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234 U. S.
Argument for Citizens Banking Co.
An insolvent debtor does not commit an act of bankruptcy rendering him subject to involuntary adjudication as a bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act of 1898 merely by inaction for the period of four months after levy of an execution upon his real estate.
All of the three elements specified in § 3a (3) of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898 must be present in order to constitute an act of bankruptcy within the meaning of that provision. Questions certified, 202 Fed. Rep. 892, answered in the negative.
THE facts, which involve the construction of § 3a of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898, are stated in the opinion.
Mr. G. Ray Craig, with whom Mr. Edward H. Rhoades, Jr., and Mr. John D. Rhoades were on the brief, for Citizens Banking Company:
The failure by an insolvent judgment debtor for a period of one day less than four months after the levy of an execution upon his real estate to vacate or discharge such levy is not a "final disposition of the property" affected by such levy, within the provisions of § 3a (3) of the Bankruptcy Act.
An insolvent debtor does not commit an act of bankruptcy merely by inaction for a period of four months after the levy of an execution upon his real estate.
In support of thesè contentions, see Re Baker-Ricketson Co., 97 Fed. Rep. 489; Bogen v. Protter, 129 Fed. Rep. 533; Re Brightman, 4 Fed. Cas. 136; Colcord v. Fletcher, 50 Maine, 398; Re Empire Bedstead Co., 98 Fed. Rep. 981; French v. Spencer, 21 How. 228; Re Heller, 9 Fed. Rep. 373; Jenney v. Walker, 80 Oh. St. 100; Metcalf v. Barker, 187 U. S. 165; Re National Hotel Co., 138 Fed. Rep. 947; Poor v. Considine, 6 Wall. 458; Re Rome Planing Mill, 96 Fed. Rep. 813; Ex parte Russell, 13 Wall. 664; Re Seaboard Casting Co., 124 Fed. Rep. 75; Thornley v. United States, 113 U. S. 310; Re Truitt, 203 Fed. Rep. 550; Re Vastebinder, 126 Fed. Rep. 417; Re Vetterman, 135 Fed. Rep. 443; Wilson v. City Bank, 17 Wall. 473; Wilson v. Nelson,
Argument for Ravenna National Bank.
234 U. S.
183 U. S. 191; Re Windt, 177 Fed. Rep. 584; Yturbide v. United States, 22 How. 290.
Mr. A. T. Brewer for Ravenna National Bank:
The failure by an insolvent judgment debtor for a period of one day less than four months after the levy of an execution upon his real estate, to vacate or discharge such levy, is a "final disposition of the property," affected by the levy, under the provisions of § 3a (3) of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898, making the debtor subject to involuntary adjudication as a bankrupt under said § 3a (3), and it is not essential that the debtor shall do anything at all.
It is assumed that the judgment debtor, being insolvent, the levy constitutes a lien and works a preference. Wilson v. Nelson, 183 U. S. 191; Bogen v. Protter, 129 Fed. Rep. 533; Folger v. Putnam, 194 Fed. Rep. 793; In re Tupper, 163 Fed. Rep. 766..
The judgment levied on the property of Curtis on April 9, 1908, created a lien thereon in favor of the Citizens Bank of Norwalk, the judgment creditor, the judgment debtor being then insolvent.
This lien existed for a period one day less than four months, to-wit, until August 10, 1908, when the petition in involuntary bankruptcy was filed by the Ravenna National Bank, being so filed within four months, as August 9th was Sunday, these facts constituting a "final disposition" of said property by the bankrupt to the extent of the judgment.
To establish the bankruptcy through the foregoing facts it was not necessary for Cora M. Curtis to do anything. Her act of bankruptcy was therefore complete in all respects when the involuntary petition was filed and the adjudication by the district judge was fully authorized. She permitted the judgment.
She was then insolvent.
The judgment worked a preference.
She did nothing to vacate it.
Except in bankruptcy the judgment was unassailable. The involuntary petition alone prevented the consummation of the preference and the defeat of the main purpose of the Bankruptcy Law in securing an equal distribution among all creditors of the property of insolvent persons.
MR. JUSTICE Van Devanter delivered the opinion of the court.
