The Federal question to be disposed of on this writ of error arises under the contract clause of the Constitution. The facts upon which its decision depends are not in dispute and may be thus summarized:
On the third day of August, 1887, the plaintiffs in error became respectively subscribers to and owners of capital stock in the Consolidated Barb Wire Company, a Kansas corporation, engaged in the business of manufacturing wire. But on January 15, 1899, they sold and transferred their stock, worth par, in good faith, to responsible parties and thereafter had no interest in the company. The fact of such transfer was made to appear on the books of the company. On the same date the company sold all its property and the good will of its business, the proceeds of the sale being distributed among the defendants as stockholders in the proportion of the stock held by each. And on the day last named the company suspended and did not thereafter resume business.
In 1900 W.H. Stevenson obtained a judgment against the company upon which execution was issued and returned "no property found." In 1903 two other judgments — each of which, it is admitted, being based upon a cause of action sounding in tort — were recovered against the company, one by Briggs, administrator, and one by Maxwell. No execution was issued on either of those judgments.
In 1903 Myers, the defendant in error, was appointed receiver of the Wire Company. As such receiver, and by authority of existing statutes, he brought an action in one of the Kansas courts against the present plaintiffs in error as stockholders to recover the amount of the above judgments. Upon final hearing the trial court gave judgments against the defendants, respectively, in certain amounts, to be paid by them in proportion to the stock owned by each. The case was carried to the Supreme Court of Kansas, and the judgment
At the time the defendants became stockholders in the Wire Company certain constitutional and statutory provisions relating to corporations were in force in Kansas. Those referred to by counsel are given, for convenience, in the margin.
By an act passed in 1899, and which went into effect January 11th, 1899, before the defendants sold their stock, the previous statute (Gen. Stat. 1868, c. 23, § 24) was so amended as to make it the duty of the president and secretary or the managing officer of each corporation for profit doing business in the State (other than banking, insurance and railroad corporations) as soon as any transfer, sale or change of ownership of stock is made, as shown on its books, "to at once file with the Secretary of State a statement of such change of ownership, giving the name and address of the new stockholder or stockholders, the number of shares so transferred, and the par value and the amount paid on such stock." The same statute provided that "no transfer of such stock shall be legal or binding until such statement is made as provided." Laws of Kans. Special Sess. 1898, c. 10, § 12, p. 33. It is not claimed that the above statement had been made or filed with the company prior to the sale by the defendants of their stock, or that it was ever filed, and the result is that the transfer made by the defendants of their stock (although the
But the defendants insist that as the statutes of Kansas did not, at the time they acquired their stock, require as a condition of its legal or binding transfer that a statement of such transfer should be filed with the Secretary of State, by the president, secretary or managing officer of the corporation, the subsequent statute imposing a condition of that kind impaired the obligation of the contract under which stockholders acquired their stock in violation of the Constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court of Kansas rejected this view and they were right.
In what way the transfer of the stock of a corporation shall be made and evidenced is a matter entirely within the governmental power of the State that creates the corporation, the State taking care that such power be not so exerted as to violate any right secured by the Supreme Law of the Land. It was never contemplated by the framers of the Constitution that the national authorities should supervise the action of a State upon such a subject, so long as the State did not transgress that instrument but kept within the limits of its reserved power to enact such reasonable laws or regulations as, in its judgment, were necessary or conducive to the general good. We can well understand how the State might have concluded that the statutory requirement in force when the defendants acquired their stock, to the effect that transfers of the stock of corporations created by the State (except certain corporations) should be transferable only on the books of the corporation, was not effective or sufficient; particularly, because such books might not be easily or at all accessible. And we can also well understand how the State might have reasonably concluded, in the interest of the public, particularly of purchasers of stock, and of stockholders as well, that the evidence of such transfers should appear from the records of some public office, like that of the Secretary of State. Hence,
Equally without merit is the contention that the statute of 1899 impaired the obligations of the stockholders' contract, in that it substituted for individual actions against them a suit in equity by a receiver appointed after judgment against the corporation. In becoming stockholders the defendants did not acquire a vested right in any particular mode of procedure adopted for the purpose of enforcing their liability as stockholders. It is a well-established doctrine that mere methods of procedure in actions on contract that do not affect the substantial rights of parties are always within the control of the State. It is to be assumed that parties make their contracts with reference to the existence of such power in the State.
Without expressing any opinion as to questions of a local character, we hold, for the reasons stated, that the statute of 1899 furnishes no valid basis for the contention that it impaired the obligation of the contract by which defendants acquired their stock. This is the only Federal question of a substantial character presented on this writ of error, and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Kansas must be affirmed.
It is so ordered.
"If any execution shall have been issued against the property or effects of a corporation, except a railway or a religious or charitable corporation, and there cannot be found any property whereon to levy such execution, then execution may be issued against any of the stockholders, to an extent equal in amount to the amount of stock by him or her owned, together with any amount unpaid thereon; but no execution shall issue against any stockholder, except upon an order of the court in which the action, suit or other proceedings shall have been brought or instituted, made upon motion in open court, after reasonable notice in writing to the person or persons sought to be charged; and, upon such motion, such court may order execution to issue accordingly; or the plaintiff in the execution may proceed by action to charge the stockholders with the amount of his judgment." Gen. Stat. Kans., 1868, c. 23, § 32, p. 198, Ib., 1889, par. 1192.
