Wills v. Claflin - 92 U.S. 135 (1875)


U.S. Supreme Court

Wills v. Claflin, 92 U.S. 135 (1875)

Wills v. Claflin

92 U.S. 135

Syllabus

1. By the statute of Illinois, the assignor of a promissory note is liable on his contract of assignment only in case the assignee has, by the exercise of due diligence, obtained judgment against the maker and a return of nulla bona unless such suit would have been impracticable or unavailing.

2. Where the declaration avers that such suit would have been unavailing and the defendant takes issue thereon, the record of an adjudication in bankruptcy against the maker of the note before suit could have been brought thereon is not only competent, but conclusive, evidence for the plaintiff.

3. The nonaverment of any special fact or reason why such suit would have been unavailing renders the declaration bad on demurrer, but the defect is cured by verdict.

This is a suit by the defendants in error, as the assignees of certain promissory notes against the plaintiffs in error as the assignors.

The statute of Illinois bearing upon the case is as follows:

"SEC. 7. Every assignor or assignors, or his, her, or their heirs, executors, or administrators, of every such note, bond, bill, or other instrument in writing, shall be liable to the action of the assignee or assignees thereof or his, her, or their executors or administrators if such assignee or assignees shall have used due diligence, by the institution and prosecution of a suit against the maker or makers of such assigned note, bond, bill, or other instrument of writing, or against his, her, or their heirs, executors, or administrators, for the recovery of the money or property due thereon, or damages in lieu thereof, provided that if the institution of such suit would have been unavailing, or that the maker or makers had absconded, or left the state, when such assigned note, bond, bill, or other instrument in writing, became due, such assignee or assignees, or his or her executors or administrators, may recover against the assignor or assignors, or against his or their heirs, executors, or administrators, as if due diligence by suit had been used."

Gross's Compilation, 1869, p. 462.

One of the notes sued upon was executed by Simeon Pickard, who resided in the State of Michigan, and the liability of the plaintiffs in error upon that note is conceded. The other three notes were executed by Kimball & Butterfield, were

Page 92 U. S. 136

assigned in Chicago by the plaintiffs in error November, 1869, and fell due Jan. 18, Feb. 19, and March 19, 1870, respectively.

The declaration, after setting forth the execution and the assignment of the notes, proceeds in the first count as follows:

"And the plaintiffs aver that the said Simeon Pickard, and the said Kimball, and the said Butterfield, were not, at the date of the aforesaid execution of their respective notes, residents of the State of Illinois, nor was either of them, at the date of such execution, a resident of said state, but that they were each and all, at the time of the execution by them of said notes respectively, ever since have been, and still are nonresidents of the State of Illinois, and were not, nor were either or any of them, within said state at the time when said notes, or any or either of them, became due and payable. Of all which several premises the said defendants afterwards -- to-wit at the time aforesaid -- had notice."

The averments in the second count are as follows:

"And the plaintiffs aver that at the time when each of said promissory notes became by its terms due and payable, the said Simeon Pickard, and the said Kimball, and the said Butterfield, were each and all insolvent, and unable to pay the amount of the notes by them respectively subscribed as aforesaid, or any part thereof, and hitherto from thence have continued insolvent and unable to pay the amount of the notes by them respectively subscribed as aforesaid or any portion thereof, and the said plaintiffs aver that the institution of a suit against the said Simeon Pickard, or against the said Kimball, or the said Butterfield, at the time the notes so by them as aforesaid respectively subscribed became due and payable, or at any time since, or now, would have been and would be wholly unavailing. Of all which the said defendants afterwards -- to-wit at the time aforesaid, at the Northern District of Illinois aforesaid -- had notice."

The defendants pleaded the general issue.

At the trial the plaintiffs below offered in evidence the transcript of the record from the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Wisconsin showing the petition in bankruptcy by certain creditors of Kimball & Butterfield, filed Jan. 20, 1870, against them, alleging that they had committed an act of bankruptcy the preceding month, and an order entered the 29th of January adjudicating them bankrupts, to which

Page 92 U. S. 137

the defendants objected because it was irrelevant and incompetent upon the pleadings and issue. But the court overruled the objections and allowed the transcript to be read in evidence to the jury. The defendants excepted.

The defendants offered parol testimony to show that after the adjudication in bankruptcy, the proceedings were dropped and dismissed by the attorneys who had prosecuted them, but without showing when such dismissal took place.

The court charged the jury upon this point as follows:

"If you shall believe from the testimony that, at the time these notes became due -- that is, during the months of January, February, and March -- this adjudication in bankruptcy, rendered by the United States District Court of the State of Wisconsin, was in force, that of itself would excuse the plaintiffs from the institution of a suit at law against the makers of these notes, and if these parties were adjudged bankrupts, it was the duty of the creditors to present their claims to the court in bankruptcy in Wisconsin. They had no right to prosecute in this or any other state, and an injunction would have issued to prevent the prosecution of such a suit if it had been instituted."

To which charge the defendant excepted.

The court also charged:

"If it appears from the evidence that the makers of these notes were adjudicated bankrupts, and the defendants wish to show or claim that this adjudication was at any time set aside, and the parties placed back upon the footing of a discharge from this adjudication, it was their duty to have established the fact, when the adjudication was set aside, by testimony which showed that it became operative, so that the plaintiffs in this suit could have brought their suit at law at the next term of the court succeeding the maturity of the note or notes; otherwise the plaintiffs were excused from the diligence that the law required."

The jury found a verdict for the plaintiffs, upon which judgment was rendered. The defendants sued out this writ of error.

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