No. 221.

149 U.S. 473 (1893)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 15, 1893.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. J.M. Flower for appellants.

Mr. Cushman K. Davis for appellees.

Mr. Frank B. Kellogg filed a brief for Sabin and O'Gorman, appellees.

Mr. Frank W.M. Cutcheon filed a brief for The Minnesota Thresher Manufacturing Co., appellee.

MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The right to maintain a suit against the officers of a corporation for fraudulent misappropriation of its property is a right of the corporation; and it is only when the corporation will not bring the suit, that it can be brought by one or more stockholders in behalf of all. Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450. The suit, when brought by stockholders, is still a suit to enforce a right of the corporation, and to recover a sum of money due to the corporation; and the corporation is a necessary party, in order that it may be bound by the judgment. Davenport v. Dows, 18 Wall. 626. If the corporation becomes insolvent, and a receiver of all its estate and effects is appointed by a court of competent jurisdiction, the right to enforce this and all other rights of property of the corporation vests in the receiver, and he is the proper party to bring suit, and, if he does not himself sue, should properly be made a defendant to any suit by stockholders in the right of the corporation. All this is admitted in the plaintiffs' bill, as well as in the brief and argument submitted in their behalf.

The grounds on which they attempt to maintain this suit are that the court which appointed the receiver has denied his petition for authority to bring it, as well as an application of the plaintiffs for leave to make him a party to this bill.

Their position rests on a misunderstanding of the nature of the office and duties of a receiver appointed by a court exercising chancery powers, and of the extent of the jurisdiction and authority of the court itself.

In Brinckerhoff v. Bostwick, 88 N.Y. 52, and Ackerman v. Halsey, 10 Stewart, (37 N.J. Eq.) 356, cited for the plaintiffs, in which stockholders of a national bank were permitted to bring such a suit when a receiver had refused to bring it, the receiver was not appointed by a judicial tribunal, but by the comptroller of the currency, an executive officer.

When a court exercising jurisdiction in equity appoints a receiver of all the property of a corporation, the court assumes the administration of the estate; the possession of the receiver is the possession of the court; and the court itself holds and administers the estate, through the receiver as its officer, for the benefit of those whom the court shall ultimately adjudge to be entitled to it. Wiswall v. Sampson, 14 How. 52, 65; Peale v. Phipps, 14 How. 368, 374; Booth v. Clark, 17 How. 322, 331; Union Bank v. Kansas City Bank, 136 U.S. 223; Thompson v. Phenix Ins. Co., 136 U.S. 287, 297.

It is for that court, in its discretion, to decide whether it will determine for itself all claims of or against the receiver, or will allow them to be litigated elsewhere. It may direct claims in favor of the corporation to be sued on by the receiver in other tribunals, or may leave him to adjust and settle them without suit, as in its judgment may be most beneficial to those interested in the estate. Any claim against the receiver or the corporation, the court may permit to be put in suit in another tribunal against the receiver, or may reserve to itself the determination of; and no suit, unless expressly authorized by statute, can be brought against the receiver without the permission of the court which appointed him. Barton v. Barbour, 104 U.S. 126; Texas & Pacific Railway v. Cox, 145 U.S. 593, 601.

The reasons are yet stronger for not allowing a suit against a receiver appointed by a state court to be maintained, or the administration by that court of the estate in the receiver's hands to be interfered with, by a court of the United States, deriving its authority from another government, though exercising jurisdiction over the same territory. The whole property of the corporation within the jurisdiction of the court which appointed the receiver, including all its rights of action, except so far as already lawfully disposed of under orders of that court, remains in its custody, to be administered and distributed by it. Until the administration of the estate has been completed and the receivership terminated, no court of the one government can by collateral suit assume to deal with rights of property or of action, constituting part of the estate within the exclusive jurisdiction and control of the courts of the other. Wiswall v. Sampson, Peale v. Phipps and Barton v. Barbour, above cited; Williams v. Benedict, 8 How. 107; Pulliam v. Osborne, 17 How. 471, 475; People's Bank v. Calhoun, 102 U.S. 256; Heidritter v. Elizabeth Oil Cloth Co., 112 U.S. 294; In re Tyler, ante, 164.

The state court, upon further hearing or information, may hereafter reconsider its former orders, so far as no rights have lawfully vested under them, and may permit its receiver to sue or be sued upon any controverted claim. But should it prefer not to do so, the right of action of the corporation against its delinquent officers, like other property and rights of the corporation, will remain within the exclusive jurisdiction of that court, so long as the receivership exists.

It is not material to the decision of this case whether the sale of the entire assets of the corporation by order of the state court did or did not pass this right of action to the purchaser. If it did, neither the corporation, nor the receiver or any other person asserting this right in its behalf, can maintain an action thereon. If it did not, the right of action remains part of the estate of the corporation within the exclusive custody and jurisdiction of the state court.

Decree affirmed.


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