Cook v. Tullis
85 U.S. 332 (1873)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cook v. Tullis, 85 U.S. 18 Wall. 332 332 (1873)

Cook v. Tullis

85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 332

Syllabus

1. The ratification by one of the unauthorized act of another operates upon the act ratified precisely as though authority to do the act had been previously given, except where the rights of third parties have intervened between the act and the ratification. The retroactive efficacy of the ratification is only subject to this qualification, that intervening rights of third persons are not defeated by the ratification.

2. An exchange of values may be made at any time, though one of the parties to the transaction be insolvent. There is nothing in the Bankrupt Act which prevents an insolvent from dealing with his property -- selling or exchanging it for other property -- at any time before proceedings in bankruptcy are taken by or against him, provided such dealing be conducted without any purpose to defraud or delay his creditors or to give preference to anyone, and does not impair the value of his estate.

3. Accordingly, where a depositary of certain government bonds used some of them without the permission of the owner and substituted in their place a bond and mortgage, and the owner of the bonds upon hearing of the transaction ratified it, held that the creditors of the depositary, who had become insolvent when such approval was made; could not complain of the transaction, there being no pretense that the property substituted was less valuable than that taken, or that the estate of the bankrupt was less available to his creditors.

4. The trustees of a bankrupt take his property subject to all legal and equitable claims of others. They are affected by all the equities which can be urged against him.

5. Where property held upon any trust to keep, or use, or invest it in a particular way is misapplied by the trustee and converted into different property, or is sold and the proceeds are thus invested, the property may be followed wherever it can be traced through its transformations, and will be subject, when found in its new form, to the rights of the original owner or cestui que trust. It does not alter the case that the newly acquired property, instead of being purchased with the proceeds of the original property, is obtained by a direct exchange for it.

Cook and others, trustees in bankruptcy of the estate of Homans, filed a bill in equity in the court below to set aside the transfer of a certain note for $7,000, secured by mortgage, alleged to have been made by the said Homans to the defendant, Tullis, in violation of the provisions of the Bankrupt

Page 85 U. S. 333

Act, and to compel an assignment of the note and mortgage to them.

It appeared from the record that in August, 1869, and for two years before, Homans, the bankrupt, was engaged in business as a banker in Cincinnati, in the State of Ohio; that on several occasions during this period he had purchased bonds of the United States for the defendant Tullis; that these bonds were left with him on special deposit for safekeeping; that the bonds were enclosed in envelopes and kept in a package by themselves, marked with the name of Tullis and placed in a separate box; that on one occasion, about eighteen months before his failure, Homans had been permitted by the defendant to use $20,000 of the bonds thus purchased, upon condition of substituting for them in the package an equivalent in amount in bills receivable and agreeing to replace the bonds when called for; that the bonds thus used were subsequently replaced; that on another occasion, about a year afterwards, in March, 1869, he took, without any such permission, from the package and used $6,000 of the bonds, substituting in their place an equivalent amount in bills receivable; that in April following, he removed these bills receivable and substituted in their place, for the bonds taken, a note and mortgage belonging to him, of one Hardesty, for $7,000, the note bearing date April 17, 1869, and payable in ninety days, and the mortgage being on real property; that this note was not paid at maturity, and in August following was placed by Homans, with the mortgage, in the hands of attorneys with instructions to give notice to the maker of the note that if it were not paid by the beginning of the next term of the court, proceedings by suit would be taken for its collection; that Homans failed on the 26th of August, 1869; that soon afterwards Tullis was informed of the substitution of the note and mortgage for his bonds and that thereupon he signified his acceptance of the same and his satisfaction with the transaction, and directed proceedings to be commenced by the attorneys, in whose hands the papers had been placed, for the foreclosure of the mortgage.

Page 85 U. S. 334

It further appeared from the record that, on the 20th of September following, Homans was adjudged a bankrupt upon a petition in involuntary bankruptcy, filed on the 13th of the month, and that in December afterwards the complainants were appointed trustees of his estate.

The deposition of Homans was taken in the case, and he stated in explanation of his conduct in appropriating the bonds in question, that as on a former occasion Tullis had consented to his using a much larger amount, he inferred that there would be no objection to his using a smaller amount if it could be done without risk to Tullis; that at this time he was carrying on his business as usual, and did not apprehend insolvency or bankruptcy; that he did not think it necessary when he placed the note and mortgage with his attorneys to give them notice that they belonged in Tullis's package, and did not do so until the day of his failure, when, remembering the omission, he gave them notice to that effect, and directed them to account to Tullis for $6,000 of the note, stating that this proportion of it belonged to him. It did not appear that Tullis had any knowledge leading him to suppose that Homans, until the day of his failure, was insolvent, or contemplated insolvency.

The trustees of Homans by this suit sought, as already said, to set aside the transfer to the defendant of the note and mortgage, and to obtain possession of the same, on the alleged ground that the transfer was made for the purpose of giving the defendant a preference over the other creditors of the bankrupt, and preventing a distribution of the proceeds of the note equally among his creditors, in violation of the provisions of the Bankrupt Act.

The provisions relied on by the trustees are in the thirtieth section of the act (by the forty-third made applicable to trustees), and in these words: [Footnote 1]

"If any person, being insolvent, or in contemplation of insolvency, within four months before the filing of the petition by or against him, with a view to give a preference to any creditor or

Page 85 U. S. 335

person having a claim against him, . . . makes any payment, pledge, assignment, transfer or conveyance of any part of his property, either directly or indirectly, . . . the person receiving such payment, pledge, assignment, transfer or conveyance, or to be benefited thereby, . . . having reasonable cause to believe such person is insolvent, and that such . . . payment, pledge, assignment or conveyance is made in fraud of the provisions of this act, the same shall be void, and the assignee may recover the property, or the value of it, from the person so receiving it or so to be benefited."

The court below adjudged that the defendant was entitled to $6,000 of the proceeds of the note of Hardesty, and that he held the balance of the proceeds as trustee for the complainants, and entered a decree to that effect. From that decree the complainants appealed to this Court.

Page 85 U. S. 337

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