Walker v. Brown

Decision Date01 March 1897
Docket NumberNo. 193,193
Citation165 U.S. 654,41 L.Ed. 865,17 S.Ct. 453
PartiesWALKER et al. v. BROWN et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Henry S. Robbins, for appellants.

N. T. Guernsey, for appellees.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

The complainants, who are appellants here, all citizens of the state of Illinois, members of the firm of J. H. Walker & Co., established in the city of Chicago, filed their bill in the circuit court of the United States for the Southern district of Iowa, Central division, against Anna L. Brown, widow of Talmadge E. Brown, as administratrix of her deceased husband's estate, and against Willis S. Brown and Edward L. Marsh, co-administrators, all of whom were alleged to be citizens of the state of Iowa, and to have been duly appointed as aforesaid by the district court of Polk county, Iowa.

Omitting reference to matters which have become irrelevant to the controversy in its final aspect, the bill substantially averred that Talmadge E. Brown, being desirous of assisting an Iowa corporation known as the Lloyd Mercantile Company, delivered to said company $15,000 in bonds of the city of Memphis, worth their face value; that between May and July, 1889, Walker & Co. sold to the Lloyd Mercantile Company merchandise to a considerable amount, on the price of which there remained due on the 1st of August, 1889, $1,524.78; that on or about that date the corporation was dissolved, and a firm composed of J. Collins Lloyd and Copeley Lloyd was formed, under the name of J. C. Lloyd & Co., for the purpose of continuing the business of the mercantile company, the new business to be carried on at Ellensburg, state of Washington; and that the firm assumed the debts and liabilities of the Lloyd Mercantile Company. It was further alleged that the firm just formed proposed to buy from Walker & Co. a considerable amount of merchandise on credit, but that Walker &amp Co. declined to give this asked-for credit unless Brown would agree that the $15,000 in Memphis bonds, lent by him to the Lloyd Mercantile Company, should not be withheld by Brown from the assets of the new firm, or be returned to Brown, as long as there remained a debt due to Walker & Co. by Lloyd & Co. on account of the purchase of goods; that thereupon Brown entered into a written agreement to the effect stated; and that, on the faith of this written agreement, the firm of Walker & Co. had not pressed the collection of the old debt, and had sold Lloyd & Co. merchandise on credit to the value of $12,391.61, which, added to the sum previously due and assumed by Lloyd & Co., made the debt due to Walker & Co. $13,916.39, the whole of which sum the bill averred to be due at the time of the commencement of the suit. The bill charged that the intent of the parties and the legal result of the agreement made by Brown were to cause the $15,000 in Memphis bonds or their value to become a security for this debt of Walker & Co. and that thereby there was created an equitable lien on the bonds to the amount of the debt in favor of Walker & Co.

It was further alleged that on the 25th day of December, 1889, the firm of Lloyd & Co. became wholly insolvent, and so remained up to the time of the filing of the bill; that after the making of the agreement by Brown, in order to escape the effect of the contract, Brown induced Lloyd & Co. to return to him (Brown) the Memphis bonds, and that from the time of such return neither the said bonds nor the value thereof formed part of the assets of Lloyd & Co.; that Walker & Co. did not know of the return of the bonds until after the credit had been extended to Lloyd & Co. It was alleged that complainants did not know the true condition of the estate of Brown, or whether the Memphis bonds were yet among its assets, and that a discovery and accounting was necessary in order to enable them to reach the property upon which the lien was asserted to exist, or the proceeds thereof in the hands of the administrators.

The relief prayed was that if, on discovery, it be found that the Memphis bonds, or any portion thereof, were a part of the assets of the estate of Brown, an equitable lien be recognized thereon, and the bonds be ordered to be sold, and the proceeds applied, as far as necessary, to the payment of the debt due by Lloyd & Co. to the complainants; that if the Memphis bonds had been sold or exchanged by Brown for other properties, which could be traced to the hands of the administrators, a like lien might be adjudged thereon; that if the bonds, or any part thereof, did not form a part of the estate of Brown in the hands of his administrators, the complainants might be adjudged to be creditors of the estate for the amount of the value of the bonds to the extent necessary to pay their debt; and that the administrators be ordered to pay this sum in due course of administration, and be ordered to render, under the supervision of the court, an account of all properties received by them as administrators, and of all their acts and doings as such. There was a prayer for an injunction restraining the disposing or incumbering of the Memphis bonds referred to, or the proceeds thereof, in the hands of the administrators. In addition to this claim, there was an averment as to a debt due by Brown's estate for $560.14, asserted to have been expended in an endeavor to collect the debt due by Lloyd & Co., and for which it was alleged Brown had agreed to be responsible.

