Habich v. Folger - 87 U.S. 1 (1873)
U.S. Supreme Court
Habich v. Folger, 87 U.S. 20 Wall. 1 1 (1873)
Habich v. Folger
87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 1
A corporation of New York was declared to be "dissolved" by one of its courts, acting in professed conformity to a statute of the state, and receivers of its assets were appointed. A creditor of the corporation residing in another state sued it there, in "trustee process" (foreign attachment), by which he attached debts due by certain persons (known in the language of the process as "trustees") to the corporation. The corporation, the receivers, and the trustees all appeared by attorney; the trustees answered, and after the corporation and the receivers had contested the claim of the plaintiff so long as they could, the receivers withdrew their opposition, and a formal judgment was entered which recited that the trustees were charged on their answer.
To a scire facias against the trustees to have execution on this judgment, the trustees pleaded that the corporation had been dissolved by a court of New York, to whose proceedings full faith and credit was due under the Constitution. The court below decided that the court of New York had acted in excess of its jurisdiction, and therefore that faith and credit were not due to its proceedings. This decision being the only error assigned, the judgment below was affirmed, this Court holding that whether the judgment below was right or wrong was not a matter which concerned the trustees, since the fact of their debt and their obligation to pay it were admitted and since in the original suit, where the corporation, the receivers, and the trustees were parties, judgment, after full hearing, and with the consent of the receivers, had been entered against the corporation, and the "trustees charged."
The Revised Statutes of New York authorize the courts of the state, upon a corporation's mismanaging its affairs by doing certain things specified by the statutes, and plainly inconsistent with corporate duty, to declare it, on the petition of a corporator, dissolved, and to appoint receivers to take charge of and to distribute its assets.
In professed execution of the power thus given, the supreme court of New York did, on the 2d of February, 1866, declare that the Columbian Insurance Company, a corporation of the state, had mismanaged its affairs, and the court by its judgment declared the said corporation "dissolved" accordingly. The court at the same time appointed two citizens of New York, George Osgood and Cyrus Curtis, receivers of its assets.
In this state of things, one Folger, resident in Massachusetts, a creditor of the corporation, sued the corporation in one of the superior courts of Massachusetts, in the form of suit known in that state as "trustee process;" a form apparently like that known in some other states as foreign attachment; a suit in which a writ issues against the defendant with a clause directing the sheriff to seize or attach his property, or whatever debts may be due to him, in the hands of persons named, and to summon them into court; these persons in Massachusetts being designated as "trustees," as elsewhere, sometimes, "garnishees." The trustees in the present suit were a certain Habich and others.
The record of that case showed the following facts, viz.: that the summons by which the suit was commenced was served on the insurance company in Massachusetts by levying on a chip as its property on the 18th of June, 1866 (a proceeding of form usual in the "trustee process"); that on the first Tuesday of July, the corporation entered its appearance by its attorneys, and filed an affidavit of merits; that on the 30th of July it filed an answer (signed by Joseph Nickerson as its attorney) denying that it was a corporation and denying the material allegations of the complaint; that
the trustees answered admitting a debt; that on the 3d of October, 1866, Osgood and Curtis (already mentioned as having been appointed by the court in New York, on its judgment of dissolution, receivers of the corporation) made an adverse claim, and filed a petition alleging that they were the receivers of the company, setting forth the manner of their appointment, alleging that all the credits, effects, and assets of the said company were vested in them, claiming the effects and credits in the hands of the said supposed "trustees," and praying to be admitted as parties to the action, this petition being signed by Edward Bangs as attorney; that on the 19th of October, their prayer was granted, and that afterwards, in October, 1867, a case agreed on was presented to the court for its judgment, the trustee to be charged on his answer and the plaintiff to have judgment for the funds in the trustees' hands, if in the opinion of the court a judgment could be rendered against the corporation; but if the receivers now claiming had valid title to the funds as against the plaintiff, notwithstanding the admitted fact of a debt due him by the company, then judgment to be entered for the receivers or claimants.
There were thus before the court, the "trustees," the Columbian Insurance Company, by its attorney Bangs, and the receivers, by their attorney Nickerson; all, in short, who were in any manner interested as defendants in the transaction, or entitled to appear in the action.
At the January Term, 1869, the court ordered the following entry to be made, viz.:
"Trustees charged. Judgment for the plaintiff."
"By the court:"
"G. C. WILDE, Clerk"
At the following April Term, a consent was filed by Mr. Bangs, attorney of the defendant, that the judgment be entered for the plaintiff for the sum of $3753, damages and
costs, dated June 10, 1869. On the 12th of June is made the following entry:
"Claimants withdraw [Footnote 1]"
"J. C. DODGE"
"Attorney for plaintiff"
"(Filed June 12, 1869)"
On the 14th of June, a formal judgment for the amount was rendered for the plaintiff, reciting that the trustees were charged upon their answer and that the claimants withdrew.
Upon this judgment, Folger issued a scire facias calling on the trustees to show why he, Folger, should not have execution against them. Habich and the other defendants (not denying their debt) pleaded:
That the judgment recovered by the plaintiff against the insurance company was "invalid," for that before the day on which the judgment was alleged to have been recovered, to-wit &c., the company had been dissolved by a decree of the supreme court of the State of New York, a copy whereof, duly authenticated, the plea alleged that the defendant now exhibited.
That by the Constitution of the United States it is provided that full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the judicial proceedings of every other state &c.
The Supreme Court of Massachusetts held, upon an examination of the proceedings in the supreme court of New York, and of the statutes on which they purported to proceed, that the judgment of the said supreme court, declaring the corporation dissolved, was in excess of the jurisdiction of the court and therefore entitled to no faith and credit in Massachusetts as a judicial proceeding, and accordingly gave judgment for the plaintiff, the original attaching creditor.
From that judgment the case was brought here by Habich and the others, the debtor trustees.
The only record which, strictly speaking, was brought up here was the record of this suit on the scire facias, and the argument was chiefly on that, but reference having been made all along on both sides to the record of the suit in which the judgment on which the scire facias issued was rendered, a certified copy of the record of that original suit was handed to the court at the close of the argument, with the consent of both sides that it should be considered by it as part of the present case.