Carter County v. Sinton
120 U.S. 517 (1887)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Carter County v. Sinton, 120 U.S. 517 (1887)

Carter County v. Sinton

Submitted January 7, 1887

Decided March 7, 1887

120 U.S. 517

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY

Syllabus

When the title of a statute of a state clearly and distinctly expresses the whole object of the legislature in the enactment, and there is nothing in the body of the act which is not germane to what is there expressed, the act sufficiently complies with a requirement in the constitution of the state that no law "shall relate to more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title," although some provisions in the act

Page 120 U. S. 518

respecting details in the execution of the purpose of the legislature may not be expressed in the title.

The Act of the Legislature of Kentucky of January 80, 1878, respecting the compromise and settlement of the County of Carter with its creditors is not in conflict with the provision in the constitution of the state that "no law enacted by the General Assembly shall relate to more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title."

Carter County in Kentucky, under legislative authority, subscribed to the capital stock of a railroad company and issued its negotiable coupon bonds in payment of the subscription. Subsequently Boyd and Elliott Counties were created, in each of which were included townships which formed part of Carter County when the subscription was made and the bonds issued, and in each case legislative provision was made for the continuation of the liability of the persons and property set off to the new counties on the subscription. Default being made in the payment of interest, an act was passed in 1878 authorizing the County Court of Carter County to compromise and settle with the holders of the bonds on behalf of Carter County and on behalf of the parts of the other counties taken from Carter County, and a compromise was made under which new bonds of Carter County and of those parts of each of the other counties taken from Carter County were issued, default being made in the payment of interest due on these latter bonds, a holder of the coupons brought suit against Carter County to recover on them.

Held:

(1) That the legislature had authority under the Constitution of Kentucky to authorize the County Court of Carter County to bind those parts of the Counties of Boyd and Elliott taken from Carter County.

(2) That under the act of 1878, the County Court of Carter County was authorized to contract for the issue of negotiable bonds of the county and of the parts of the county in order to retire the old negotiable bonds of the county.

(3) That in the suit to recover upon the coupons of the new bonds, it was not necessary to make the parts of Boyd and Elliott Counties, which had been parts of Carter County, parties to the suit.

This was a suit brought against the County of Carter to recover the amount due on certain bonds and interest coupons issued under the following circumstances:

By an act of the General Assembly of Kentucky "to incorporate the Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad Company," approved January 9, 1852, and an act amendatory thereof approved March 1, 1854, the County of Carter was authorized to subscribe $75,000 to the stock of the company, and to issue its bonds to raise the money to pay therefor. Under this authority, the subscription was made, and seventy-five bonds, of $1,000 each, issued by the county. These bonds were in the usual form of negotiable

Page 120 U. S. 519

coupon bonds, payable to the order of the railroad company thirty years from date, with interest at the rate of six percent per annum, semiannually at the bank of America, New York. The railroad company endorsed them in blank, and all but one afterwards came into the hands of Joseph C. Butler and L. Worthington, citizens of Ohio, as purchasers for value before maturity.

In 1859, after this subscription was made and while the bonds issued on that account were outstanding, the County of Boyd was created by the General Assembly of Kentucky, which included within its boundaries a part of the original County of Carter. In 1869, the County of Elliott was created, and this took in another part of Carter; but in each of the acts creating the new counties it was provided

"That nothing in this act shall be construed so as to release the citizens and property now subject, or which may hereafter become subject, to taxation, within the boundaries of Carter County, included in the first section of this act, from being held and made liable for the bonds and interest, issued to the Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad Company as though this act had never been passed."

Default having been made in the payment of interest on the bonds, suits were brought by Butler against Carter County for the recovery of the amount due on coupons attached to the bonds he held. The suits resulted in judgments against the county. Afterwards, the following act, approved January 30, 1878, was passed by the General Assembly of Kentucky:

"An act authorizing the County of Carter and those parts of Boyd and Elliott taken from Carter County to compromise and settle with the holders of the bonds and coupons of interest executed by Carter County in its subscription to the capital stock of the Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad Company, and to levy and collect a tax for that purpose."

