Where a complainant sought to recover by bill in chancery the
proceeds of a judgment which he alleged that his debtor had against
a third person, and it turned out that his debtor had only an
interest of one-fourth in this judgment, which fourth was collected
and the proceeds paid over to the solicitor of the complainant
during the pendency of the suit, the bill was properly dismissed at
the cost of the complainant.
The assignment of the judgment was in reality conditional,
although absolute on its face, and the present bill being in the
nature of a bill to carry that assignment into effect, in such a
case parol evidence is admissible to rebut or explain an equitable
The judgment was nominally assigned to the debtor, but his
equitable interest in it was only one-fourth, which was all that
the complainant was entitled to. This fourth being paid before the
decree, together with costs up to that time, it was proper to
dismiss the bill at the cost of the complainant.
The facts in the case are stated in the opinion of the
Page 58 U. S. 465
MR. JUSTICE McLEAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Rhodes, the complainant, recovered two judgments in 1850 against
Sneed Wright James E. Farmer, and William B. Farmer in the district
court -- one for the sum of $1,308.68, the other for $3,179.19 --
on which executions were issued and returned nulla bona.
Prior to this, W. & C. Fellows, in the name of McKewen, King
& Company, had recovered a judgment against James Strong and
others, for $3,937.75 in the same court, and Strong, with the view
of placing his property beyond the reach of the judgment, conveyed
it to his wife. This conveyance, on an issue being made, under the
practice of Mississippi, was set aside.
In the trial of the above issue, the complainant states it
appeared in proof that William B. Farmer was the owner of the
judgment against Strong and others, it having been assigned to him
by W. & C. Fellows, and the complainant alleged that his
judgment against Farmer, being unsatisfied, was a lien in equity
upon the interest and claim of William B. Farmer, to the judgment
assigned to him. And the complainant prayed that said judgment
might be held by Farmer and W. & C. Fellows, subject to his
judgments, and that they might be enjoined from paying it over
William B. Farmer, in his answer, admits that the judgments
against him had been obtained, and that executions on them had been
returned, nulla bona.
He denies that the judgment against
Strong was ever sold to him, but he states that in 1848, being sued
for a large debt, which he supposed to belong to Strong, and
wishing to procure a setoff, he applied to W. &
Page 58 U. S. 466
C. Fellows for the control of said judgment, offering to any
them three-fourths of the amount that he might realize of the
judgment, should he be able to use it as a setoff, which was agreed
to by them, and that he executed a penal bond, to pay to the said
W. & C. Fellows three-fourths of the amount so recovered on
Defendant also states that the complainant received from James
E. Farmer, a co-defendant, a sum of money, on the receipt of which
he released the judgments, and the defendant submits, whether such
release does not exonerate the other defendants.
He also states that he had made a verbal assignment of the
judgment to William Cathron, as an attorney, for collection, and he
submits whether the judgment can be made liable by the complainant
to the satisfaction of his judgments. Other matters are set up in
the answer, and he prays that the answer may be considered a
The condition of the penal bond, given to W. & C. Fellows,
stated that they had transferred to Farmer the judgment against
Strong, for the sum $3,937, subject to credits of about $763. Now
if the said obligors shall pay to W. & C. Fellows, or their
assigns, in two equal installments, on the 27th of January, 1849,
and on the 27th of January, 1850, three-fourths of the amount which
may be secured or realized by said Farmer out of said judgment,
bearing interest at six percent, deducting costs and attorney's
fees which may be incurred &c., then the obligation to be
In their answers, W. & C. Fellows deny that their
co-defendant, William B. Farmer, is the owner of the whole of their
judgment against Strong and others, but admit that he has an
interest of one-fourth part &c.
During the pendency of this suit, the following receipt was
given by John S. Topp, counsel for the complainant:
"June 9, 1852. Received of Messrs. Boston and Stearns,
$1,052.59, being the one-fourth part of the balance left in the
marshal's hands, in the case of W. & C. Fellows v.
after deducting $700 for fees, as provided for in the
The district court, in its decree, says:
"It appearing to the court that from the written admissions of
Mr. Topp, solicitor for the complainant, since his filing the bill
in this cause, recovered one-fourth of the amount of the judgment
of W. & C. Fellows v. Strong,
which is enjoined in
this cause, and that the complainant is entitled to no further
relief in the premises, the injunction was dissolved, and the bill
dismissed at the complainant's costs. "
Page 58 U. S. 467
The judgment of W. & C. Fellows v. Strong
assigned to Farmer without condition, and it is contended that
parol evidence was not admissible to alter the terms of the
There is a good deal of testimony on the contract of assignment.
Some of the statements are somewhat conflicting, but they are
reconcilable, and the result of the whole is that the assignment
was made of the judgment to enable Farmer to use it by way of
setoff to a demand against him which he supposed belonged to
Strong. But it was understood that Farmer should have one-fourth of
the amount recovered from Strong, after deducting the costs for his
labor and trouble in collecting the money, and for the payment of
the residue of the judgment he gave bond and security.
The assignment of the judgment was good in equity, and though
absolute on its face, the bond given expressed the conditions, and
showed that Farmer's interest in the judgment against Strong
extended only to one-fourth part of it, after deducting costs.
The bill of the complainant is in the nature of a bill for a
specific execution of the assignment of the judgment, and in such a
case parol evidence is admissible to rebut or explain in equity.
But the penal bond given to W. & C. Fellows, by Farmer, with
Brown as security, sufficiently explains the transaction.
The judgments obtained by the complainant against William B.
Farmer and others constituted no lien, equitable or legal, on the
judgment against Strong, after it was assigned to Farmer; and no
relief could be given to the complainant against the assigned
judgment, beyond the equitable interest of Farmer. He is
represented to have been insolvent at the time the decree was
entered. As one-fourth of the judgment, after paying costs, was
paid to the complainant before the decree, we think that the decree
of the district court dismissing the bill at the complainant's
costs, was correct.
The defendants were not liable to pay more than one-fourth of
the judgment, and as that amount was paid, about the time it was
collected on the judgment against Strong, the defendants were not
There is no evidence of a payment to the complainant by James E.
Farmer, a co-defendant of William B. Farmer, on which a release of
the judgments was executed by the complainant, as alleged in
Farmer's answer. Nor is there any ground of defense, from the
alleged verbal agreement with Cathron, who, as an attorney, was
employed to collect the judgment against Strong.
The complainant, both in prosecuting the suit in the
Page 58 U. S. 468
court, and also by his appeal to this Court, sought to recover
the whole amount of the judgment against Strong, or at least so
much of it as would satisfy his two judgments against Farmer and
others. But he can in this mode of proceeding reach only the equity
of his judgment debtor in the assigned judgment, and having
received that, he can claim nothing more.
The decree of the district court is affirmed at the costs of
This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record
from the district Court of the United States for the Northern
District of Mississippi, and was argued by counsel. On
consideration whereof it is now here ordered, adjudged, and decreed
by this Court, that the decree of the said district court in this
cause be and the same is hereby affirmed, with costs.