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U.S. Supreme Court

Ogilvie v. Knox Insurance Company, 63 U.S. 22 How. 380 380 (1859)

Ogilvie v. Knox Insurance Company

63 U.S. (22 How.) 380




In a bill by judgment creditors against an incorporated insurance company and its stockholders to compel the latter to pay up the balance due on their several subscriptions to the stock, they cannot be allowed to defend themselves by an allegation that their subscriptions were obtained by fraud and misrepresentation of the agent of the company.

It is too late, after the investment is found to be unprofitable, and debts are incurred, for stockholders to withdraw their subscriptions, under such a pretense or plea.

It is not a sufficient objection to the bill for want of proper parties that all the creditors or stockholders are not sued. If necessary, the court may, at the suggestion of either party that the corporation is insolvent, administer its assets by a receiver, and thus collect all the subscriptions or debts to the corporation.

This was a bill filed on the equity side of the court by Ogilvie, Angle & Co., traders in partnership in Iowa, together with twelve other persons, citizens of Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan, against the Knox Insurance Company and against Levi Sparks and thirty-six other persons, subscribers to the capital stock of the company. Being a creditor's bill, filed by the complainants and such other creditors as might make themselves parties, thirty-two other creditors came in and made themselves parties to the suit. The bill alleged that the complainants had recovered divers judgments against the insurance company, upon which executions had issued, the return

Page 63 U. S. 381

to which had been, "no property;" that the other defendants severally subscribed for stock in the company, and were still indebted for it, payment not having been enforced by the company. The prayer of the bill was that they might be decreed to pay their subscriptions, and that the judgments might be satisfied from the fund thus produced.

At the September rules, 1852, the bill was taken pro confesso against all the defendants, but afterwards they all except the company appeared, demurred, and, upon the demurrer being overruled, answered. The securities, being the subscription notes, were brought into court. Collum's answer was adopted by most of the other defendants, which answer is particularly noticed in the opinion of this Court. After sundry other proceedings, not necessary to be mentioned, the court dismissed the bill, and the complainants appealed to this Court.

Page 63 U. S. 387

MR. JUSTICE GRIER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The complainants in this case are judgment creditors of the Knox Insurance Company. The numerous other defendants are stockholders of the company, and are severally charged as debtors to it, for the unpaid portion of the stock subscribed by them.

The company is insolvent, or at least is unable to pay its creditors, without calling in the capital subscribed and secured, but not actually paid in cash. This it has failed or refused to do. This bill is filed to compel these stockholders or debtors to the corporation to pay the amount of their debts, in order that the creditors of the company may obtain satisfaction.

The bill was taken pro confesso as against the corporation. The other defendants, being corporators, are consequently concluded as to the averments of the bill affecting them as such. As stockholders who have not paid in the whole amount of the stock subscribed and owned by them, they stand in the relation of debtors to the corporation for the several amounts due by each of them. As to them, this bill is in the nature of an attachment, in which they are called on to answer as garnishees of the principal debtor.

Where a number of special partners are incorporated to carry on the business of insurance, the stock subscribed and owned by the several stockholders or partners constitutes the capital or fund publicly pledged to all who deal with them. Insurance companies or corporations, unless they have the privilege of using their capital for banking purposes, seldom require the actual payment of it all in cash. Contracts of

Page 63 U. S. 388

insurance or indemnity, though not literally "gaming contracts," are nevertheless in the nature of wagers against the happening of a certain event. The calculation of chances is greatly in favor of the insurer. In a large number of policies, it is but reasonable to expect that the amount of premiums will exceed that of the losses. The insured are thus made to pay one another, and with common good fortune afford an overplus to make a dividend for the insurers. Hence the Knox Insurance Company, like others of the same description, did not require their stockholders to pay in cash more than ten percent of their several shares. They were allowed to retain the remaining ninety percent in their own possession, substituting therefor their bonds, or other securities. Thus every stockholder became a borrower from, and debtor to, be capital stock of the company. If in the course of events the chances were favorable, a dividend of twenty percent on capital would give a profit of two hundred on the money actually paid out by them. On the contrary, if they were adverse, the capital represented by securities must necessarily be paid in to satisfy the just debts of the company.

The ninety percent retained by the stockholders is as much a part of the capital pledged as the cash actually paid in. When that portion of the capital represented by these securities is required to pay the creditors of the company, the stockholders cannot be allowed to refuse the payment of them, unless they show such an equity as would entitle them to a preference over the creditors, if the capital had been paid in cash.

Let us now examine their defense, and see if they have established such an equity.

They do not deny that they paid the ten percent, gave their securities for the balance, and have received their certificates for their several shares of stock; but they contend that they are not bound to pay these securities, because the agent of the corporation, who took the subscriptions of stock made certain representations concerning the state of the affairs of the corporation, which were not true, and, as a consequence thereof, they are not bound to pay these securities.

Page 63 U. S. 389

The numerous defendants, with some immaterial variations and qualifications, adopt the answer of their co-defendant, Collum, which we shall give verbatim from the record, to show we have not misstated or mistaken the nature of the defense set up.

