Henningsen v. United States Fid. & Guar. Co.
208 U.S. 404 (1908)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Henningsen v. United States Fid. & Guar. Co., 208 U.S. 404 (1908)

Henningsen v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company

No. 78

Argued December 16, 17, 1907

Decided February 24, 1908

208 U.S. 404

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF

APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Although diversity of citizenship is alleged in the bill, if the grounds of the suit and relief are also based on statutes of the United States, which, as in this case, are necessarily elements of the decision of the circuit court of appeals, an appeal lies from the judgment of that court to this Court.

The equity of the surety on a bond given by a contractor under the Act of August 13, 1894, 28 Stat. 278, who by reason of the contractor's default has been obliged to pay materialmen and laborers, is superior to that of a bank loaning money to the contractor, secured by assignments of amounts to become due. In such a case, the surety is subrogated to the rights of the contractor, but the bank is not.

143 F. 810 affirmed.

R. M. Henningsen and Edward W. Clive, as copartners, in May, 1903, contracted with the United States for the construction of certain buildings at Fort Lawton, in the State of Washington, and entered into a bond with the United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company of Baltimore (hereinafter called the Guaranty Company) as surety in the penal sum of $11,625 for the faithful performance of the contract, and to "promptly make full payments to all persons supplying labor or materials in the prosecution of the work provided for in said contract." The buildings were constructed in accordance with the terms of the contract, but the contractors failed to pay certain just and lawful claims for labor and materials, amounting in the aggregate to $15,409.04. After such default the Guaranty Company instituted a suit in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Washington in which it made the contractors and all persons to whom they were indebted for labor and materials defendants, confessing its own liability to the full amount of the bond. A decree was entered adjudging the

Page 208 U. S. 405

company liable to such creditors of the contractors in the full sum of the bond -- $11,625 -- and awarding payment to such creditors pro rata. It also adjudged that, upon such payment, the liability of the company upon the bond should be discharged. On March 16, 1904, pending the performance of the contract, the contractor, or rather Henningsen alone, for Clive had ceased to have any connection with the performance of the contract, made a written assignment of all payments which were then due, or might thereafter become due on account of the contract, to R. Co. Spencer, in trust for the National Bank of Commerce of Seattle to secure payment of a loan made by the bank to the contractors, October 10, 1903, of $3,500, and also subsequent loans, and at the same time gave as further security an order addressed to the United States Quartermaster, requesting him to deliver to said Spencer all checks of the government on account of said contract. The moneys so loaned were paid directly by the bank to Henningsen, and handled and disbursed by him without any supervision or control upon the part of the bank or Spencer. This suit was commenced by the Guaranty Company by a bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Washington to restrain the appellants from collecting or accepting the balance due on the contract from the United States. It appeared at the time of the commencement of the suit that there was in the hands of the Quartermaster, due upon the contract, the sum of $13,066, which he was about to pay to Spencer under the assignment and order. On June 17, 1904, an arrangement was made between the parties by which the sum of $8,024.21 was paid to certain creditors and the balance, $5,041.79, was applied in conditional payment of the indebtedness of the contractors to the bank, with a stipulation that, if it should be finally determined that the Guaranty Company was entitled to receive it, then the bank should pay it to the Guaranty Company. This suit proceeded to a decree in favor of the Guaranty Company for $5,041.79, which decree was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. February 12, 1906, 143 F. 810.

Page 208 U. S. 406

The bond of the Guaranty Company was given under the requirements of the Act of Congress of August 13, 1894, 28 Stat. 278, c. 280, which reads:

"That hereafter any person or persons entering into a formal contract with the United States for the construction of any public building, or the prosecution and completion of any public work, or for repairs upon any public building or public work, shall be required, before commencing such work, to execute the usual penal bond, with good and sufficient sureties, with the additional obligations that such contractor or contractors shall promptly make payments to all persons supplying him or them labor and materials in the prosecution of the work provided for in such contract, and any person or persons making application therefor, and furnishing affidavit to the department under the direction of which said work is being, or has been, prosecuted, that labor or materials for the prosecution of such work has been supplied by him or them, and payment for which has not been made, shall be furnished with a certified copy of said contract and bond, upon which said person or persons supplying such labor and materials shall have a right of action, and shall be authorized to bring suit in the name of the United States for his or their use and benefit against said contractor and sureties, and to prosecute the same to final judgment and execution: Provided, That such action and its prosecutions shall involve the United States in no expense. "

Page 208 U. S. 409

MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the Court.

