Slike strani
[ocr errors]

Opinion of the Court.

the rule that "when a statute creates a right or liability and prescribes a remedy, the remedy prescribed is the only remedy;" and, while leaving open the question whether the statute liability of a deceased stockholder survived in any manner at law against his estate, adjudged that at all events his estate could not be charged, either at law or in equity, except in the mode of proceeding prescribed by the statute, and therefore such a liability could not be proved before commissioners on the insolvent estate of a deceased stockholder. Moies v. Sprague, 9 R. I. 541. So in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Rhode Island, Judge Shepley and Judge Lowell held that the liability of a stockholder under that statute, unless liquidated and ascertained by a decree in equity, was not a debt that could be proved against his estate under the Bankrupt Act of the United States; and Judge Lowell's decision was affirmed by this court, without any contest upon that point. James v. Atlantic De Laine Co., 11 Bankr. Reg. 390; Garrett v. Sayles, 1 Fed. Rep. 371, 377, and 110 U. S. 288.

The statute of Rhode Island of March 27, 1877, c. 600, is as follows:

"An act defining and limiting the mode of enforcing the liability of stockholders for the debts of corporations.

"SEC. 1. No person shall hereafter be imprisoned, or be. continued in prison, nor shall the property of any such person be attached, upon an execution issued upon a judgment obtained against a corporation of which such person is or was a stockholder.

"SEC. 2. All proceedings to enforce the liability of a stockholder for the debts of a corporation shall be either by suit in equity, conducted according to the practice and course of equity, or by an action of debt upon the judgment obtained against such corporation; and in any such suit or action such stockholder may contest the validity of the claim upon which the judgment against such corporation was obtained, upon any ground upon which such corporation could have contested the same in the action in which such judgment was recovered.

"SEC. 3. All acts and parts of acts inconsistent herewith are hereby repealed.

Opinion of the Court.

"SEC. 4. This act shall take effect from and after the date of the passage thereof."

This statute permits the alternative remedy by suit in equity whether before or only after recovering judgment against the corporation we need not now inquire--and modifies the previous statutes in no other respect than by abolishing the right to take the person of a stockholder for the debt of the corporation; by substituting, for the taking of his property on attachment and execution against the corporation, a new form of remedy, by action of debt against him upon a judgment obtained against the corporation; and by authorizing him, when so sued, either in equity or at law, to make any defence that the corporation might have made. As it does not undertake to annul the liability of the stockholders for the debts of the corporation, but only modifies the form of remedy and the rules of evidence, it is not doubted that it is a constitutional exercise of the power of the legislature, even as applied to debts contracted by the corporation before its enactment. Hawthorne v. Calef, 2 Wall. 10; Penniman's Case, 103 U. S. 714, affirming 11 R. I. 333; Ogden v. Saunders, 12 Wheat. 213, 262, 349; Webb v. Den, 17 How. 576; Curtis v. Whitney, 13 Wall. 68; Tennessee v. Sneed, 96 U. S. 69.

Under either statute of Rhode Island, the debt must be established by a judgment recovered against the corporation, before the creditor can proceed against the stockholder. The execution under the earlier laws, and the action against the stockholder under the existing statute, must be founded on that judgment. In short, it is only a judgment creditor of the corporation, who can collect a corporate debt from its stockholders, at least at law. What state of facts would be necessary to support a bill in equity by a creditor of the corporation against one or all of its stockholders is a question not before See Cambridge Water Works v. Somerville Dyeing & Bleaching Co., 4 Allen, 239; New England Bank v. Stockholders of Newport Factory, 6 R. I. 154;1 Smith v. Railroad Co., 99 U. S. 398; Case v. Beauregard, 101 U. S. 688.


The question of the manner in which the liability of stock

1 S. C. 75 Am. Dec. 688.

Opinion of the Court.

holders under the statutes of the state which creates the corporation may be enforced in the courts of the United States is not a new one in this court.

In the leading case of Pollard v. Bailey, 20 Wall. 520, under a statute of the State of Alabama incorporating a bank, and providing in one section that the stockholders should "be bound respectively for all the debts of the bank in proportion to their stock holden therein," and in other sections that they might be charged by bill in equity, it was held that the remedy prescribed in these sections was the only one, and a creditor of the bank could not maintain an action at law against the stockholders in the Circuit Court of the United States; and the Chief Justice, in delivering judgment, affirmed the following principles, which have been constantly adhered to in subsequent cases: "The individual liability of stockholders in a corporation for the payment of its debts is always a creature of statute. At common law it does not exist. The statute which creates it may also declare the purposes of its creation, and provide for the manner of its enforcement." "The liability and the remedy were created by the same statute. This being so, the remedy provided is exclusive of all others. A general liability created by statute, without a remedy, may be enforced by an appropriate common law action. But where the provision for the liability is coupled with a provision for a special remedy, that remedy, and that alone, must be employed." 20 Wall. 526, 527.

