MR. JUSTICE STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.
At the trial of this case in the Circuit Court the extraordinary number of thirty-three exceptions were taken by the plaintiff in error, and signed by the judge. It does not, however, always happen that the merits of a case brought in error are to be measured by the number of exceptions taken in the inferior court, or by the number of errors assigned. In this case, the real questions — the only ones that need particular attention — are few.
The plaintiff below brought suit upon twenty-five bonds, or rather notes, each for the sum of $1,000, which, as he alleged, had been issued by the township in pursuance of and under authority of law. Of course, it was incumbent upon him to prove that the town was authorized to create the instruments, and to dispose of them in the manner in which disposition of them was made. The authority relied upon was an act of the legislature passed on the 16th of April, 1852, entitled "An
"It shall be lawful for the supervisor of any town in the county of Cayuga" (the town of Scipio being one), "and the assessors of such town, who are appointed by this act as commissioners to act in conjunction with the said supervisor in effecting and executing the purposes of this act, to borrow, on the faith and credit of said town, such a sum of money as they may deem necessary, not to exceed $25,000, for a term of time not to exceed twenty years, with such rate of interest as may be agreed upon, not exceeding seven per cent per annum, and to execute therefor, under their official signatures, a bond or bonds on which the interest shall be made payable annually or semi-annually during the term said money may be borrowed... . All moneys borrowed under the authority of this act shall be paid over to the president and directors of such railroad company (now organized, or such company as may be organized, according to the provisions of the general railroad law, passed April 2, 1850), as may be expressed by the written assent of two-thirds of the resident tax-payers of said town, to be expended by such president and directors in grading, constructing, and maintaining a railroad or railroads passing through the city of Auburn, and connecting Lake Ontario with the Susquehanna and Cayuga Railroad, or the New York and Erie Railroad: Provided always, that the said supervisor and commissioners shall have no power to do any of the acts authorized by this act, until a railroad company has been duly organized according to the requirements of the general railroad law for the purpose of constructing the aforesaid described railroad, and the written assent of two-thirds of the resident persons taxed in said town, as appearing on the assessment-roll of such town made next previous to the time such money may be borrowed, shall have been obtained by such supervisor and commissioners, or some one or more of them, and filed in the clerk's office of Cayuga County, together with the affidavit of such supervisor or commissioners, or any two of them, attached to such statement, to the effect that the persons whose written assents are thereto attached and filed as aforesaid comprise two-thirds of all the resident tax-payers of said town on its assessment-roll next previous thereto."
"SECT. 2. It shall be lawful for the supervisor and commissioners of any town in said county, on obtaining and filing such assent, as provided in the first section, to subscribe for and take in the name of and for said town, such a number of shares of the capital stock of such company as shall or may be organized for the purpose of constructing the aforesaid described railroad or railroads, as will be equal to the amount of the bonds executed under the authority of this act."
The tenth section made it the duty of the electors of the town to elect at the next annual town meeting two commissioners to act in conjunction with the town supervisor in carrying into effect the provisions of the act.
At the time when this act was passed, so far as it appears, there was no organized company in existence with power to build such a railroad as the act described; but on the 23d of August next following, articles of association of such a company, organized under the general railroad laws of the State for the purpose of constructing a railroad from Lake Ontario to the Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad, passing through Auburn and Scipio, were filed in the office of the Secretary of State. Subsequently to the formation of this company, the supervisors and assessors of the town obtained a written assent of three hundred and one residents and taxables of the town, appearing on the assessment-roll for the year 1852, and on the 8th of December, 1852, two of the assessors made oath that the persons whose written assents were attached thereto comprised two-thirds of all resident tax-payers of the town of Scipio, on the assessment-roll thereof for the year 1852. These assents and the affidavit indorsed thereon were filed in the clerk's office of Cayuga County on Jan. 11, 1853. On the 1st of March, 1853, two railroad commissioners were duly elected for the town, and on the 16th of May next following, they, together with the supervisor, in the name and for the town, subscribed upon the books of the said railroad company for five hundred shares of fifty dollars each of its capital stock. On the 20th of the same month they executed by their official signatures the twenty-five notes in suit, payable to
It is contended by the plaintiff in error that the bonds were unauthorized; because, as it is alleged, the written assent of the tax-payers did not conform in substance or meaning to the requirement of the statute, in that it did not "express the railroad corporation to which the moneys to be borrowed by the town should be paid." We think this position is quite untenable. The identification of the company in the written assent is as perfect as it would have been had it been described by its corporate name. The statute did not require that the tax-payers should "express" (that is, designate) the company by its name. Any mode of description that designated it was sufficient. The assent authorized the commissioners to pay the money borrowed, for which the bonds were to be given, "to the president and directors of a railroad company organized according to the requirements of the general railroad laws for the purpose of constructing a railroad connecting Lake Ontario with the Susquehanna and Cayuga Railroad, and passing through the city of Auburn." This was in strict conformity with the description given in the statute. It fitted exactly the company organized in August, 1852, and there cannot be a doubt that the assent was intended to designate that company. There was no other company in existence to which the description could apply. Unless, therefore, the word "express," as used in the statute, was intended to convey some other meaning than "described" or "designated" (which can be maintained