"A corporation is dissolved, first, by the expiration of the time limited in its charter, second, by a judgment of dissolution rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; but any such corporation shall be deemed to be dissolved for the purpose of enabling any creditors of such corporation to prosecute suits against the stockholders thereof to enforce their individual liability, if it be shown that such corporation has suspended business for more than one year, or that any corporation now so suspended from business shall for three months after the passage of this act fail to resume its usual and ordinary business." Gen. Stat. Kans., 1868, ch. 23, § 40, as amended by laws 1883, ch. 46, § 1, March 7; Ib., 1889, par. 1200.
"If any corporation, created under this or any general statute of this State, except railway or charitable or religious corporations, be dissolved leaving debts unpaid, suits may be brought against any person or persons who were stockholders at the time of such dissolution, without joining the corporation in such suit; and if judgment be rendered, and execution satisfied, the defendant or defendants may sue all who were stockholders at the time of dissolution, for the recovery of the portion of such debt for which they were liable, and the execution upon the judgment shall direct the collection to be made from property of each stockholder respectively; and if any number of stockholders (defendants in the case) shall not have property enough to satisfy his or their portion of the execution, then the amount of the deficiency shall be divided equally among all the remaining stockholders, and collections made accordingly, deducting from the amount a sum in proportion to the amount of stock owned by the plaintiff at the time the company dissolved." Gen. Stat. Kans., 1868, ch. 23, § 44, Oct. 31; Ib., 1889, par. 1204.
"No stockholder shall be liable to pay debts of the corporation, beyond the amount due on his stock, and an additional amount equal to the stock owned by him." Gen. Stat. Kans., 1868, c. 23, § 46; Ib., 1889, par. 1206.
By a statute passed in 1898, which took effect January 11th, 1899, the following section took the place of the above § 32:
"If any execution shall have been issued against the property or effects of a corporation, except a railway or a religious or charitable corporation, and there cannot be found any property upon which to levy such execution, such corporation shall be deemed to be insolvent; and upon application to the court from which said execution was issued, or to the judge thereof, a receiver shall be appointed, to close up the affairs of said corporation. Such receiver shall immediately institute proceedings against all stockholders to collect unpaid subscriptions to the stock of such corporation, together with the additional liability of such stockholders equal to the par value of the stock held by each. All collections made by the receiver shall be held for the benefit of all creditors, and shall be disbursed in such manner and at such times as the court may direct. Should the collections made by the receiver exceed the amount necessary to pay all claims against such corporation, together with all costs and expenses of the receivership, the remainder shall be distributed among the stockholders from whom collections have been made, as the court may direct; and in the event any stockholder has not paid the amount due from him, the stockholders making payment shall be entitled to an assignment of any judgment or judgments obtained by the receiver against such stockholder, and may enforce the same to the extent of his proportion of claims paid by them." Gen. Stat. Kans., 1868, ch. 23, § 32, as amended by L. 1898, ch. 10, § 14; Ib., Gen. Stat. 1901, par. 1302.
"The stockholders of every corporation, except railroad corporations or corporations for religious or charitable purposes, shall be liable to the creditors thereof for any unpaid subscriptions, and in addition thereto for an amount equal to the par value of the stock owned by them, such liability to be considered an asset of the corporation in the event of insolvency, and to be collected by a receiver for the benefit of all creditors." Gen. Stat. Kans., 1868, ch. 23, § 46, as amended in 1898, ch. 10, § 15.
When the defendants acquired their stock the statute that governed the transfer of stock in corporations was as follows:
"The stock of any corporation created under this act shall be deemed personal estate, and shall be transferable only on the books of the corporation, in such manner as the by-laws may prescribe; and no person shall, at any election, be entitled to vote on any stock, unless the same shall have been standing in the name of the person so claiming to vote, upon the books of the corporation, at least thirty days prior to such election; but no shares shall be transferred until all previous assessments thereon shall be fully paid." Gen. Stat. Kans., 1868, ch. 23, § 27, as amended by Laws 1879, ch. 88, § 1; Ib., 1889, par. 1184.
The above statute which was in force on and after January 11th, 1899:
" . . . It shall also be the duty of the president and secretary of any such corporation, as soon as any transfer, sale or change of ownership of any such stock is made as shown upon the books of the company, to at once file with the Secretary of State a statement of the new stockholder or stockholders, the number of shares so transferred, and the par value and the amount paid on such stock. No transfer of such stock shall be legal or binding until such statement is made as provided for in this act: provided, however that no transfers of stock shall release the party so transferring from the liability of the laws of this State as to stockholders of corporations for profit, for ninety days after such transfer and the filing and recording thereof in the office of the Secretary of State." § 12, Laws of Kansas, Special Session, 1898, p. 33.