No. 81.

188 U.S. 620 (1903)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided February 23, 1903.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Submitted by Mr. Harry J. Jaquith, in person, for appellant.

Argued by Mr. Clarence W. Rowley, in person, for appellees.

MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

This proceeding is governed by the principles decided in Bardes v. Hawarden Bank, 178 U.S. 524; Bryan v. Bernheimer, 181 U.S. 188, and Mueller v. Nugent, 184 U.S. 1.

The objection that it is not a suit within the meaning of the twenty-third section of the bankruptcy law is without force. The proceeding was a summary application to the court in bankruptcy to grant an order in a matter, the result of the granting of which would be to immediately take from the surety moneys which had been deposited with him before the commencement of the proceedings in bankruptcy, and thus compel him to come into the bankruptcy court for the litigation of questions as to his right to retain the money claimed by him. It would also enjoin the plaintiffs in the state suits from proceeding to collect their judgments from the surety in the bail bonds. To extend such a jurisdiction over an adverse claimant would be within the prohibition of section 23, a and b, whether such jurisdiction were exerted by an action strictly so-called or by a summary application to the court in bankruptcy. It is the exercise of jurisdiction which the section prohibits, and the particular method of procedure in the court is immaterial. The surety in whose hands the money was deposited to indemnify him for his liability on the bail bond was an adverse claimant within the meaning of that section of the act, and could not be proceeded against in the bankruptcy court unless by his consent, as provided for therein. It is not necessary in order to be an adverse claimant that the surety should claim to be the absolute owner of the property in his possession. It is sufficient if, as in the present case, the money was deposited with him to indemnify him for his liability upon the bail bond and that liability had not been determined and satisfied. If the trustee desire to test the question of the right of the surety to retain the money he must do so in accordance with the provisions of the section of the bankrupt law above referred to.

Bryan v. Bernheimer, 181 U.S. supra, does not, so far as the question here involved is concerned, touch or limit the decision in Bardes v. Hawarden Bank, 178 U.S. supra.

In Mueller v. Nugent, 184 U.S. 1, it was claimed that where property of a bankrupt came into the hands of a third party before the filing of the petition in bankruptcy, as the agent of the bankrupt, and to which the agent asserted no adverse claim, the bankruptcy court, nevertheless, had no power by summary proceedings to compel the surrender of the property to the trustee in bankruptcy duly appointed. In regard to this claim it was said by the court, through Mr. Chief Justice Fuller, as follows:

"In other words, the question reduces itself to this: Has the bankruptcy court the power to compel the bankrupt, or his agent, to deliver up money or other assets of the bankrupt, in his possession or that of some one for him, on petition and rule to show cause? Does a mere refusal by the bankrupt or his agent so to deliver up oblige the trustee to resort to a plenary suit in the Circuit Court or a state court, as the case may be? If it be so, the grant of jurisdiction to cause the estates of bankrupts to be collected, and to determine controversies relating thereto, would be seriously impaired, and, in many respects, rendered practically inefficient. The bankruptcy court would be helpless indeed if the bare refusal to turn over could conclusively operate to drive the trustee to an action to recover as for an indebtedness, or a conversion, or to proceedings in chancery, at the risk of the accompaniments of delay, complication, and expense, intended to be avoided by the simpler methods of the bankrupt law.

* * * * * * * *

"The position now taken amounts to no more than to assert that a mere refusal to surrender constitutes an adverse holding in fact and therefore an adverse claim when the petition was filed, and to that we cannot give our assent.

* * * * * * * *

"In this case, however, respondent asserted no right or title to the property before the referee, and the circumstances under which he held possession must be accepted as found by the referee and the District Court.

* * * * * * * *

"In the case before us, William T. Nugent held this money as the agent of his father, the bankrupt, and without any claim of adverse interest in himself. If it was competent to deal with Davidson, the assignee in the case of Bryan v. Bernheimer, by summary proceedings, William T. Nugent could be dealt with in the same way."

In other words, Nugent's case simply holds that, where the agent held money belonging to the bankrupt, to which he made no claim, but simply refused to give up the property, which he acknowledged belonged to the bankrupt, the bankruptcy court had power, by summary proceedings, to order him to deliver such property to the trustee in bankruptcy.

The case before us is wholly different. The surety claims the right to hold the money as against everybody until his liability on the bail bond is satisfied, and that claim is adverse to any claim that the trustee may make upon him for the money which is to indemnify him as stated.

There is no difference between the two plaintiffs in the state court on account of one having proved her claim in bankruptcy and the other having failed so to do. She did not waive her claim against the surety in the bail bond even by implication, but, on the contrary, stated that she intended to retain the same.

If the trustee has the right to obtain possession of the money from the surety, he must assert it in accordance with the provisions of section 23 of the bankruptcy act and not by this summary proceeding in bankruptcy.

The plaintiffs in the suits in the state court had the right to proceed to judgment in that court and to collect their judgments against the surety on the bail bond, and the court in bankruptcy had no power to prevent such proceedings in suits over which the state court had full cognizance. Eyster v. Gaff, 91 U.S. 521, cited in Bardes v. Hawarden Bank, supra.

Our conclusion is that the District Court was without jurisdiction in the matter submitted to it in the petition of the trustee, and its decree dismissing such petition for want of jurisdiction is, therefore,



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