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U.S. Supreme Court

Washington Bridge Company v. Stewart, 44 U.S. 3 How. 413 413 (1845)

Washington Bridge Company v. Stewart

44 U.S. (3 How.) 413


After a case has been decided upon its merits and remanded to the court below, if it is again brought up on a second appeal, it is then too late to allege that the court had not jurisdiction to try the first appeal.

The Supreme Court has no power to review its decisions, whether in a case at law or in equity. A final decree in chancery is as conclusive as a judgment at law.

An affirmance by a divided Court, either upon a writ of error or appeal, is conclusive upon the rights of the parties.

This same case was before the Court at January term, 1840, and the decree of the court below affirmed by the Supreme Court, but in consequence of the Court's being equally divided, no opinion was given, and no report of the case published. It now came up on an allegation that it was improperly brought up before, as the decree, from which the appeal was taken, was said not to be a final decree.

The case was this:

The Washington Bridge Company were the owners of a bridge across the Potomac River, under a charter granted in 1808. In February, 1831, a large part of the bridge was broken up and carried away by the ice and flood, and in April, the president and directors called for an installment of ten dollars per share from the stockholders, for the purpose of repairing it. The defendants in error did not pay, and their shares were forfeited on 21 June, 1832, under the 8th section of the charter.

On 14 July, 1832, Congress passed an act to purchase the bridge, and appropriated $20,000 for that purpose, which they directed to be divided among the stockholders in the manner therein pointed out.

In May, 1833, the defendants in error filed a bill in the circuit

Page 44 U. S. 414

court claiming to be stockholders, and, as such, to be entitled to a distributive share of the purchase money. The bridge company resisted the claim on the ground that their shares had been forfeited, and in November, 1838, the cause came on for hearing on the bill, answers, exhibits, depositions, and general replication, when the court made the following decree:

"This cause having been set for hearing upon the bill, answer, general replication, exhibits, and evidence, and coming on to be heard and argued by counsel, it is, on this twenty-ninth day of November in the year eighteen hundred and thirty-eight, after full consideration, ordered, decreed, and adjudged, that the rights and interests of the complainants, and the other stockholders in said bill of complaint mentioned, and who have come in or may come in before the final determination of this cause, and procure themselves to be made parties to these proceedings, have not been and were not forfeited under and by virtue of the proceedings of said bridge company, stated and set forth in the said answer, and exhibits, and evidence, but that the same remain in full force and virtue, and that the said parties are respectively entitled to their proportion of the sum of $20,000, mentioned and stated in said bill of complaint as stockholders in said company, and that, in order to fix and adjust the said proportions or shares of said parties, there be first deducted the sum of $10,561.55, mentioned in said answer, being the sum advanced by certain stockholders, as therein mentioned, with interest thereon from the time the same was advanced to the time of the receipt of the said $20,000, being an average of nine months, for which said interest is to be calculated; also the sum of $568.25, being the amount of unclaimed dividends expended on the said bridge, with interest thereon from the time of said expenditure to the receipt of said $20,000, and that subject to such deductions, and, after the same shall have been made, the said complainants are respectively entitled to, and shall receive, their full share and proportion of the interest on the same, which shall have been earned and made of the said sums so due to them respectively pending this suit, under the investment made thereof by complainants."

"And it is ordered, that other items claimed to be deducted be rejected, no evidence having been offered to show their character or their amount."

"And it is further ordered, that the case be referred to the auditor, to state an account in conformity with the principles laid down in this decree."

From this decree the bridge company prayed an appeal to the Supreme Court, where, as has already been stated, it was affirmed by a divided Court.

