Eustis v. Bolles - 150 U.S. 361 (1893)
U.S. Supreme Court
Eustis v. Bolles, 150 U.S. 361 (1893)
Eustis v. Bolles
Argued November 9-10, 1893
Decided November 20, 1893
150 U.S. 361
The decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts that a creditor of an insolvent debtor who proves his debt in insolvency and accepts the benefit of proceedings under the state statute of May 13, 1884, entitled "An act to provide for composition with creditors in
insolvency," Mass.Stats. 1854, c. 236, and the act amending the same, thereby waives any right which he might otherwise have had to object to the validity of the composition statutes as impairing the obligation of contracts presents no federal question for review by this Court.
To give this Court jurisdiction of a writ of error to a state court, it must appear affirmatively not only that a federal question was presented for decision by the state court, but that its decision was necessary to the determination of the cause and that it was decided adversely to the party claiming a right under the federal laws or Constitution, or that the judgment, as rendered, could not have been given without deciding it.
Where the record discloses that if a question has been raised and decided adversely to a party claiming the benefit of a provision of the Constitution or laws of the United States, another question, not federal, has been also raised and decided against such party, and the decision of the latter question is sufficient, notwithstanding the federal question, to sustain the judgment, this Court will not review the judgment.
When this Court, in a case brought here by writ of error to a state court, finds it unnecessary to decide any federal question, its logical course is to dismiss the writ of error.
On February 14, 1887, Charles H. Bolles and George F. Wilde, as surviving members of the firm of B. Collender & Co., filed a petition in insolvency in the Insolvency Court within and for the County of Suffolk, State of Massachusetts. On February 16, 1887, they filed in the same insolvency court a written proposal for composition with their copartnership creditors under the so-called "composition acts" of 1884 and 1885, and they therein proposed to pay fifty cents on the dollar of their debts in money. On February 24, 1887, the first meetings of creditors were held in both the ordinary insolvency proceedings, which were begun on February 14, and in the composition proceedings, which were begun on February 16, and William T. Eustis proved a claim on a promissory note for $16,000, dated January 1, 1880, and due on demand, and voted for assignees in the ordinary insolvency proceeding, but the record does not show that he proved his claim in the composition proceedings. On March 10, 1887, an adjourned hearing in the composition proceedings was held in the insolvency court to determine whether said proposal for composition should be confirmed, and Eustis appeared by counsel at said hearing and opposed the confirmation of said
proposal, and the granting of a discharge to said Bolles and Wilde, on the ground that the said composition acts were unconstitutional and void. Eustis also filed written objections to the discharge of the debtors, alleging that the composition acts, having been passed after the execution and delivery of the note held by Eustis, were in violation of that part of the Constitution of the United States which forbids any state to pass a law impairing the obligation of contracts.
Bolles and Wilde, having filed in the insolvency court the written assent of a majority in number and value of their creditors who had proved their claims, and having deposited in court one-half the aggregate amount of their debts, were granted by the court, on March 31, 1887, certificates of discharge under and in pursuance of the composition acts. On May 14, 1887, Eustis received the sum of $8,020, being one-half the amount of his claim, and signed a receipt therefor, reciting that it was "according to the composition confirmed by the court in the case." All the other creditors of said Bolles and Wilde accepted the offer and signed similar receipts.
Subsequently, in July, 1887, Eustis brought an action in the Supreme Judicial Court against Bolles and Wilde wherein he sought to recover the balance of his note remaining unpaid after the receipt of the one-half received under the insolvency proceedings. The defendants pleaded the proceedings in insolvency, their offer of composition, its acceptance by the majority in number and value of their creditors, their discharge, and the acceptance by Eustis of the amount coming to him under the offer of composition, and to this answer the plaintiff demurred. Subsequently, the death of William T. Eustis was suggested, and Isabel B. Eustis and Florence D. Eustis were permitted to appear and prosecute said action as executrices.
The trial court, which overruled the demurrer, made a finding of facts, and reported the case for the determination of the full court. The Supreme Judicial Court was of opinion that Eustis, by accepting the benefit of the composition, had waived any right that he might otherwise have had to object
to the validity of the composition statutes as impairing the obligation of contracts. 146 Mass. 413. Final judgment was entered for the defendants on November 26, 1889, and on January 29, 1890, a writ of error was allowed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to this Court.