Michaels v. Post - 88 U.S. 398 (1874)
U.S. Supreme Court
Michaels v. Post, 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 398 398 (1874)
Michaels v. Post
88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 398
1. Where one creditor has been induced by fraudulent representations of another creditor, who wishes to get into his own hands all the property of their common debtor, to release his debt, and the second creditor does so get the property, and thus obtains a preference, the creditor who has been thus as above said, induced to release his debt may disregard his own release, and petition that his debtor be decreed a bankrupt.
2. If, on a petition and other proceedings regular in form, a decree in bankruptcy is made in such a case and an assignee in bankruptcy is appointed in a way regular on its face, the decree in bankruptcy, though it be a decree pro confesso, cannot, in a suit by the assignee to recover from the preferred creditor the property transferred, be attacked on the ground that the party petitioning had released his debt, was no creditor, that his petition was accordingly fraudulent, and that the decree based on it was void.
Post, assignee in bankruptcy of the Macary Brothers, filed a bill against Henry Michaels and Nathan Levi, partners, to make them account for the value of certain merchandise (an entire stock in trade, worth about $4,200), which Post, as assignee, alleged that the said Macary Brothers had transferred to the said Michaels & Levi in fraud of the Bankrupt law.
The case, as it appeared on the weight of evidence and as it was assumed by this Court to be, was thus:
Harlow Macary and Henry Macary, two young men, aged respectively twenty-four and twenty-one years, sons of Adam Macary, began business under the name of Macary Brothers as dealers in ready-made clothing in August, 1868, at Hudson, Michigan, their father, who lived at Coldwater, a place about forty miles from Hudson, lending to them $2,500. At this same place, Coldwater, there lived also a certain Louis Sloman, a brother-in-law of Henry Michaels, above named.
By the 25th of October, 1869, Macary Brothers had got a good deal in debt to other persons. The most important of their debts were: to Michaels & Levi, already named, $4,600; Beir & Stern, $476; Sabey & Co., $368; Sloman & Rosenthal, $343; all these creditors residing at Rochester, New York, and being wholesale dealers in clothing. The debt to the father had been reduced to $2,300, but this amount remained unpaid. They owed a few other small firm debts in their regular business. [Footnote 1] Henry Macary, who carried on some little trading in cigars and tobacco, owed certain debts besides, the largest being to Mowry & Co., of Detroit, about $350, for which the brothers had given their joint notes and a chattel mortgage on their stock in trade.
In October, 1869, Michaels set off on a business tour through the West, and having passed through Coldwater, the place of his brother-in-law, Sloman's, residence, and stopped there a short time, arrived at Hudson on Friday, October 22, 1869. He at once, on the afternoon of that same day, called at the store of the Macary Brothers, Henry Macary alone being at the store, Harlow being ill and at home. Michaels knew that the brothers Macary were indebted to other Rochester houses. He said to Henry Macary that he had come to Hudson to look over matters there a little between himself and the firm of Macary Brothers, and asked about how much stock there was on hand. Henry replied, between $5,000 and $6000. Michaels said that he thought that there was not so much, and proposed to take an inventory at cost, a matter which Henry agreed should be done, and which
they did the next day. When the inventory had been taken, Michaels asked about the firm debts, and in a general way was told what they were. He then asked if he might look over the firm books, proposing to take them to the hotel where he was, with the inventory of stock as made out. This also Henry agreed that he might do. The next morning, returning to the store, he said, "You have about $4,500 worth of goods." Henry replied, "We must have more." "The invoice figures no more," was the reply. "You have about enough to pay us." "Have you any proposition to make." Henry replied that he had no proposition to make until after he could consult with his brother.
The testimony of Henry, which was taken in the case, thus proceeded:
"He asked me, if he should throw us into bankruptcy, how much I thought each creditor would get. I told him I did not know. He said to me, 'Your father would get about ten cents on the dollar, and we would get about the same.' He said, 'Henry, I don't want any underhanded game undertaken with me.' I told him there was none; that the goods were all on the shelf, and that the books would show the accounts. He said,"
" I don't want to injure you in any way or throw you out of business; but I see no way not to do it, unless I take the stock of goods and run the store myself until such time as I get my pay."
"I told him, 'I would do nothing until my brother was present;' I think it was then near six o'clock; and he went to tea. About seven o'clock on the same day (the 23d), he came to the store and remained there till I closed it for the night. Before we closed it he said,"
"I will look these books over more tonight, and you come to the hotel, at my room, tomorrow about two o'clock."