In April, 1840, the case was referred by the circuit court to the auditor, who made the following report in November, 1841:

"The undersigned auditor, to whom was referred the papers in

Page 44 U. S. 415

this cause on 29 April, 1840, has had the same under examination, and, after a full consideration of the same, begs leave to make the following report:"

"That the amount of funds in the hands of Frederick May, President and Treasurer of the Washington Bridge Company, including interest on corporation stock received and to be received, on 30 June, 1841, is $22,221.52. That the amount refunded the stockholders of fifteen hundred and nineteen shares, which they had advanced towards repairing the bridge, with interest thereon according to the decree; the amount of unclaimed dividends which had been expended for said repair, and also directed to be refunded with interest for nine months; for debt due from the bridge company, including costs of suit; the trustee's commission, auditor's bill &c., and the payment to said fifteen hundred and nineteen shareholders of ten percent upon the cost of their stock, as per statement herewith submitted, amount to $18,991.11, leaving a balance in the trustee's hands of $3,222.41."

"That the holders of the four hundred and seventy-three shares, which were deemed by the company to have been forfeited (but which the court decided were not forfeited), according to the cost of the same, amount to $20,749.17, ten percent on the same (being the dividend paid to the first-mentioned stockholders) amounts to $2,074.91, as per statement B herewith, leaving a balance, after paying said amount, in the hands of the trustee of $1,147.50."

"In ascertaining the cost of the shares to the present claimants, the auditor has taken pains, as far as possible, to ascertain the same. The principal claimants are John Glenn and the Messrs. Stewarts. In the case of Mr. Glenn, he states on oath, that the stock belongs to the estate of Robert Barry, and is held by him as trustee or administrator. Barry was an original subscriber. In the case of the Stewarts, they claim as having obtained it from D. Stewart's estate in the course of distribution, not as purchaser. D. Stewart was an original subscriber. In all other cases, the scale furnished from the president of the company of the current price of the stock at the periods of transfer, have been the sole guide by which to fix the value. Several of the stockholders on the list are known to be dead, and it is not known to the auditor who their representatives are; but in making a distribution of this fund, their rights ought to be preserved, and their fair dividend paid when demanded."

"Dr. May, the trustee, claims $1,000 for his commission on the money received from the Treasury, $20,000, for the sale of the bridge. The charge has been objected to by some of the claimants, and the auditor has reduced it to $500; if he has erred in this, the court can correct it."

"The amount of the unclaimed dividends used for repairing the bridge, $568.25, and nine months' interest thereon, $25.57, making $593.82, has been in part paid, but a very considerable part, in all probability, never will be called for, as many of the persons who

Page 44 U. S. 416

were entitled to it are dead, and some insolvent; their representatives knowing nothing of the small amount so many years due. The complainants, however, in the present cause, have no claim on the unclaimed money due to others."

"As regards the disposition to be made of the balance which will remain in the hands of the trustee ($1,147.50) after paying the stockholders ten percent, the auditor begs reference to his remarks on the general statement herewith."

"Submitted by"


Whereupon the court made the following decree in the premises:

"The report of the auditor in this case having been filed, together with the accompanying statements by him made, and constituting part of the same, and being fully considered by the court, it is, this fourth day of June, eighteen hundred and forty-two, ordered and decreed, that the same be, and it is in all respects confirmed. And the said cause coming on for final hearing upon the bill, answer, replication, exhibits, evidence, report of auditor &c., and being maturely considered, it is further ordered, adjudged, and decreed, that the complainants are entitled to the relief prayed, in conformity with the report of said auditor as aforesaid, and that the relief be extended to the other stockholders in said company in the proportions and for the sums mentioned in the statement by the auditor of the stockholders in said company who have not participated in the dividends of said bridge company. And it is further ordered and decreed, that the said defendants pay over to said parties respectively, or to their solicitors on record, the said sum so due to them respectively, in conformity with said report and statement and of this decree, together with the costs of this suit to be taxed by the clerk, including the costs of the Supreme Court, on or before the first day of July, 1842, and file with said clerk, on or before said first day of July, 1842, a statement of said payments so made."

"By order of the court."

From this decree the bridge company appealed to the Supreme Court.

Page 44 U. S. 424

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