INDIANAPOLIS ROLLING-MILL CO. v. ST. LOUIS, FT. S. & W. R. CO.

120 U.S. 256 (7 S.Ct. 542, 30 L.Ed. 639)

INDIANAPOLIS ROLLING-MILL CO. v. ST. LOUIS, FT. S. & W. R. CO.1

Decided: January 31, 1887

H. C. McDougall, for plaintiff in error.

John F. Dillon, for defendant in error.

MILLER, J.

This is a writ of error to the circuit court of the United States for the district of Kansas. The plaintiff in error, which was also the plaintiff below, is a corporation existing under the laws of Indiana, and doing business in that state. The defendant in error is a corporation of the state of Kansas. The latter company, while building its railroad, contracted on the eighth day of October, 1881, with the former for the purchase of iron rails. The contract was for 10,000 tons, to be delivered, during the period between October and June inclusive, on board of the railroad cars at Indianapolis. A jury was waived, and the case was tried before the court, which made a finding of facts, on which it declared the law to be for the defendant, and rendered judgment accordingly. During the trial the defendant company produced a release, apparently executed by the plaintiff company, from the obligation of the contract to receive and pay for the iron, except so far as it had been fulfilled, and upon the validity oft his release the decision depends.

It appears from the facts found by the court that the plaintiff was in the habit of receiving payment for iron delivered, by drafts on the defendant, payable in New York, and that Moran Bros. were the financial agents of the defendant, through whom such payments were made; that drafts to the amount of $54,000 were due on the fourth day of October, 1882, and the company, being hard pressed for money, asked an extension of payment, which was granted for four months; that when these drafts again fell due, they were protested for non-payment, and the defendant company was insolvent, which fact was well known to the plaintiff. It appears, also, that Mr. Thomas, who was the treasurer of the plaintiff company, visited New York, and called upon the firm of Moran Bros., at whose banking-house said drafts were payable, and evdeavored to induce them to pay the drafts, but that Moran Bros., who had no funds of the defendant's at the time, declined to do so, but finally said: 'We, Moran Brothers, will pay these drafts if you will sign a release for the balance of the contract.' To this Mr. Thomas replied that he was not authorized to execute such a release; but he communicated with Mr. Jones, who was the president and superintendent of the company, and obtained from him authority to accept the money and sign the release. This was accordingly done, the release being dated 'New York, eighth February, 1883,' and signed 'INDIANAPOLIS ROLLING—MILL Co., by J. THOMAS, Treasurer.' It is said by the plaintiff that Mr. Thomas had no authority to execute this release, or to make this contract, and therefore it is void. Bearing upon this proposition, it is found, as a matter of fact, by the court, that Mr. Jones was president, and Mr. Thomas treasurer, at the time of this transaction. The original contract for the sale of the iron is executed by Mr. Jones, as president, without the seal of the company, and there is no evidence of any resolution of the board of directors authorizing or approving that contract. The by-laws of the plaintiff corporation, as the court finds, declare that the superintendent, who is this case was Mr. Jones, 'shall have charge of the works, property, and operations of the company, and shall employ all operatives, and certify all wages due and other expenditures to the secretary, * * * and shall, with the approval of the president, buy and sell material, and make all contracts for the same, and for work,' etc. And the court further finds that, under this bylaw, Mr. Jones had the power to buy and sell material, and to make all contracts for the same. Another by-law declares that 'the superintendent and all other persons shall in all cases be subject to the control of the board of directors, in everything where the board shall elect to exercise such control;' and the court finds that, in the making of the original contract sued on, and in the extension of the time for the payment of drafts, as hereinafter mentioned, the board of directors of plaintiff did not at any time or in any way elect to exercise the control over its officers given said board by said by-laws. The court further finds 'that, after the return of Mr. Thomas from the city of New York to Indianapolis, some time in March, there was a meeting of the board of directors of plaintiff, at which the validity of the release executed by Mr. Thomas was discussed, but the records do not show that at that particular meeting any definite action was taken; that the directors at that meeting did in fact agree to submit the question to counsel of plaintiff, let him investigate it, and then act upon his advice; that about two years after this meeting, and a year and a half after this suit was commenced, a nunc pro tunc entry was made upon the records of plaintiff of the proceedings of plaintiff's board of directors, which showed a repudiation upon the part of the board of directors of the release so executed; and that this suit was originally instituted in this court at the first term hereof after the execution of the release.'

We concur with the court below that on the facts thus stated the release was a valid release. Its execution was of that class of business which, under the by-laws of the corporation and the course of business between these parties, had been confided to the president and superintendent, both of which offices were held by Mr. Jones. The direction given by Mr. Jones to the treasurer, Mr. Thomas, both of whom were also directors in the corporation, was within the line of his authority. He had under this same authority, without any express resolution or ratification of the board of directors, made the contract on which this suit is brought; and it would seem that, not being under seal, a simple contract concerning the ordinary business of the company, the same power which enabled him to make it was sufficient to enable him to release it, unless the power had been withdrawn. Another principle leads to the same result. These by-laws show that the board of directors retained the power in their hands to control the president and superintendent in any transaction, whenever it was thought proper to do so. This matter was reported to the directors. They had a meeting upon the subject some six weeks after the whole thing had been consummated, and after they had received the benefit of the release by the payment of their drafts. The rule of law upon the subject of the disaffirmance or ratification of the acts of an agent required that, if they had the right to disaffirm it. They should do it promptly, and if, after a reasonable time, they did not so disaffirm it, a ratification would be presumed. In regard to this it appears that the board, when notified of what had been done by their agents, did not disaffirm their action at that time, but that the act or resolution of disaffirmance was passed about two years after notice of the transaction, and that, if the suit brought in this case can be considered as an act of disaffirmance, it came too late, as it was commenced some six months after they had knowledge of the release. As was stated in the somewhat analogous $w260 case of Twin Luck Oil Co. v. Marbury, 91 U. S. 592, 'the authorities to the point of the necessity of the exercise of the right of rescinding or avoiding a contract or transaction as soon as it may be reasonably done, after the party with whom that right is optional is aware of the facts which gave him that option, are numerous. * * * The more important are as follows: Badger v. Badger, 2 Wall. 87; Harwood v. Railroad Co., 17 Wall. 78; Marsh v. Whitmore, 21 Wall. 178; Vigers v. Pike, 8 Clark & F. 650; Wentworth v. Lloyd, 32 Beav. 467; Follansbe v. Kilbreth, 17 Ill. 522.' See, also, Gold-mining Co. v. National Bank, 96 U. S. 640; Law v. Cross, 1 Black, 533.

It is said that the release was without consideration, because Moran Bros. had the means in their hands to pay the drafts of the property of the defendants, but we think the finding of facts clearly disproves that; indeed, the court found, as a matter of fact, that the defendants were then insolvent, and that Moran Bros. had no funds in their hands out of which they could have paid the drafts. It is obvious, therefore, that the consideration for this release was the voluntary payment by Moran Bros. of the existing protested drafts of the plaintiff company out of their own means, and not out of the means of the defendant corporation. We think this was a sufficient consideration to support the release.

The judgment of the circuit court is therefore affirmed.

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1

Affirming 26 Fed. Rep. 140.