A motion is made to dismiss on the ground that the jurisdiction of the circuit court was invoked solely on the ground of the diversity of citizenship of the parties, and hence the decree of the circuit court of appeals was final. The motion must be overruled. Diversity of citizenship was, it is true, alleged in the bills, but grounds of suit and relief were also based on the statutes of the United States, as from the discussion of the merits will be seen. Those statutes entered as elements into the decision of the circuit court of appeals, and were necessary elements. Howard v. United States,184 U. S. 676; Warner v. Searle & Hereth Co.,191 U. S. 195, 191 U. S. 205.

Passing to the merits of the case, the question turns upon the respective equities of the parties. Appellants concede that the bank was not, by the making of the loans to Henningsen, entitled to subrogation to the rights, if any, of the United

Page 208 U. S. 410

states or the laborers or materialmen, and also that, if the Guaranty Company is entitled to subrogation to any right of the United States government arising through the building contract, the bank can make no claim by reason of the assignment.

Henningsen (for we may leave Clive out of consideration) entered into a contract with the United States to construct buildings. The Guaranty Company was surety on that contract. Its stipulation was not merely that the contractor should construct the buildings, but that he should pay promptly and in full all persons supplying labor and material in the prosecution of the work contracted for. He did not make this payment, and the Guaranty Company, as surety, was compelled to and did make the payment. Is its equity superior to that of one who simply loaned money to the contractor, to be by him used as he saw fit, either in the performance of his building contract or in any other way? We think it is. It paid the laborers and materialmen, and thus released the contractor from his obligations to them, and to the same extent released the government from all equitable obligations to see that the laborers and supplymen were paid. It did this not as a volunteer, but by reason of contract obligations entered into before the commencement of the work. Prairie State Bank v. United States,164 U. S. 227, is in point. In that case, Sundberg & Company, in 1888, contracted with the government to build a customhouse at Galveston. Hitchcock was surety on that contract. On February 3, 1890, in consideration of advances made and to be made by the Prairie Bank, Sundberg & Company gave a power of attorney to a representative of the bank to receive from the United States the final payment under the contract. In May, 1890, Sundberg & Company defaulted in the performance of this contract and Hitchcock, as surety, without any knowledge of the alleged rights of the bank, assumed the completion of the contract and disbursed therein about $15,000 in excess of the current payments from the government. In a contest between Hitchcock and the Prairie Bank it was held that Hitchcock had the superior equity, and the judgment of the Court of Claims in his favor

Page 208 U. S. 411

for the amount still due from the government was affirmed. The bank loaned to Sundberg & Company about $6,000 prior to the time that they defaulted in the performance of their contract, and prior to any action by Hitchcock in completing the contract or in paying out money, so that the bank actually parted with $6,000 of its money before Hitchcock parted with any of his. It was held that Hitchcock's equity commenced with his obligation ligation in 1888 to see that Sundberg & Company duly performed their contract with the government. MR. JUSTICE WHITE, delivering the opinion of the Court, reviewed the authorities at length and discussed the question fully. He said (p. 164 U. S. 232):

"Under the principles thus governing subrogation, it is clear, whilst Hitchcock was entitled to subrogation, the bank was not. The former, in making his payments, discharged an obligation due by Sundberg for the performance of which he, Hitchcock, was bound under the obligation of his suretyship. The bank, on the contrary, was a mere volunteer, who lent money to Sundberg on the faith of a presumed agreement and of supposed rights acquired thereunder. The sole question, therefore, is whether the equitable lien which the bank claims it has without reference to the question of its subrogation is paramount to the right of subrogation which unquestionably exists in favor of Hitchcock. In other words, the rights of the parties depend upon whether Hitchcock's subrogation must be considered as arising from and relating back to the date of the original contract, or as taking its origin solely from the date of the advance by him."

It seems unnecessary to again review the authorities. It is sufficient to say that we agree with the views of the circuit court of appeals expressed in its opinion in the present case:

"Whatever equity, if any, the bank had to the fund in question arose solely by reason of the loans it made to Henningsen. Henningsen's surety was, upon elementary principles, entitled to assert the equitable doctrine of subrogation, but it is equally clear that the bank was not, for it was a mere volunteer, and under no legal obligation to loan its money. Prairie State Bank

Page 208 U. S. 412

v. United States,164 U. S. 227; Insurance Company v. Middleport,124 U. S. 534; Sheldon on Subrogation, § 240."

See also United States Fidelity Co. v. Kenyon,204 U. S. 349, 204 U. S. 356-357.

The decree of the circuit court of appeals is

Affirmed.

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