers or investors, they are participants in the common enterprise." (Emphasis added.)

In addition, Referee Pollock said:

"It is the opinion of this Referee, however, that notwithstanding the jurisdiction
417 F.2d 932
of the Referee to determine the issues by the counterclaim and the reply raised, by reason of the fact that the Trustee can in no event recover on his counterclaim against claimant until all of the physical assets of the bankrupt\'s estate have been exhausted, it would be improper and premature at this time to determine the issues thus raised." (Emphasis added.)

We read Referee Pollock's conclusion of law that Lau and PCA were mining partners in light of his memorandum opinion and other determinations. See Southern Pacific Land Co. v. United States, 367 F.2d 161, 162, n. 1 (9th Cir. 1966), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 1030, 87 S. Ct. 1478, 18 L.Ed.2d 592 (1967); American Pipe & Steel Corp. v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 292 F.2d 640, 642 (9th Cir. 1961); Stone v. Farnell, 239 F.2d 750, 755 (9th Cir. 1957). In so doing, it is readily apparent that Referee Pollock used "mining partnership" as a generally descriptive term to indicate only that Lau possessed some form of ownership interest in the bankrupt's estate as opposed to a creditor's claim, not as an adjudication that Lau and others similarly situated actually constituted mining partners of PCA. Referee Pollock's order and opinion, fairly read, support no other conclusion.6

Our conclusion in this regard is further supported by later action taken by Referee Pollock. After considering the 1963 motion of the Hawaiian Investors for dismissal for want of prosecution or change of venue, in a memorandum opinion accompanying his order denying relief, Referee Pollock again articulated the limited nature of the 1960 order in leaving unresolved all issues raised by the counterclaims. He stated:

"The Lau case, chosen by counsel, was to test all the rights of the Hawaiian Investors, * * * As a result of the Lau case, the investors have been determined to be just that, not creditors.
The only matters to be resolved is as to the liability, if any, on the so-called `mining partnership\' they entered into. In each case the contract is one file, as in the Lau case. Interpretation of such written agreements is a matter of law, not fact. No need to go to Honolulu to determine that. As the counterclaims are by the trustee, representing the creditors, and as the investors have no status as creditors, the testimony to be considered, if liability is established, is the amount thereof. All that evidence is in this District, none in Honolulu." (Emphasis added.)7

In the instant proceedings in bankruptcy, the trustee obtained a judgment against the Hawaiian Investors as mining partners obligated jointly and severally to the creditors for all unpaid claims for goods, materials or services furnished in the operation of the eight drilling projects. That judgment cannot stand in the absence of an adjudication of the underlying liability issue of whether the Hawaiian Investors and PCA constituted a "mining partnership". From our review of the prior orders and judgments in bankruptcy,8 we are satisfied

417 F.2d 933
that such issue has never been litigated nor settled. Our conclusion on this issue alone requires reversal of the judgment

We, however, elect not to rest our decision solely on that ground. Even if the Hawaiian Investors were mining partners of PCA and were jointly and severally liable to those creditors who filed claims in bankruptcy against PCA, PCA's trustee possesses no power9 to assert the rights of those creditors.

Although the counterclaims might be read as an assertion by the trustee of rights possessed by the bankrupt to seek contribution for payment of drilling expenses from the Hawaiian Investors in proportion to their interests in the oil and gas leases pursuant to contract,10 neither the trustee nor the court of bankruptcy

417 F.2d 934
has so...

To continue reading

Request your trial
11 cases
  • In re Dow, Bankruptcy No. 2-88-05047
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Sixth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • 22 Octubre 1991
    ...or other purposes." Cissell v. American Home Assurance Co., 521 F.2d 790, 792 (6th Cir.1975) (citing In re Petroleum Corp. of America, 417 F.2d 929 (8th Cir.1969)). The plaintiff attempts to distinguish Cissell by noting that the decision addressed a trustee's attempt to pursue a claim held......
  • In re Senior Cottages of America, LLC, 00-32012. No. 03-3132.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Eighth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Minnesota
    • 18 Febrero 2005 maintain a claim for such redress. In re Ozark Restaurant Equip. Co., Inc., 816 F.2d at 1225-1226. See also In re Petroleum Corp., 417 F.2d 929, 934 (8th Cir. 1969) ("Generally, the trustee of a bankrupt has no power to press the general claims of the bankrupt's creditors against third p......
  • Matter of Mediators, Inc., 91 B 12980 (PBA). Adv. No. 93 Civ. 2304 (CSH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • 4 Diciembre 1995
    ...creditors, but may only assert claims held by the bankrupt corporation itself." Wagoner, 944 F.2d at 118. See also In re Petroleum Corp., 417 F.2d 929, 934 (8th Cir.1969) ("Generally, the trustee of a bankrupt has no power to press the general claims of the bankrupt's creditors against thir......
  • Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc. v. Wagoner, 1602
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 18 Septiembre 1991
    ...permitted corporation to violate indenture, on behalf of holders of debentures issued by the corporation). In re Petroleum Corp., 417 F.2d 929, 934 (8th Cir.1969) ("Generally, the trustee of a bankrupt has no power to press the general claims of the bankrupt's creditors against third partie......
  • 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