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the commonwealth of Kentucky:"

"§ 1. That power and authority is hereby given to the County of Carter, and those parts of the Counties of Boyd and

Page 120 U. S. 520

Elliott taken from Carter County, to compromise and settle with the holders of the bonds and coupons of interest executed by Carter County in its subscription to the capital stock of the Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad Company. Said compromise and settlement shall be made by the Carter County Court, composed of the county judge and a majority of the justices of the peace in commission of Carter County, for and on behalf of the County of Carter, and those parts of the Counties of Boyd and Elliott taken from Carter County. Said court may make said compromise through a commission appointed for that purpose, but before the same shall become binding on the County of Carter, it shall be approved by the Carter County Court, constituted as county levy courts are required by law to be constituted. Said court may execute to the holders of said bonds and coupons of interest, severally, the obligations of the County of Carter, and those parts of the Counties of Boyd and Elliott taken from Carter County in their formation, which shall be signed by the County Judge of Carter County, and attested by the clerk of said court. Said obligations shall contain such stipulations as to interest as may be agreed upon by the court and holders of said bonds and coupons of interest, or either of them, but not at a greater rate than six percent per annum, payable semiannually. Said obligations shall be due and payable at such times, and be for such amounts, as may be agreed for by the court and holder or holders of said bonds and coupons."

The next three sections of the act contain provisions for the levy and collection of taxes, to pay the interest and principal of the compromise bonds, upon persons and property within the limits of Carter County as it was when the debt was originally created. The fifth and last section is as follows:

"§ 5. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage, but nothing in this act shall be so construed as to affect or make more valid the bonds and coupons of interest given by Carter County in its subscription to the capital stock of the Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad Company than they were before the passage of this act."

Under the authority of this statute, a compromise was made

Page 120 U. S. 521

with the holders of the original bonds, by which the County Court of Carter County issued 119 new bonds of the County of Carter, and those parts of the Counties of Elliott and Boyd taken from Carter County, each for the sum of $1,000, payable to Henry Peachey and Richard O. Butler, executors of Joseph C. Butler or bearer, with semiannual interest warrants at the rate of six percent per annum attached. The principal of the bonds was made payable at different dates.

David Sinton, the defendant in error, purchased nine of these bonds for value before maturity and five hundred and forty of the coupons, and this suit was brought to recover the amount due thereon. Originally the suit included other bonds and coupons, but as it was discontinued so far as they were concerned before judgment, no questions arise in this Court as to them.

To a petition setting forth the foregoing facts the county demurred 1., because the petition did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, and 2., because the petition shows a defect of parties plaintiff and defendant. This demurrer was overruled. Sinton v. County of Carter, 23 F. 535. The defendant then filed an answer, some paragraphs of which were stricken out on motion and others demurred to and the demurrer sustained. As no point is made on this branch of the case, a further statement of it is not necessary.

The court gave judgment against the county for $29,121.54, and to reverse that judgment this writ of error was brought.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal points presented by the argument of the plaintiff arise on the demurrer to the petition, and they may be stated thus:

Page 120 U. S. 522

1. The Act of January 30, 1878, is void by the Constitution of Kentucky because the subject to which it relates is not clearly expressed in its title.

2. The act is also unconstitutional and void because it vests in the County Court of Carter County the power to bind the parts of Elliott and Boyd Counties which had been set off from Carter.

3. The act gave no authority to the County Court of Carter County to issue negotiable securities which pass by delivery, and in the hands of innocent holders are free from defenses which would be good as between the original parties.

4. There is a defect of parties defendant because Carter County is sued alone, without joining "those parts of Boyd and Elliott counties taken from Carter."

1. As to the title of the act.

The provision of the Constitution of Kentucky relied on is article II,

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