"He then asked me if I had any objections to letting him have what money I had on hand, as it was best to make the amount I owed him as small as possible. I told him I had no objection, and handed him what money I had, $110. I then closed the store and went home. I went to the hotel where he was the next day and saw him there. He asked me if I had any proposition then to make. I told him I had none. He asked me what we proposed to do. I told him I did not know what to do. He then said,"
"I have a proposition to
make to you. It is that I shall buy the stock of goods and run the store in a third party's name, leaving you and your brother in the store, and to conduct the business the same as you have, and pay the expenses of the store and remit the balance to me."
"He had before said, in this conversation,"
"I will restock this store with new goods and furnish you what goods are necessary to conduct the business, and in the meantime I will have Rudolph, my agent, find a better place for business than Hudson, and after the first of January we will move the stock to the place he shall select. I will restock the store with new goods at that place, and you and your brother shall conduct the business the same as you have done."
"He then asked me how the proposition suited me. I told him I did not know how that would do, but if we were not thrown out of business, it was satisfactory to me if the agreement was fulfilled. I then told him that we would have to see my brother before anything was done. Mr. Michaels and myself went to the house where my brother was; went upstairs and saw him. Mr. Michaels told him he had made a proposition to me, and we had come there to talk with him about it. Mr. Michaels then stated the proposition over to my brother as he had stated it to me. My brother then asked him, in case we should sell the stock to him, what would become of our other creditors, and what we 'should do in case they should present their bills.' Mr. Michaels said, 'Pay no attention to them; they can't do anything.' Mr. Michaels then asked my brother who the third party should be. My brother proposed the name of David Bovie, of Coldwater, Michigan, who was master of our lodge. Mr. Michaels said, 'I do not know him; it must be somebody that I know.' He said 'Louis Sloman, for instance.' He said, 'You know Louis; he lives here, and he will do just as I tell him to.' My brother said, 'I think we ought to have some choice in this matter.' Mr. Michaels said, 'It don't make any difference what you think, it must be as I want it.' My brother said, 'Does Louis Sloman understand this, Mr. Michaels?' Mr. Michaels says, 'He does; he will do just as I tell him.' Mr. Michaels said, 'Boys, I think this is the best thing you can do, and you will think so too after a little.' He then said,"
"I think that one of you had better go to Coldwater with me and see your father Monday, so that he will understand it and will not make you any trouble, as he is one of your creditors."
"We then went to dinner. While at
dinner Mr. Michaels said, 'Boys, I think you will come out all right now. I have known cases a good deal worse than yours having come out all right.' That was all that was said till Monday, that I remember of now. Mr. Michaels asked my brother if he would be at the store Monday morning. He told him he would, about ten o'clock. Mr. Michaels went to the hotel."
"Monday morning, October 25, 1869, Mr. Michaels came to the store and returned the books. My brother, who was then there, asked him to restate the proposition he had made the day before. Mr. Michaels restated his proposition as he had stated it the day before. I think my brother then asked him what would be done with a chattel mortgage of about $400 on the stock of goods that Mowry & Co., of Detroit, held on the goods. Mr. Michaels said he did not care anything about that; he would make that all right. Mr. Michaels then asked which one of us would go with him that afternoon to Coldwater. I asked my brother to go. He said to me, 'You had better go.' Mr. Michaels said, 'Henry, I think you had better go; I want you to go.' Mr. Michaels then asked my brother to give him a writing authorizing me to sign the firm name to any transfer or sale of the stock of goods that might be made at Coldwater. My brother gave him the writing he required. Mr. Michaels then said to me, 'Telegraph to your father, so that he will be sure to be at home.' I did so telegraph my father. Mr. Michaels and I went to Coldwater that afternoon; we arrived between four and five o'clock. On our arrival, Mr. Michaels said to me, 'You go home and get your father and come to Mr. Shipman's office, and I'll be there.' Mr. Shipman is an attorney. I left Mr. Michaels, went to my father's, and he and I went to Mr. Shipman's office together. We there found Mr. Michaels, and I introduced him to my father. Mr. Michaels then told my father that he had sent for him to talk with him about the matter between his (Michaels) firm and the firm of Macary Brothers. My father asked him what the difficulty was. Mr. Michaels said we were in a bad condition and he wanted to help us out; that he did not want to see us thrown out of business. My father then asked him what he proposed to do. Mr. Michaels told father he proposed to buy the stock of goods and run the store himself through a third party; that my brother any myself were to conduct the business the same as we had done; that
he would restock the store with such goods as were needed, and keep it stocked; that we should keep the store in Hudson till the 1st of January, and during this time he would have Rudolph, his agent, find a better place for business than Hudson was, and would then move the stock to such a place as Rudolph should select; that we were to receive the profits from the goods after expenses of the store had been paid, and he should receive his pay for the goods and we should have our living out of the profits on the sale of the goods. Mr. Michaels stated that we should go with the goods to this place and take charge of the business the same as we had done before. He then said to my father, in order to do this he (father) would have to withdraw his claim, so that he would not make us any trouble until such time as he, Mr. Michaels, had got his pay; then the stock should revert back to the firm of Macary Brothers, the same as it was before the sale was made. My father then said to Mr. Michaels, 'Ought I not to have some writing from you to show this?' Mr. Michaels said, 'That is not necessary, as I have always done by the boys, and always intend to, as I have agreed.' Mr. Michaels then asked me if I had confidence in him, that he would do as he said -- as he agreed to. I told him that I had. Father said if Mr. Michaels did as he agreed, it was all right. I think that was all that was said till Mr. Shipman came in and drew up some writings. He drew up two or three writings. He read them over to Mr. Michaels. They did not suit Mr. Michaels, and Mr. Shipman tore them up. I think then Mr. Shipman said it was his tea-time, and we had better go to tea and come in after tea."
