« ПретходнаНастави »
234 U. S.
Opinion of the Court.
debts of the corporation by a bona fide sale and transfer of his stock on the books of the corporation, whatever the rule may be in the absence of the statute."
In the light of the principles established by these decisions, it must be concluded:
(1) The bankruptcy proceedings against the corporation did not stand in the way of a resort to the statutory method of enforcing the stockholder's liability. It was not corporate assets (Minneapolis Baseball Co. v. City Bank, supra, p. 446; Way v. Barney, supra); and Congess had not undertaken to provide that the discharge in bankruptcy of a corporation should release the stockholders. No question as to this is raised by the plaintiff in error.
(2) The defendant Selig, in this action brought by the receiver against him in the District Court in New York to recover the amount assessed, was not concluded with respect to his personal liability. He was free to deny that he was, or had been, a stockholder in the Company; to dispute the allegation as to the length of time that he remained a stockholder; in short, to litigate any matter which bore upon the extent or duration of his stockholding or any other personal defense. Straw & Ellsworth Co. v. Kilbourne, supra. The order of the Minnesota court in the proceedings for the purpose of the assessment, in which he was represented by the corporation and of which he was notified only by publication and mailing of notice, did not conclude him with respect to the issue so far as it concerned the transfer of his stock or the good faith with which the transfer was made. Inasmuch as the transfer was proved to have been made in September, 1904, and no evidence was introduced to discredit the transaction, it must be assumed, for the present purpose, that the defendant's stock ownership then ceased and that he was not liable for the payment of debts subsequently contracted by the corporation.
Opinion of the Court.
234 U. S.
(3) But despite the transfer, Selig remained liable for the corporate debts previously incurred. Moreover, it cannot be doubted that the authority of the Minnesota court under the statute was not confined to proceedings to assess existing stockholders. The act of 1899, by its express terms, applied in cases of liability arising upon shares "at any time held or owned by such stockholders" and provided for the making of an assessment against “all parties liable as stockholders." Laws, 1899, chapter 272, §§ 1, 3; Rev. Laws, 1905, § 3185. This obviously included former stockholders in relation to debts antedating their transfers; and the constitutional validity of the act in this aspect is as clear as is its validity with respect to the authorization of an assessment against existing stockholders. So far as the jurisdiction of the court to levy the assessment is concerned, no distinction can be maintained. The basis of jurisdiction is the same in each case; it is found in the contractual obligation assumed in becoming a member of a Minnesota corporation, and in the consequent submission to the reasonable regulations of the State for the purpose of making the liability effectual. Bernheimer v. Converse, supra.
It follows that if the court, thus having jurisdiction and acting upon the evidence before it in the statutory proceeding, assessed former stockholders for the purpose of providing for debts incurred while they held their stock, its determination with respect to the amount of the assessment and the necessity therefor must be deemed conclusive. These questions cannot be reopened in another court when the receiver sues to collect the amount of the assessment. The stockholder in such a suit is free to urge his personal defenses but this does not mean that he may resist the receiver's demand upon the ground that the assessment was not needed. The marshalling of the amounts recovered from stockholders is also the appropriate subject for the consideration of the court which
Opinion of the Court.
under the statute collects and distributes the fund. It is quite obvious that another court, in an action by the receiver against the stockholder, could not undertake to fix the amount required to pay the debts for which the stockholder is liable unless it virtually assumed the duty imposed by the statute of determining what a ratable assessment should be and thus denied due credit to the determination already made in a court of competent jurisdiction.
It is insisted, however, that no assessment was made against the defendant as a past stockholder; that the order
assessment as made by the Minnesota court was applicable to present stockholders only. It is true that in the receiver's petition for the levy of an assessment, the persons alleged to be liable were set forth as existing stockholders. Of these, it was averred that some (including the plaintiff in error) had transferred their stock for the purpose of avoiding liability and that others had placed their shares in the names of agents; but as to all, it was asserted that they were, and continued to be, the owners of the entire beneficial interest. But the petition prayed that the probable amount of the indebtedness and of the costs and expenses of the proceedings, and the probable amount which could be collected "from said stockholders, and all persons or parties liable, as such, on said stock," should be ascertained, and that the court should levy a ratable assessment upon each share and against each of the stockholders "liable on said stock." Taking the petition, in the light of the statute, we think that, despite the allegations with respect to the fraudulent character of the transfers mentioned and the continued ownership by the transferors of the shares described, the exercise of the jurisdiction of the court was invoked for the making of such an assessment as the court in its discretion might consider necessary in order to enforce the stockholders' liability, as it actually existed, with respect to the corporate debts remaining unpaid.
Opinion of the Court.
What the court did determine must be ascertained from the order of assessment. This order, after reciting that the matter came on to be heard at the time appointed pursuant to the petition, and that the court had "received and duly considered all the evidence presented," provided for an assessment of an amount equal to the par value "on each and every share of the capital stock" and "against the persons or parties liable as stockholders for, upon, or on account of such shares of stock." It further provided that "each and every person or party liable as such stockholder" should pay to the receiver the amount assessed, and the receiver was authorized to collect "the several amounts due from the several persons or parties liable as stockholders," and to bring suit in case of the failure of "any person liable as a stockholder" to pay as required. These provisions are certainly broad enough to include all stockholders who were actually liable, and we should not be justified in treating the order as expressing less than its terms stated.
In Tiffany v. Giesen, 96 Minnesota, 488, the plaintiff, as receiver, by virtue of an order of assessment under the statute sought to recover against a stockholder in an insolvent corporation who had transferred his shares. It appearing that the defendant was the owner of the stock during the existence of the indebtedness of the company, it was held that the plaintiff had made out a cause of action. The objection that, as the transferee was the person primarily liable the action could not be maintained against the transferor, was overruled.
It is urged that the plaintiff in error was bound to contribute only ratably with all other stockholders who were liable with respect to the debts which arose prior to September 5, 1904, the date of the transfer, and that no assessment had been made based upon those debts. But this objection, as we view it, does not go to the existence
Opinion of the Court.
of the jurisdiction to make the order of assessment, or to the scope of the order as it was actually made, but rather to the question whether the court committed error in the exercise of the authority which it unquestionably possessed. If it did, the remedy lay in an application to the Minnesota court for the correction deemed to be necessary and not in a collateral attack. The order in question does not provide for the distribution of the amount to be paid by the plaintiff in error, but that all moneys collected from the stockholders by the receiver should be held until the further order of the court. It is not to be assumed that these moneys will be applied to any indebtedness as to which the stockholders contributing respectively are not liable. We cannot doubt that the plaintiff in error, if he so desires, will have suitable opportunity to be heard as to the application of the amount which he may pay to the receiver, that it will be used only in the discharge of his obligation, and that any surplus to which he may be entitled will be duly returned. Laws, 1899, chapter 272, § 11. See Rev. Laws, 1905, § 3190. The statute further provides that any stockholder who has paid his assessment shall be entitled to force contribution from any stockholder who has not paid, and for that purpose shall be subrogated to the rights of the creditors or the receiver of the corporation against every such delinquent stockholder in such manner and to such extent as may be just and equitable. Id.
We cannot regard it as essential to the exercise of the jurisdiction of the Minnesota court that it should be required, in order not to forego recovery from stockholders who had transferred their stock, to make a separate and distinct assessment against all the then stockholders at the date of every transfer appearing upon the books. The plan of the statute was intended to afford a practicable remedy, and the order to be made thereunder was in the nature of things a provisional one representing the best