The answer, in so far as it relates to the matters above stated, averred that about February, 1889, the Lloyd Mercantile Company, being in need of money, induced Brown, the deceased, to loan 15 $1,000 bonds of the city of Memphis, to be used as collateral security for a loan which the company was then about to make; that the company received the bonds, and used them, by pledging them to secure the debt,—all of which facts were known to the complainants; that this transaction with the company was the only one the deceased had with it on the subject of the Memphis bonds. The answer specifically denied that the bonds of the city of Memphis thus loaned to the mercantile company were at any time an asset of said company, and also expressly denied that the bonds were ever loaned to the mercantile company, or to Lloyd & Co., its successor, for any other than the express purpose above stated,—that is, to be used as collateral back of the particular loan referred to. Denying all knowledge of the existence of the alleged debt in favor of Walker & Co., it was averred that no other contract or agreement on the subject of the bonds was made by Brown with Walker & Co., except such contract as might result from the terms of a letter on the subject of the Memphis bonds, dated Chicago, December 21, 1889, written by Brown to Walker & Co., which letter was set out in the answer.

After denying that the credit given to Walker & Co. was extended to Lloyd & Co. on the faith of the bonds, and after charging that the bonds were, at the time of the writing of the letter, held as collateral back of a loan of the Union National Bank of Chicago, and that no equitable lien thereon resulted from the writing of the letter by Brown, the answer, in addition, averred that after the writing of the letter, to wit, some time during the month of November, 1889, the bank, in whose hands the Memphis bonds of Brown had been deposited as collateral for Lloyd & Co.'s debt, pressed for payment of the principal obligation, and threatened in default to sell the bonds; that Brown thereupon, in order to prevent the sale of his bonds, paid the debt with his own funds, and withdrew the bonds, and that thus he had been discharged of his obligations under the terms of the letter referred to, if any obligations thereby arose; that no part of the money which made this payment was that of Lloyd & Co., or was taken from the assets of the firm, but the payment was made wholly and exclusively with the money of Brown, in order to prevent the sale of his bonds. It was also charged in the answer that, if any debt existed in favor of Walker & Co., it was extinguished, this being predicated on a recital of the following facts: That on the failure of J. C. Lloyd & Co., in December, 1889, Walker & Co. had taken a chattel mortgage on the stock of goods of the firm at Ellensburg, Wash., to secure the payment of their debt, and had entered with other creditors having a like mortgage into possession of the stock of goods, which largely exceeded the value of the mortgages resting upon it; that thereafter creditors of Lloyd & Co. had levied upon the stock, and had actually disturbed, or threatened to disturb, the possession of the mortgages; that the mortgagees then acquired the rights of certain of these creditors who had levied upon the stock, and had then, under process issued in the name of the creditors, sold and bought in the equity of the creditors in the stock, and subsequently, without any foreclosure of their mortgages, taken entire charge of the stock, and disposed of it at private sale. These facts, the bill averred, had, under the laws of Washington, operated to extinguish the claim of the mortgage creditors.

The answer, moreover, admitted that, at the time of Brown's death, 'there were fifteen one thousand dollar bonds of the city of Memphis in his possession as his property, and that the same passed, with his other estate, into the hands of his administrators, as part of his said estate. But this respondent avers that the bonds were, prior to the death of Brown, given by him as a gift to his wife, Anna L. Brown, who now holds and owns the same.' Replication to the answer was filed on the 5th of March, 1892.

The issues as to the main controversy presented by these pleadings were therefore clearly as follows: An assertion on the part of complainants that they had extended credit upon their old debt due by the Lloyd Mercantile Company, and assumed by Lloyd & Co., and had given further credit to the new firm of Lloyd & Co., by selling...

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