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U.S. Supreme Court

Gue v. Tide Water Canal Company, 65 U.S. 24 How. 257 257 (1860)

Gue v. Tide Water Canal Company

5 U.S. (24 How.) 257




A corporate franchise to take tolls on a canal cannot be seized and sold under a fieri facias unless authorized by a statute of the state which granted the act of incorporation.

Neither can the lands or works essential to the enjoyment of the franchise be separated from it and sold under a fi. fa. so as to destroy or impair the value of the franchise.

The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

Page 65 U. S. 262

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

It appears from the record in this case that a judgment was obtained by Robert Gue, the appellant, against the Tide Water Canal company in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland, upon which he issued a fieri facias, and the marshal seized and advertised for sale a house and lot, sundry canal locks, a wharf, and sundry other lots, all of which property, it is admitted, belonged to the Canal company in fee.

The Canal company thereupon filed their bill in the circuit court praying an injunction to prohibit the sale of this property under the fieri facias. The injunction was granted, and afterwards, on final hearing, made perpetual. And from this decree the present appeal was taken.

The Tide Water canal is a public improvement situated in the State of Maryland and constructed and owned by a joint stock company chartered by the State of Maryland for that purpose. The canal extends from Havre de Grace in Maryland to the Pennsylvania line, and it is admitted that the property levied on is necessary for the uses and working of the canal.

Upon the matters alleged in the bill and answer, several questions of much interest and importance have been raised by the respective parties, and discussed in the argument here. But we do not think it necessary to decide them, nor to refer to them particularly, because if it should be held that this property is liable to be sold by a judicial proceeding for the payment of this debt, yet it would be against equity and unjust to the other creditors of the corporation, and to the corporators who own the stock, to suffer the property levied on to be sold under this fi. fa., and consequently the circuit court was right in granting the injunction.

Page 65 U. S. 263

The Tide Water canal is a great thoroughfare of trade, through which a large portion of the products of the vast region of country bordering on the Susquehanna River usually passes in order to reach tidewater and a market. The whole value of it to the stockholders consists in a franchise of taking toll on boats passing through it, according to the rates granted and prescribed in the act of assembly which created the corporation. The property seized by the marshal is of itself of scarcely any value, apart from the franchise of taking toll, with which it connected in the hands of the company, and if sold under this fieri facias without the franchise, would bring scarcely anything, but would yet, as it is essential to the working of the canal, render the property of the company in the franchise, now so valuable and productive, utterly valueless.

Now it is very clear that the franchise or right to take toll on boats going through the canal would not pass to the purchaser under this execution. The franchise being an incorporeal hereditament, cannot, upon the settled principles of the common law, be seized under a fieri facias. If it can be done in any of the states, it must be under a statutory provision of the state; and there is no statute of Maryland changing the common law in this respect. Indeed, the marshal's return and the agreement of the parties shows it was not seized, and consequently, if the sale had taken place, the result would have been to destroy utterly the value of the property owned by the company, while the creditor himself would most probably realize scarcely anything from these useless canal locks, and lots adjoining them.

The record and proceedings before us show that there were other creditors of the corporation to a large amount, some of whom loaned money to carry on the enterprise. And it would be against the principles of equity to allow a single creditor to destroy a fund to which other creditors had a right to look for payment, and equally against the principles of equity to permit him to destroy the value of the property of the stockholders, by dissevering from the franchise property which was essential to its useful existence.

Page 65 U. S. 264

In this view of the subject, the Court does not deem it proper to express any opinion as to the right of this creditor, in some other form of judicial proceeding, to compel the sale of the whole property of the corporation, including the franchise, for the payment of his debt. Nor do we mean to express any opinion as to the validity or operation of the deeds of trust and acts of assembly of the State of Maryland, referred to in the proceedings. If the appellant has a right to enforce the sale of the whole property, including the franchise, his remedy is in a court of chancery, where the rights and priorities of all the creditors may be considered and protected, and the property of the corporation disposed of to the best advantage, for the benefit of all concerned. A court of common law, from the nature of its jurisdiction and modes of proceeding, is incapable of accomplishing this object; and the circuit court was right in granting the injunction, and its decree is therefore


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