Upon a petition filed in the District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by one of her creditors, Cora M. Curtis was adjudged a bankrupt. In addition to matters not requiring notice, the petition charged that within four months next preceding its filing the respondent committed an act of bankruptcy, in that (a), while insolvent, she suffered and permitted the Citizens Banking Company to recover a judgment against her for $1,598.78 and costs, in the Common Pleas Court of Erie County, Ohio, and to have an execution issued under the judgment and levied on real estate belonging to her, whereby the company obtained a preference over her other creditors, and (b) at the time of the filing of the petition, which was one day less than four months after the levy of the execution, she had not vacated or discharged the levy and resulting preference.
The company appeared in the bankruptcy proceeding and challenged the petition on the ground that it disclosed no act of bankruptcy, but the court, deeming that such an act was charged, overruled the objection, and, there being no denial of the facts stated in the petition, adjudged the respondent a bankrupt. The company appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals, and that court, having briefly reviewed the opposing views touching the point in controversy (202 Fed. Rep. 892), certified the case here, with a request that instruction be given on the following questions:
“(1) Whether the failure by an insolvent judgment
Opinion of the Court.
debtor, and for a period of one day less than four months after the levy of an execution upon his real estate, to vacate or discharge such levy, is a 'final disposition of the property' affected by such levy, under the provisions of section 3a (3) of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898.
"(2) Whether an insolvent debtor commits an act of bankruptcy rendering him subject to involuntary adjudication as a bankrupt, under the Bankruptcy Act of 1898, merely by inaction for the period of four months after the levy of an execution upon his real estate."
It will be observed that no reference is made to an accomplished or impending disposal of the property in virtue of the levy, although the mode of disposal prescribed by the local law is by advertisement and sale. 2 Bates' Ann. Ohio Statutes, §§ 5381, 5393.
The answers to the questions propounded turn upon the true construction of § 3a (3) of the Bankruptcy Act, which declares:
"Acts of bankruptcy by a person shall consist of his having (3) suffered or permitted, while insolvent, any creditor to obtain a preference through legal proceedings, and not having at least five days before a sale or final disposition of any property affected by such preference vacated or discharged such preference." Chapter 541, 30 Stat. 544, 546.
Looking at the terms of this provision, it is manifest that the act of bankruptcy which it defines consists of three elements. The first is the insolvency of the debtor, the second is suffering or permitting a creditor to obtain a preference through legal proceedings, that is, to acquire a lien upon property of the debtor by means of a judgment, attachment, execution or kindred proceeding, the enforcement of which will enable the creditor to collect a greater percentage of his claim than other creditors of the same class, and the third is the failure of the debtor to vacate or discharge the lien and resulting preference five days
before a sale or final disposition of any property affected. Only through the combination of the three elements is the act of bankruptcy committed. Insolvency alone does not suffice, nor is it enough that it be coupled with suffering or permitting a creditor to obtain a preference by legal proceedings. The third element must also be present, else there is no act of bankruptcy within the meaning of this provision. All this is freely conceded by counsel for the petitioning creditor.
The questions propounded assume the existence of the first two elements and are intended to elicit instruction respecting the proper interpretation of the clause describing the third, namely, "and not having at least five days before a sale or final disposition of any property affected by such preference vacated or discharged such preference." It is to this point that counsel have addressed their arguments.
Without any doubt this clause shows that the debtor is to have until five days before an approaching or impending event within which to vacate or discharge the lien out of which the preference arises. What, then, is the event which he is required to anticipate? The statute answers, "a sale or final disposition of any property affected by such preference." As these words are part of a provision dealing with liens obtained through legal proceedings, and as the enforcement of such a lien usually consists in selling some or all of the property affected and applying the proceeds to the creditor's demand, it seems quite plain that it is to such a sale that the clause refers. And as there are instances in which the property affected does not require to be sold, as when it is money seized upon execution or attachment or reached by garnishment,1 it seems equally
1 See Turner v. Fendall, 1 Cranch, 117, 133; Sheldon v. Root, 16 Pick. 567; Crane v. Freese, 16 N. J. L. 305; Green v. Palmer, 15 California, 411, 418; 2 Bates' Ann. Ohio Statutes, §§ 5374, 5383, 5469, 5470, 5483, 5531, 5548, 5555.