LONDON ASSURANCE COMPANY v. DRENNEN


116 U.S. 461 (1886)

LONDON ASSURANCE COMPANY v. DRENNEN & Others.

Supreme Court of United States.

Decided January 18, 1886.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. C.K. Davis and Mr. C.W. Bunn for plaintiff in error.


MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

This case has been once before in this court. Drennen v. London Assurance Co., 113 U.S. 51. It is an action upon two policies of fire insurance executed March 10, 1883, and covering certain goods, wares, and merchandise belonging to the firm of Drennen, Starr & Everett. Each policy contains the following provisions: "If the property be sold or transferred, or any change takes place in title or possession, (except by succession by reason of the death of the insured,) whether by legal process, or judicial decree, or voluntary transfer or conveyance, ... then, and in every such case, this policy shall be void." "If the interest of the assured in the property be any other than the entire, unconditional, and sole ownership of the property for the use and benefit of the assured, ... it must be so represented to the corporation and so expressed in the written part of this policy, otherwise the policy shall be void. When property has been sold or delivered, or otherwise disposed of, so that all interest or liability on the part of the assured herein named has ceased, this insurance on such property shall immediately terminate."

The insurer contends that after the execution of the policies, and before the loss of July 29, 1883, there was, by the voluntary act of the insured, a sale or transfer of the property, or such a change in title or possession as rendered the policies, by their terms, void. This defence rests entirely upon the claim that, prior to the loss, one Arndt was admitted as a partner in the firm of Drennen, Starr & Everett. The plaintiffs [below] deny that he ever became a partner with them, or ever acquired an interest in the property insured. Upon the record as it was at the former hearing, that question depended mainly upon the construction of the written agreement of May 24, 1883, which is given in full in 113 U.S. 52, whereby the insured agreed to receive Arndt "into their business," upon certain terms and conditions, among which are the following: That the company should be incorporated; that Arndt should pay into the firm for its use, on or before June 14, 1883, the sum of $5000, and a like sum on or before January 1, 1885, the latter amount, until paid, to be evidenced by his promissory note, dated January 1, 1883, and each payment to bear interest at eight per cent. from the date last named; that the business "to be carried on by the new company to be formed" — the name of which was to be thereafter determined — should be of the same nature as that then conducted by Drennen, Starr & Everett; and that "no change in the name or character" of that firm "shall be made until said corporation shall be formed." Arndt paid to the firm, on the 18th of June, 1883, the sum of $5000, and executed on the 3d of July of the same year the required note for a like amount, the money and note being entered to his individual credit on the books of Drennen, Starr & Everett. Upon this state of facts this court, reversing the judgment rendered for the insurer, said: "The instruction by the court below proceeded upon the ground that the payment by Arndt in cash and notes of the amount which he agreed to pay, and their receipt and entry upon the books of the firm to his credit, gave him an interest as partner in the business; whereas such facts only establish the performance of some, not of all, the conditions prescribed; for, by the agreement, the formation of the proposed corporation was expressly made a condition, with the others named, to Arndt's becoming interested in the business. In our judgment, looking at the whole agreement, the parties did not contemplate a partnership, and none was ever established between them. The agreement looked only to a corporation, the payment and other things specified being in preparation for its ultimate formation, which was an adequate, as it was the actual, consideration; consequently there was, prior to the loss, and under the most liberal interpretation of the policies, no change in the title or possession of the property, nor any transfer thereof, that avoided the policies."

At the last trial there was evidence to the effect that Arndt, after paying the $5000 in cash, and executing his note for the same amount, became entitled, by agreement with the insured, to participate in the profits of their business from January 1, 1883 — he paying interest on these amounts from that date. And there was some slight proof that Drennan upon one occasion spoke of Arndt as a member of his firm.

On behalf of the insured it is contended that, even if Arndt had become a partner in their firm, the policy would cover their interest in the property. This results, it is claimed, from that clause in the policy providing for the termination of the insurance if the property be sold or delivered or otherwise disposed of, "so that all interest or liability on the part of the insured herein named has ceased." We deem it unnecessary to consider this question, because the case can be satisfactorily determined upon other grounds. In view of all the evidence, the court, when delivering its charge, might well have assumed that there was no purpose on the part of the insured, or of Arndt, that the latter should have such an interest in the property as would belong to a partner. The court, therefore, rightfully refused to instruct the jury that upon the undisputed evidence Arndt became a partner in the firm of Drennen, Starr & Everett. Such an instruction could not have been given without disregarding the interpretation which this court at the former hearing gave to the written agreement of May 24, 1883; for, it was then said that the parties, by that agreement, appeared, ex industria, to have excluded the possibility of Arndt's acquiring an interest in or any control of the insured property in advance of the formation of an incorporated company. That interpretation was not affected by the fact that Arndt paid $5000 in cash and gave his note for a like amount; for, as heretofore said, those acts were simply in execution of the agreement and in preparation for the ultimate formation of the proposed corporation, and were not, as the court below properly decided, evidence of a partnership. The payment of the money and the execution of the note were plainly required by the agreement, and the purpose of both acts is to be ascertained from its provisions.

The main ground upon which the defendant, at the last trial, claimed exemption from liability on the policies, is indicated in two of its requests for instructions to the jury: 1. That "if it was not the understanding that Arndt became a lender of money, and if it was the understanding between the parties that the amount of his investment was to be risked in their business and become part of the capital stock, and he was to have a share of the net profits, he is not a mere lender, but a partner;" 2. That "when a person contributes a portion of the common capital stock, which is mingled with the contributions of other parties, and the whole is managed for the joint interests of those who contribute, the contributors each having a share of the net profits of the business, they become thereby partners as between themselves in the capital stock or property of the concern."

We are of opinion that the court did not err in declining to so instruct the jury. The question is not whether Arndt, by reason of his participation in the profits of the business of Drennen, Starr & Everett, could have been charged at the suit of creditors as a partner in that firm. The inquiry is, whether the insured, after the execution of the policies, and before the loss, sold or transferred the property covered by the policies, or whether there occurred, during that period, any change in title or possession. If there had been a sale or transfer of the entire property to one who had no interest in it nor any right to control it at the time the contract of insurance was made, there would undoubtedly have been such a change in the title as to render the policies void. And, for the purposes of the present case, it may be conceded that such would have been the result had Arndt become a partner in the firm of Drennen, Starr & Everett. But the sale or transfer to which the policies refer was one that would pass an interest in the property itself. Mere participation in profits would give no such interest contrary to the real intention of the parties. Persons cannot be made to assume the relation of partners, as between themselves, when their purpose is that no partnership shall exist. There is no reason why they may not enter into an agreement whereby one of them shall participate in the profits arising from the management of particular property without his becoming a partner with the others, or without his acquiring an interest in the property itself, so as to effect a change of title. As the charge to the jury was in accordance with these principles, and as the evidence conclusively showed that Arndt did not, prior to the loss, acquire an interest in, or any control of, the property insured, but was only entitled to participate in the profits arising from its management after a named date, there is no reason to disturb the judgment. It is, therefore,

Affirmed.


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