"After tea, my father and myself went back to Mr. Shipman's, and found Mr. Michaels and Mr. Shipman there. Mr. Shipman was writing a bill of sale. Mr. Shipman asked if the invoice that Mr. Michaels had should be the price of the goods. Mr. Michaels said, 'No, it will not look well; it will look as though we intended to defraud the other creditors.' Mr. Michaels said we had better make it seventy-five cents on a dollar, so that it would look as though we did not mean anything wrong. Mr. Shipman then finished the bill of sale, and also drew up a receipt for my father to sign."
"Mr. Michaels then said, 'I will go over to get Mr. Sloman to come over to the office,' and Mr. Sloman came to the office, and Mr. Shipman then read the bill of sale, and also the receipt,
and then the papers were signed. I signed the bill of sale, and father signed the paper prepared for him to sign."
That paper is thus:
"Macary Brothers, of Hudson, Michigan (who are my sons), being desirous of selling their stock of merchandise and goods in said place, to Louis Sloman, but the said Sloman being afraid of their creditors, to confirm said sale and his title, and in consideration that he should buy them out, I do hereby acknowledge receipt in full of all demands against the said Macary Brothers to this date, October 25th, 1869."
"Then there were three notes drawn up for six, nine, and twelve months. The price of the goods was divided into four equal parts, and the cash was one of these quarters, and the notes were of equal amount. Then Mr. Sloman signed the notes, and handed the notes and the money to Mr. Shipman. Mr. Shipman handed them to Mr. Michaels. Mr. Michaels did not take them; he said, 'Hand them to Henry (meaning me), and let him hand them to me.' Mr. Shipman handed the notes and the money to me, and I handed them to Mr. Michaels. Mr. Shipman then wrote a receipt. This interview after tea lasted about an hour. I returned to Hudson the next morning, Tuesday morning. On that day (Tuesday, October 26, 1869), Mr. Sloman came to our store and said that he had come to make out a list of what goods we needed, so as to send it to Mr. Michaels. My brother and Mr. Sloman looked through the stock, and made out a list of what goods we needed. Mr. Sloman made some proposition in regard to some goods he thought we ought to have, and Mr. Sloman took the list and went away. The value of the stock of goods on the 25th day of October, 1869, as nearly as I can estimate, was about $5,000."
Harlow Macary, the other brother, was also examined. Confirming generally Henry's statement, so far as it related to matters in which he, Harlow, had been an actor, he added:
"My brother returned from Coldwater on Tuesday morning, early. Sloman came to Hudson on the same day. The first thing Sloman wanted to know, was, what we were going to do with the mortgage on the stock of goods. I told him I did not know, that we wanted to fix it some way. He said, 'Suppose you transfer your book accounts to me towards it.' I transferred the book accounts
to him. I gave him also the proceeds of sales for part of the week. He then wanted that I should turn over to him a cow that I owned. I told him, 'No, sir; not so long as my name is Macary.' Sloman then said, 'I propose to move this stock to Coldwater.' I asked him why. He said he owned it. I asked him how he got it. He said he bought it of Michaels; I asked him where and when. He said in Coldwater, last Monday; meaning Monday, the 25th of October. I told him that I did not understand it so. He said that made no difference, and proposed to move that stock of goods that day. He ordered myself and my brother to help his clerk to pack up the goods that day. I told him there would be no goods packed that day in that store. He told his clerk to go to packing up the goods. I forbid them both from touching a dollar's worth of goods, and the result was that Sloman demanded the goods, which I refused to grant, and subsequently I locked up the store; after which the sheriff broke open the store and took possession of the goods under a writ of replevin, and has held them ever since. This replevin suit was in behalf of Sloman, as plaintiff, and the goods were delivered to him by the sheriff."
The father was examined also, and confirmed, so far as respected his action, what his son Henry had stated.
After Michaels and Henry Macary had agreed to go over to Coldwater, the former sent this telegram to his brother-in-law, Louis Sloman:
"HUDSON, October 25, 1869"
"L.S. -- Expect me next train. Tell lawyer to be in office."