"And, by way of defense to said suit, said Collum alleges that just before he gave said note, accepted said first bill, Robert N. Carnan, an agent of said insurance company, came to Jeffersonville to procure persons there to give notes and bills for stock in said insurance company, and in order to induce said Collum to give his said note and accept said first bill for such stock, said Carnan, as such agent, then and there falsely and fraudulently said and represented to said Collum and in his hearing that stock in said insurance company to the amount of seventy-five dollars had then been subscribed for at Vincennes, and on the Wabash River, and all of said amount had then been paid or secured as the charter of said insurance company required. Said Collum did not then know nor then have the means of knowing to the contrary of said representations, and he fully believed them to be true, and with that belief he gave his said note and accepted said two bills for stock in said insurance company, and if he had not fully believed said representations, he would not have given said note nor accepted said bills or either of them. At the time said representations were so made, and said given and said first bill accepted, there had not been more than twenty-five thousand dollars of stock in said insurance company subscribed for and paid and secured, as said charter required, at Vincennes, on the Wabash River, which said Carnan then well knew. Said Carnan also, at and just before said Collum made his said note and accepted his said first bill, represented to him that said insurance company then had $40,000 of funds on hand, mostly in Eastern exchange, which they could not dispose of at Vincennes, and they wished to get stockholders at Jeffersonville, so as to have an officer of said insurance company there, and they would then send those funds there to be sold and used. Said Collum did not then know, and had no means of knowing to the contrary of said

Page 63 U. S. 390

representation, but he believed it, and it was a strong inducement with him to make his said note and accept his said bills; yet he is now informed and believes said representation was grossly false, and that said insurance company did not at that time have, and had not at any time had, that sum or anything like that sum of money on hand, and mostly in Eastern exchange, which they could not dispose of at Vincennes."

Carnan, who was examined as a witness, denies the charges made in this answer and declares that he was not authorized by the company to make such representations and did not make them.

To establish their defense, several of the defendants themselves were called as witnesses, alleging that as their responsibility was several and not joint, each one may be called as a witness for all the rest. Much of the argument of this case has been expended on the question of the competency of these witnesses to testify in their own case, but we do not think it necessary to decide it, as there are other facts in the case which show clearly that the matter pleaded cannot affect the relative rights of the parties in the case, assuming it to be true.

Those who seek to set aside their solemn written contracts by proving loose conversations should be held to make out a very clear case, and when they charge others with fraud founded on such evidence, their own conduct and acts which speak louder than words should be consistent with such an hypothesis. Assuming the fact that Carnan did make the representations charged, what was the conduct of these Jeffersonville stockholders, who now seek to repudiate their contracts on the allegation of fraud? After having a full opportunity to examine for themselves into the affairs of the company, they alleged no fraud, nor expressed any desire to withdraw their subscriptions; on the contrary, when fully informed that the amount of stock subscribed at Vincennes did not equal that taken at Jeffersonville, and when an offer was made to increase the Vincennes subscriptions so as to equal those at Jeffersonville, the defendants and those who acted with them objected and insisted that the lower the amount of stock, the

Page 63 U. S. 391

higher would be the dividend, and consequently it had better not be increased till after the first dividend of twenty-five percent had been made.

2. After the defendants had a full opportunity to know the situation of the company, its funds and its property, they organized at Jeffersonville a branch of the corporation, having resident directors at that place. This board met from time to time through the months of April, May, June, July, and up to 13th August, 1850. While there was a prospect of a dividend if 250 percent on the amount of cash paid in, their eyes were shut to the deceit supposed to have been practiced on them. In the month of May, a fire at Owensville, Kentucky, was reported in which the company lost about $50,000. His seemed to injure the prospect of the large dividend, yet even then it was not so clearly perceived that the defendants were defrauded.

The directors at Jeffersonville, who represented their interests, continued to meet till the middle of August and till a succession on losses made it apparent that the capital of the company would be nearly all required to pay for the losses incurred. When these facts became patent, the directors at Jeffersonville, at their last meeting in August, "after taking time to consider what was best to be done," concluded to consider themselves defrauded, and withdraw their capital from the company.

We need not cite authorities to show that this discovery was made too late and that a court of equity cannot receive such a pretense as a valid defense against the creditors of this corporation.

II. The objection made to the bill for want of proper parties is equally untenable. The creditors of the corporation are seeking satisfaction out of the assets of the company to which the defendants are debtors. If the debts attached are sufficient to pay their demands, the creditors need look no further. They are not bound to settle up all the affairs of this corporation, and the equities between its various stockholders or partners, corporators or debtors. If A is bound to pay his debt to the corporation in order to satisfy its creditors, he cannot

Page 63 U. S. 392

defend himself by pleading that these complainants might have got their satisfaction out of B quite as well. It is true, if it be necessary to a complete satisfaction to the complainants that the corporation be treated as an insolvent, the court may appoint a receiver with authority to collect and receive all the debts due to the company, and administer all its assets. In this way, all the other stockholders or debtors may be made to contribute.

For these reasons, we are of opinion that the decree of the circuit court should be

Reversed with costs, and that the record be remanded, with instructions to that court to enter a decree for the complainants against the respondents severally for such amount as it shall appear was due and unpaid by each of them on their shares of the capital stock of the Knox Insurance Company, and to have such other and further proceedings as to justice and right may appertain.

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