A second position taken by the plaintiff in error is that all the bonds except three are void, because they were issued after the assents of the tax-payers as appearing on the assessment-roll of the town for the year 1852 had spent their force and ceased to be authority. This is founded upon the phraseology of the statute, which requires as a prerequisite to any action by the commissioners that the written assent of two-thirds of the resident persons taxed in said town, as appearing on the assessment-roll made next previous to the time such money may be borrowed, shall be obtained, verified, and filed in the clerk's office. Recalling the facts, heretofore stated, the written assent of the required number of tax-payers on the assessment-roll of 1852 was obtained and verified, and it was filed on the 11th of January, 1853. Then the authority to issue the bonds, borrow the money, subscribe for the stock, and elect railroad commissioners became perfect. The town did elect railroad commissioners on the 1st of March, 1853, the subscription for the stock of the company was made, a debt of $25,000 therefor was incurred, and the bonds or notes for an equal amount were executed, and at least some of them were sold at par and the proceeds of the sale were paid on account of the subscription, all before any new assessment-roll could be completed and before the law required any to be made. For all this there was complete authority. Every thing had been done which was required to authorize the creation of the indebtedness to the railroad company. Did the legislature intend that after the town had lawfully created a debt and lawfully executed bonds with which to borrow the money necessary to pay it (bonds confessedly authorized at the time when they were made), the bonds should become void if the money could not be borrowed within two months and a half, or between May 20 and Aug. 1, 1853? Did it intend thus to leave the debt in existence, and at the same time to take away the power to provide means for its payment? Such a construction of the act would be most unreasonable. It would be standing upon the letter and ignoring the spirit of the statute. It would be closing our eyes to the only substantial
But the second section authorized a subscription to the capital stock and the consequent assumption of a legal liability to the company, equal to the amount of the bonds issued, which might be discharged afterwards by levying a tax, or by borrowing money, giving bonds therefor, and paying it over. Nothing in the act postponed a subscription for stock until the money to pay for it could be borrowed. This debt was incurred before the assessment-roll of 1853 had any existence. The right to incur it when it was incurred was, therefore, complete. The exercise of the power was warranted by the written assent filed. For these reasons we think the instruments sued upon are not invalid, because they were not issued until after Aug. 1, 1853, when the assessment-roll for that year was by law required to be completed.
This objection has no application to the first eight bonds, numbered from 1 to 8 inclusive. They were sold at par, and the proceeds were paid over to the company. This was, as we have said, a substantial borrowing. The facts respecting the remaining seventeen, as they appear in the record, may be thus summarized: —
On the 7th of January, 1854, the railroad company received from the "railroad commissioners" of the town the seventeen bonds, nominally at par, and indorsed "full paid" on the certificate of stock, which the town had previously taken, and upon which $8,000, the proceeds of the first eight bonds, had been paid. This arrangement was accompanied by a written understanding that the company might at any time within eight months from Oct. 11, 1853, redeliver the bonds, or any part of them, to the town, and reduce the amount of credit on the certificate accordingly; and that if the company should sell the bonds for more than par, it should account to the town for the excess, but that the town might at any time within the said eight months, and prior to the sale of the bonds by the company, have the right to demand the redelivery thereof on payment to the company of the par value. The bonds were never redelivered, nor were they demanded. Some time after Jan. 7, 1854 (when does not exactly appear), Slocum Howland bought the seventeen bonds from the railroad company, with notice that money had not been borrowed upon them, but that they had been transferred by the town supervisor and railroad commissioners, or one or more of them, in the first instance to the company in exchange for its stock. What Howland paid for them, whether the company obtained their full par value, is not proved.
Howland held the bonds until 1874, after they became due, when he sold them to the plaintiff, taking his note for the whole
The statute prescribed the manner in which the power it conferred should be exercised. The town was at liberty to subscribe for stock, but if bonds were used to pay for it the mode of use was directed to be borrowing money with them and paying the money to the railroad company. It is quite
It thus appears to be the settled construction given by the courts of New York to the act under which the bonds now in suit were issued, and to other similar acts, that they do not authorize an exchange of bonds for shares of the capital stock of railroad companies, and that a purchaser who had notice at the time of his purchase that such a disposition of the bonds was made by the town officers or railroad commissioners, cannot recover in a suit brought upon them.
We find no decision of the Court of Appeals that is in conflict with what was ruled in the cases we have cited, or which weakens their authority, and as they are constructions of a State statute, we are constrained to follow them. Gould v. The Town of Oneonta (71 N.Y. 298), to which we have been referred, presented an entirely different question. A statute enacted in 1859 had authorized the transfer of the bonds directly to the railroad company in payment of the stock.
Our conclusion, then, is that the Circuit Court erred in declining to instruct the jury, as requested, substantially, that upon
We find no other error in the record.
The judgment will be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial; and it is
MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD and MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE dissented.