Sloman accordingly met Michaels at the station.
After the deed of sale and other papers were executed at Coldwater, Michaels left the place, leaving it on the train of that night. On reaching home, he adjusted the claims of the other Rochester creditors, taking their discharges in full. None of them made any claim nor proved any demand in the bankruptcy proceedings. Sloman paid Mowry & Co. Certain other creditors mentioned hereafter, [Footnote 2] and having debts amounting in all to $304.08, proved them.
Michaels himself and Sloman were also examined as witnesses. They did not disprove the leading facts stated by the Macary Brothers -- that is to say, they did not disprove the fact of the debt due to Michaels & Levi, the insolvency of the brothers Macary; the visit of Michaels to Coldwater; his visit immediately afterwards to Hudson, and interview with the brothers Macary, and arrangements for a sale of the stock, and the extinction of the father's claim; the telegraphing to Hudson; the meeting in the office of the lawyer, Mr. Shipman, there, and the signing of papers, and the supposed conclusion of all these things. They omitted to state many incidents stated by the Macary Brothers, and toned down or changed the coloring which they gave to the leading facts testified to by them, and some minor matters, and all fraudulent motives they denied. But, as this Court assumed on the evidence, the case in its great features stood.
In the state of things above described by these witnesses, Adam Macary, the father, on the 19th day of November, 1869, and of course after he had signed the paper on p. 88 U. S. 404, releasing his debt, filed a petition in the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, representing himself still to be a creditor of the Macary Brothers for $2,200; that they were insolvent, and that they had committed an act of bankruptcy by the sale of their property to Sloman; the same being alleged to have been done with an intent to give a preference to Michaels & Levi. The petition, which was set out in the case below, was regular in form, and assuming it to be true, made a plain case within the thirty-fifth section of the Bankrupt Act, quoted supra, p. 88 U. S. 361. The Macary Brothers put in no defense, and were decreed bankrupts on the 1st of December, 1869, on their father's petition as aforesaid, and one Post was appointed their assignee in bankruptcy.
Post, as such assignee, now filed his bill in the court below against Michaels & Levi, to recover the value of the stock of goods assigned to Sloman, alleging that the sale was really to Michaels & Levi, or if not, that they got the benefit of it to the exclusion of other creditors, and were in
either case preferred within the meaning of the thirty-fifth section of the Bankrupt Act already referred to.
The defendants denied all the plaintiffs' allegations, generally and specifically:
Alleged that the sale was made to Sloman with the assent of Adam Macary, the father and petitioning creditor, and in consequence of his releasing his claim:
That Adam Macary, the party petitioning for a decree of bankruptcy, was in fact no creditor at all of his sons; that he had released his debt; that the court which had made the decree in bankruptcy accordingly had no jurisdiction in the case, the Bankrupt Act in its thirty-ninth section making, in terms, a decree of bankruptcy on the petition of a person other than the debtor legal only on the petition of one or more of the debtor's "creditors, the aggregate of whose debts, provable under the act, shall amount to at least $250:"
That the whole proceeding in the district court was by collusion and fraud between the party calling himself the petitioner, creditor, and the so-called debtors, and therefore void, and that there were no other creditors who could have petitioned:
That if Michaels & Levi were guilty of any fraud, Adam Macary was a participant in it and could not profit by it.
On the hearing of the case, it was stipulated in open court by the parties as follows:
"Henry and Harlow Macary were adjudicated bankrupts on the 1st day of December, A.D. 1869, by the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan, upon the creditor petition of A. T. Macary. Such adjudication was made in the ordinary manner upon default. Such proceedings were thereafter had that the complainant was on the 8th day of January, 1870, appointed assignee of said Henry and Harlow, and that he duly qualified as such, and entered upon the performance of the duties of said trust; that on the 13th of January, 1870, Hovey Clarke, register in bankruptcy, to whom said bankrupt proceedings were referred, executed and delivered to the complainant an assignment in due form, of all the estate and
effects of said bankrupts, a copy of which, duly certified, is produced on the hearing, to be read as evidence on said hearing, and filed in said cause; that debts have been proved before said register against said bankrupts as follows, viz.:"
F. B. Schermerhorn, of Hudson, for printing . . . $ 93.48
Miller & Co., Syracuse, cigars. . . . . . . . . . 58.75
A. Judson, Chicago, mittens and gloves. . . . . . 84.50
Northrup & Richards, Bro'dalbin, N.Y., gloves . . 36.00
Charles B. Northrup, Detroit, furnishing goods. . 31.35
The court below adjudged that the defendants should pay the assignee the proceeds of the sale of the goods ($4,213), with interest and costs, and be debarred from any dividend on the bankrupts' estate.
From this decree the defendants appealed.