1 U.S. 380 (1788)

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U.S. Supreme Court

PLEASANTS v. MENG, 1 U.S. 380 (1788)

1 U.S. 380 (Dall.)

Meng et al.

Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County

December Term, 1788

Indebitatus Assumpsit for goods sold and delivered &c. The Defendants pleaded that they were certificated bankrupts, and that the cause of action arose before the bankruptcy; to which the Plaintiff replied, that the certificate was unfairly obtained; and, on the trial of the cause, offered testimony in support of the four following exceptions to wit:

1. That the debt on which the commission was founded, had been contracted prior to the passing of the act for the regulation of bankrupts; 3 State Laws. 644. although a bond had been given for it since the Act was passed.

2. That the petition was exhibited by one person, in the name of himself and his partner, without any other than the general authority of the partnership; which is not sufficient for this purpose. [380-Continued.]

3. That the Defendants were not copartners at the time the commission issued jointly against them. And

4. That two of the Defendants had not committed any act of bankruptcy prior to the issuing of the commission.

The admission of testimony upon these points was opposed by the counsel for the Defendants, who contended, that the certificate was conclusive evidence of the debt, trading, bankruptcy, and conformity; and that fraud in obtaining it, or a concealment of effects, were the only matters which the Plaintiff could now be allowed to prove, according to the decisions under the 5 Geo. 2. c. 30. which statute only differs, on this point, from our act of Assembly, by the use of the word fraudulent, instead of unfairly; words, however, of synonimous import. 3 State Laws 644. Sect. 24. Green B. L. 244. 245. 9. 1 Stra. 533. Co. B. L. 352. 1 Atk. 79. 208. 2 Wils. 140. They urged, that any objections to the form of proceeding could only be taken by the bankrupts, who were likewise precluded by their acceptance of a certificate. 2 Stra. 746. 5 Burr. 2628. Term. Rep. 409. and they controverted the power of the Court to unravel, in this way, the decision of the commissioners, whose jurisdiction was competent and conclusive as to all the preceding steps.

The Plaintiff's counsel, having premised generally, that where a limitted jurisdiction is established, the Courts of common law are bound to prevent any infraction of that limitation; 3 Black. Com. 112. 109. and that a Court of limitted jurisdiction can never be vested with a right to determine upon the legality of its own acts; Ibid. 112. 114. 1 Bac. Abr. 563. Sir. T. Ray. 189. Salk. 548. 1 P. Wm. 476. Cowp. 26. contended, that the Common Pleas had a concurrent authority with the Supreme Court to restrain the commissioners of bankrupts within the boundaries prescribed by the act of

Page 1 U.S. 380, 381

Assembly; and that if there was no express provision in the Act of Parliament in England, or in the act of Assembly here, as to the mode of ascertaining a violation of those boundaries, yet, by analogy to other special jurisdictions, the proceedings of the Commissioners could not be the proof of their own legality; but, from the nature and reason of the thing, that question must be examinable at another tribunal. 1 Bac. Abr. 653. Lev. 288. Caf. temp. Hard. 186. 145. 2 Bl. Rep. 1145. 2 Wils. 582. They remarked, that, 'till the 4 Ann. c. 17. S. 7. no provision was made as to the manner in which a Bankrupt should bring forward his discharge; and that, even under that statute, he was obliged to set forth all the proceedings before the Commissioners, which eventually produced the statute of 5 Geo. 2. authorizing the Defendant to plead his certificate. This, however, they insisted, only made the certificate prima facie evidence; relieving the Defendant from the necessity of stating the petition, trading &c. in his plea, and obliging the Plaintiff to set forth his exceptions in his replication. See 2 Ld. Ray. 1646. Stra. 869. S. C. Co. B. L. 356. Doug. 160. They then cited many authorities to show, that since, as well as before, the statute of 5 Geo. 2. c. 30. and subsequent to the granting the certificate, as well as previously, the debt, trading, act of bankruptcy &c. had all been controverted and enquired into in the Courts of law, in a variety of forms, between a creditor and the bankrupt, between creditors and the assignees; and, in short, between any persons who were interested. 2 Stra. 744. Cowp. 569. Bull. 37. Co. B. L. 307. 314. Term. Rep. 409. 573. n. 2 Stra. 822. 2 Stra. 1042. Barn. 81. 2 Bl. Rep. 725. Cowp. 823. Co. B. L. 348. 1 Ld. Ray. 724. 1 Bl. Rep. 70 Bull 40. Palm. 325. Cowp. 427. 428. 1 Salk. 110. Cowp. 398. Bull. 39. 1 Atk. 201. Co. B. L. 71. Cro. E. 13. 72. Barn. 160. 2 Stra. 809. 7 Vin. 61. pl. 14. 1 Bl. Rep. 441. Co. B, L. 74. Green. B. L. 44. 1 Burr. 467. 484. &c. &c. They added, that to prevent the injustice which, in many cases would happen for want of a Court of Chancery, the Courts here are obliged to deviate from the rigorous rules of the common law, and to adopt the principles of equity. Although in England the common law courts cannot enquire into the consideration of a bond, or decree the specific performance of a contract, yet the Courts of Equity will do both; and here, to afford a similar relief, wherever the Chancery would order a deed to be given, our Courts, instead of doing that, presume the deed to have been actually given, and adjudge the case accordingly. Thus, in the present case, the same reasons which would induce the Chancellor to supercede a commission of bankrupts, will induce this Court to consider the commission as virtually superceded.

Shippen, President.

This is an action brought by Samuel Pleasants against John Meng, and three other persons, in which the Defendants have pleaded, that they are certificated bankrupts, and the Plaintiff has replied, that the certificates were unfairly obtained. [1 U.S. 380, 382]

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