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decided: May 28, 1900.



Author: Gray

[ 178 U.S. Page 545]

 MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after making the above statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The material facts of this case may be briefly recapitulated. After the District Court of the United States had adjudged Schloerb and Schickedantz bankrupts on their own petition, and had referred the case to a referee in bankruptcy, and the referee had taken possession of the bankrupts' stock of goods in their store, and had caused the entrance of the store to be locked up, and before the appointment of the trustee in bankruptcy, a writ of replevin of some of those goods was sued out by other persons against the bankrupts from an inferior court of the State of Wisconsin, and was executed by the sheriff of the country, by his deputy, by forcibly entering the store and taking possession of these goods. The bankrupts thereupon presented to the District Court of the United States a petition, setting forth the above facts, and alleging that the goods replevied were their lawful property, and had been purchased by them of the plaintiffs in replevin, and were now in the possession of the sheriff and his deputy and the attorney of those plaintiffs; and praying that they might be compelled to redeliver the goods to the District Court sitting in bankruptcy, and be restrained from making any disposition thereof. Upon the filing of this petition, the court ordered notice thereof

[ 178 U.S. Page 546]

     to said sheriff, deputy and attorney. In answer thereto, they contended that the court had no jurisdiction over the subject matter; and offered evidence that the grounds of their action of replevin were that the bankrupts had purchased and obtained the goods from them by false and fraudulent representations on which they relied, and that, before suing out the writ of replevin, they had elected to rescind the sale, and had demanded of the bankrupts a return of the goods. The District Court, upon a hearing, made an order restraining the respondents from selling or otherwise disposing of the goods replevied, and directing them to deliver the goods to the trustee in bankruptcy, and directing the trustee, on such delivery, to keep them apart from other property, to abide the further order of the court.

The questions certified concern, not the trial of the title to these goods, but only the judicial custody and lawful possession of them.

Under sections 33-43 of the Bankrupt Act of 1898 and the Twelfth General Order in Bankruptcy, referees in bankruptcy are appointed by the courts of bankruptcy, and take the same oath of office as judges of United States courts, each case in bankruptcy is referred by the court of bankruptcy to a referee, and he exercises much of the judicial authority of that court. 30 Stat. 555-557; 172 U.S. 657.

At the date of this adjudication in bankruptcy by the District Court of the United States, the goods were in the store of the bankrupts, and in their actual possession, and were claimed by them as their property. On the same date, that court referred the case to a referee in bankruptcy, and by his direction the entrance to the store was locked. The goods were then in the lawful possession of and custody of the referee in bankruptcy, and of the bankruptcy court, whose representative and substitute he was. Being thus in the custody of a court of the United States, they could not be taken out of that custody upon any process from a state court.

So far as regards this point, the decision of this court in Freeman v. Howe, 24 How. 450, more than covers the case. It was there adjudged that property taken and held by a marshal

[ 178 U.S. Page 547]

     on a writ of attachment from a court of the United States, directing him to attach the property of one person, could not be taken from his possession on a writ of replevin from a state court in behalf of another person who claimed the attached property as his own. See also Peck v. Jenness, 7 How. 612, 625; Buck v. Colbath, 3 Wall. 334, 341; Covell v. Heyman, 111 U.S. 176, 182.

The second question certified relates to this point, although it is not so clearly expressed as it might be, and omits to mention in whose possession the property was when the writ of replevin was sued out. To that question, as explained and restricted by the facts set forth in the statement which accompanies it, our answer is: "After an adjudication in bankruptcy, an action of replevin in a state court cannot be commenced and maintained against the bankrupt to recover property in the possession of and claimed by the bankrupt at the time of that adjudication, and in the possession of a referee in bankruptcy at the time when the action of replevin is begun."

The first question remains: "Whether the District Court sitting in bankruptcy had jurisdiction by summary proceedings to compel the return of the property seized?"

By section 720 of the Revised Statutes, "The writ of injunction shall not be granted by any court of the United States to stay proceedings in any court of a State, except in cases where such injunction may be authorized by any law relating to proceedings in bankruptcy." Among the powers specifically conferred upon the court of bankruptcy by section 2 of the Bankrupt Act of 1898 are to "(15) make such orders, issue such process, and enter such judgments, in addition to those specifically provided for, as may be necessary for the enforcement of the provisions of this act." 30 Stat. 546. And by clause 3 of the Twelfth General Order in Bankruptcy applications to the court of bankruptcy "for an injunction to stay proceedings of a court or officer of the United States, or of a State, shall be heard and decided by the judge; but he may refer such an application, or any specified issue arising thereon, to the referee to ascertain and report the facts." 172 U.S. 657.

Not going beyond what the decision of the case before us

[ 178 U.S. Page 548]

     requires, we are of opinion that the judge of the court of bankruptcy was authorized to compel persons, who had forcibly and unlawfully seized and taken out of the judicial custody of that court property which had lawfully come into its possession as part of the bankrupt's property, to restore that property to its custody; and therefore our answer to the first question must be: "The District Court sitting in bankruptcy had jurisdiction by summary proceedings to compel the return of the property seized."

These answers to the first and second questions render any further answer to the third question unnecessary.

Ordered accordingly.


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