Lewis v. Commissioners
105 U.S. 739 (1881)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lewis v. Commissioners, 105 U.S. 739 (1881)

Lewis v. Commissioners

105 U.S. 739

Syllabus

1. The Act of Kansas approved March 2, 1872, Laws of Kansas, 1872, p. 110, does not require that the bonds issued pursuant to its provisions by a county in aid of works of internal improvement shall in all cases be deposited with the treasurer of state before they are delivered to the auditor of state for registration and for his certificate thereon, required by the fourteenth section. Infra, p. 105 U. S. 742.

2. That certificate, as between the bona fide holder for value and the county, is conclusive that the bonds, which by their terms purport to be issued under that act and which absolutely and unconditionally covenant to pay a certain sum of money at a time and place therein named, are negotiable as the valid obligations of the county.

Page 105 U. S. 740

This case depends upon the construction of an Act of the Legislature of Kansas approved March 2, 1872. Laws of Kansas, 1872, p. 110.

The first section provides that the board of county commissioners of any county, the mayor and common council of any incorporated city, and the trustee, clerk, and treasurer of any municipal township in the state may issue the bonds of such county, city, or township, in any sum necessary, not greater than ten percent, inclusive of all other bonded indebtedness, of the taxable property of such county, city, or township for the purpose of building bridges, free or otherwise, or to aid in the construction of railroads or water power by donation thereto or the taking of stock therein, or for other works of internal improvement. It also declares that all counties may, in addition to the amount therein authorized, issue bonds not exceeding $100,000.

The second section provides that the bonds so issued shall be payable at such place in the City of New York as the officers issuing the same may direct in not less than five nor more than thirty years from the date thereof, with interest not to exceed ten percent per annum, "all in the discretion of the officers issuing the same," the interest to be payable semiannually, and evidenced by coupons attached -- such bonds, if issued by a county, to be signed by the chairman of the board of county commissioners and attested by the county clerk.

The third section declares that before any bonds are issued, the same shall be ordered by a vote of the qualified electors of the municipality.

The eighth section provides, among other things, that if the proposition voted for be to aid in the construction of a railroad (either by donation thereto or the taking of stock therein) or other work of internal improvement, that the proper officers of the municipality shall at once subscribe upon the books of the railroad company,

"specifically setting forth the conditions upon which such subscription is made, the amount of such donation thereto, stock taken therein, or bonds voted therefor."

The eleventh section, upon the construction of which the case turned in the court below, is in these words:

Page 105 U. S. 741

"That if the proposition for which bonds were voted be to aid in the construction of a railroad, or any bridge, or other work of internal improvement, either by donation thereto or the taking of stock therein, then, upon the subscription being made as hereinbefore provided, the officers of such county, city, or township [shall thereupon issue the bonds of such county, city, or township] for the amount of such subscription, and shall forthwith deliver the same, together with the original or a copy of the subscription, setting forth its terms in full, to the treasurer of state, which said bonds shall be held by the said treasurer of state in escrow until the conditions in the terms of the said subscription to such railroad or other work of internal improvement shall be in all things fully complied with; that upon the conditions of said subscription being in all things fully complied with, then the treasurer of state shall deliver such bonds to the parties entitled thereto, who shall have the same registered as hereinafter provided, provided that such bonds shall not bear interest or be negotiable until after the delivery and registration thereof, and provided further that in case of a failure to comply with the conditions in the terms of such subscription, then such bonds shall be by the treasurer of state cancelled and redelivered to the county, city, or township issuing the bonds, and provided further that this section shall not apply where the people may have named some party as trustee in their vote on the proposition, and the contractor may thereafter agree to the same."

The twelfth section makes it the duty of the municipality issuing the bonds to register the same in a book kept for that purpose, showing the date, amount, maturity, and rate of interest, and, if to aid in the construction of a railroad or other work of internal improvement, of what railroad or other work of internal improvement, and whether the same be a donation or for stock therein, and at the same time transmit to the auditor of state a certified statement, attested by the clerk, under the corporate seal of the municipality, of the number, amount, character of the bonds, to whom, and for what purpose, issued.

The thirteenth section declares it to be the duty of the clerk of each county, city, or township in the state, within sixty days after the act took effect, and thereafter on the first day of January and July of each year, and at such other times as the auditor may request, to transmit to that officer a certified, full,

Page 105 U. S. 742

and complete statement of the bonded indebtedness of every description of said municipality, particularly setting forth the nature of such bonds, and for what they were issued. From such statement the auditor is required to make a faithful record of the bonded indebtedness of the several counties, cities, and townships of the state, noting therein all bonds subsequently issued, paid, or cancelled, as the same may be reported to him.

The fourteenth section has an important bearing upon the case, and is in these words:

"Within thirty days after the delivery of such bonds, the holder thereof shall present the same to the auditor of state for registration, and the auditor shall, upon being satisfied that such bonds have been issued according to the provisions of this act, and that the signatures thereto of the officers signing the same are genuine, register the same in his office, in a book to be kept for that purpose, in the same manner that such bonds are registered by the officers issuing the same, and shall, under his seal of office, certify upon such bonds the fact that they have been regularly and legally issued, that the signatures thereto are genuine, and that such bonds have been registered in his office according to law, for which registration and certificate the auditor shall be entitled to a fee of one dollar for each bond so registered, to be paid by the holder thereof."

The remaining sections, among some things of an unimportant character, provide that the auditor shall annually ascertain the amount accrued and to accrue before the tax of the succeeding year shall be levied and collected (for the final redemption of the same), upon all bonds registered in his office, and certify the amount thereof to the clerk of the county in which the bonds are issued; that the clerk of the county shall thereupon proceed to ascertain the amount of tax necessary to pay the interest and create a sinking fund, in compliance with the auditor's certificate; that the county treasurer shall, at the time of his annual settlements with the state treasurer, pay over to the latter moneys collected under the act, take duplicate receipts therefor, one copy of which shall be filed with the auditor of state; that the state treasurer, our of the moneys so received, shall pay off the interest accrued upon such registered bonds, taking up the interest coupons, which shall be cancelled and filed with the auditor of state; that the moneys thus collected and remaining in the hands of the state treasurer, after the payment of the interest accrued, except that accruing for the current year, shall be retained as a sinking fund for the final redemption of the bonds; that when any registered bonds mature, the same shall be paid by the state treasurer out of any money in his hands for that purpose, and, when paid, cancelled

Page 105 U. S. 743

and filed with the auditor, who shall enter satisfaction in the record of registration; that the treasurer and auditor of state shall annually publish a detailed statement of the business transacted by them under the act during the preceding year; and that the state shall be deemed the custodian only of the taxes so collected and credited to such municipality, in no manner liable on account of such bond, but the tax and funds so collected to be deemed pledged and appropriated to the payment of the interest and principal of the registered bonds until fully satisfied, the state treasurer to be liable on his official bond for the faithful disbursement of all moneys so collected or received by him.

The case was, by stipulation of the parties, submitted for trial to the court. There was a finding for the defendants. Judgment having been entered thereon, Lewis brought this writ of error.

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