Pursuant to these principles, this court has repeatedly held, not only that suits, either at law or in equity, in the Circuit Court, by creditors of a corporation, to enforce the liability of stockholders under a state statute, are governed by the statute of limitations of the State; Terry v. Tubman, 92 U. S. 156; Carrol v. Green, 92 U. S. 509; Terry v. Anderson, 95 U. S. 628; but also that the question whether the remedy in the federal courts should be by action at law or by suit in equity depends upon the nature of the remedy given by the statutes of the State. Mills v. Scott, 99 U. S. 25; Terry v. Little, 101 U. S. 216; Patterson v. Lynde, 106 U. S. 519; Flash v. Conn, 109 U. S. 371. See also Blair v. Gray, 104 U. S. 769; Chase v. Curtis, 113 U. S. 452, 460.

Opinion of the Court.

The case of Flash v. Conn, 109 U. S. 371, upon which the learned counsel for the plaintiff greatly relied, is in principle quite in line with the other cases, and was decided in favor of the plaintiff because of essential differences between it and the case at bar.

In Flash v. Conn, the statute of New York, there in question, did not direct that the stockholder should be charged by execution or action upon a judgment against the corporation, and thus in effect limit the right of proceeding against a stockholder to judgment creditors of the corporation; but it allowed any creditor, after bringing a suit against the corporation and having an execution returned unsatisfied, to bring an independent action against the stockholder upon his original liability; and the Court of Appeals of New York had decided, in Shellington v. Howland, 53 N. Y. 371, that the fact that a corporation had been adjudged bankrupt was a sufficient excuse for not proceeding against it, before suing a stockholder, under that statute. In short, this court upheld a suit in the Circuit Court of the United States in Florida, upon exactly the same conditions on which it appeared that it would have been sustained in the courts of New York.

In the case at bar, on the other hand, neither of the statutes of Rhode Island gives any action at law against the stockholder upon his original liability, or any right whatever of proceeding against him at law, except by execution or action upon a judgment recovered against the corporation. Before the passage of the Rhode Island statute of 1877, it had been determined by a decision of the Court of Appeals of New York, nearly contemporaneous with that in Shellington v. Howland, above cited, and affirmed by this court, as well as by a decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, that proceedings in bankruptcy against a corporation do not dissolve it, or discharge it from its debts, or prevent any creditor from suing it for so much of his debt as remains unpaid, and recovering a judgment against it for the purpose of charg ing its stockholders. Ansonia Brass & Copper Co. v. New Lamp Chimney Co., 53 N. Y. 123, and 91 U. S. 656; Chamberlin v. Huguenot Manufacturing Co., 118 Mass. 532. And

Opinion of the Court.

there is no decision, in Rhode Island or elsewhere, so far as we are informed, that under such a statute, a creditor of a corporation can sue a stockholder, without first establishing, by judgment against the corporation, its liability for the debt with which it is sought to charge him.

In Burgess v. Seligman, 107 U. S. 20, the question was whether the defendant was such a holder of stock in a corporation as to be liable for its debts, and no question of the form of the remedy was presented or considered. In Garrett v. Sayles, 1 Fed. Rep. 371, and 110 U. S. 288, the remedy against stockholders was sought by bill in equity, under the Rhode Island statute, after obtaining judgment against the corporation.

In all the diversity of opinion in the courts of the different states, upon the question how far a liability, imposed upon stockholders in a corporation by the law of the state which creates it, can be pursued in a court held beyond the limits of that state, no case has been found, in which such a liability has been enforced by any court, without a compliance with the conditions applicable to it under the legislative acts and judicial decisions of the state which creates the corporation and imposes the liability. To hold that it could be enforced without such compliance would be to subject stockholders residing out of the state to a greater burden than domestic stockholders.

The provision of the Rhode Island statutes, which made the stockholders of the Atlantic De Laine Company liable for its debts, was coupled with provisions prescribing the form of remedy, which still remain in force, except so far as they have been modified by the later statute of the same state. By the decisions of this court, as well as by those of the courts, both state and federal, held within the State and District of Rhode Island, and of the highest court of Massachusetts, where these provisions had their origin and their first judicial construction, this liability can be enforced only in the mode prescribed by the statutes of Rhode Island. The present suit, therefore, not being a bill in equity, or an action upon a judg ment against the corporation, which are the only forms of

« PrejšnjaNaprej »