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COMMERCIAL PUBLISHING COMPANY v. BECKWITH.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: February 23, 1903.

COMMERCIAL PUBLISHING COMPANY
v.
BECKWITH.

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK.

Author: White

[ 188 U.S. Page 569]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

As in the complaint the plaintiff in error unquestionably set up a right to recover as the result of a judicial sale made under decrees, both of courts of the United States and of a State, Federal questions exist in the record, and the motion which has been made to dismiss is therefore denied.

Coming to the merits, the questions for decision are whether due effect was given by the Court of Appeals of New York to the decrees in question. Jacobs v. Marks, 182 U.S. 583, 587.

Two questions were considered by the state court in its opinion, viz.: 1, the meaning and effect of the contract entered into between Beckwith and the Memphis Appeal Company; and, 2, whether the rights of Beckwith under the contract had been conclusively adjudicated by the prior litigation in Tennessee.

[ 188 U.S. Page 570]

     The agreement referred to was evidenced by two letters and endorsements thereon, and a copy thereof is contained in the margin.*fn1

[ 188 U.S. Page 571]

     In disposing of the first question the court held that "The clause of the agreement giving to Beckwith the right to collect all of the bills was evidently intended to give him the control of the proceeds resulting from the advertisements, so that he could apply the same upon his loan to the amount of $1000 per month," and that the clause referred to "was in the nature of an equitable pledge of the receipts for that purpose." It was further held that the receiver of the newspaper took possession of the assets and business thereof subject to the liens and obligations of the corporation, (in other words, took only the interest which the corporation had in the property which it assumed to possess and own,) and as the receiver "accepted and published the advertisements procured by the defendant (Beckwith), he (the receiver) must be deemed to have done so under the contract which the defendant (Beckwith) had with the corporation, and under that contract the defendant had the right to collect the moneys accruing for such advertisements, and to retain out of such collections a sum not to exceed $1000 per month, to be applied upon the loan." It is manifest that the question of the proper construction of this contract being non-Federal in its nature, is not subject to review, and we consequently assume that the construction was correct.

The second question was treated as involving only the issue of res judicata. Considering the final decree entered in the consolidated action, and the decree as subsequently entered by the trial court upon the mandate of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, it was decided that the Tennessee court "did not adjudicate nor attempt to determine the right of Beckwith to

[ 188 U.S. Page 572]

     the moneys received by him for advertisements inserted in the paper by the receiver after his appointment." The court then said -- evidently assuming that the last decree embodied the direction for sale -- "Under the judgment the purchaser became entitled to all the moneys due and owing to the receiver by reason of the publication of the paper, but moneys that did not belong to the receiver, or to which he was not entitled, did not pass to the purchaser, and we find nothing in the prior decree that is an adjudication upon this question." In effect, therefore, the Court of Appeals of New York construed the decrees of sale and held that the direction to sell merely authorized a sale of the right, title and interest of the receiver in the accounts in question and left for future determination, in any controversy which might arise in respect thereto, the question of the extent of the interest, if any, of the receiver in such accounts.

The sole contentions which are open for our consideration are, did this judgment fail to give full faith and credit to the judicial proceedings in the Tennessee courts as required by section 1 of article IV of the Constitution, and did it deny due efficacy to a title or right claimed under an authority exercised under the United States. It is strenuously argued that, properly interpreted, the decrees directed a sale of the accounts as they stood on the books of the receiver, and that the effect of the decrees and the sale made thereunder was that any right to or lien possessed by Beckwith in the moneys due upon the accounts was transferred to the proceeds of sale of all the property of the Memphis Appeal.

In considering this question it is to be observed that the records of the proceedings in the actions in which the decrees relied upon were rendered were not offered at the trial below, but that the case was disposed of solely upon an agreed statement of facts, to which certain of the decrees made in those actions were annexed as exhibits. To this agreed statement therefore, and to it alone, we are to look, for the purpose of determining the question presented for decision. A summary of the statement will be found in the margin.*fn1a

[ 188 U.S. Page 573]

     It is to be borne in mind that upon the plaintiff in error rested the burden of establishing that the decrees of sale were not given the due effect to which they were entitled, and if it has

[ 188 U.S. Page 574]

     failed to sustain such burden this court cannot say that error was committed by the judgment below rendered.

The decrees of sale were made in the consolidated action in

[ 188 U.S. Page 575]

     the state court and in the action pending in the United States court, and preceded, by nearly two years, the making of the final decree, which however was entered only in the consolidated cause, and not in the action pending in the United States court. It is disclosed by the record that in two of the actions which were consolidated -- that filed by the trustee and one on behalf of certain employes of the Memphis Appeal Company -- liens were asserted upon all the assets which came into the possession of the receiver, viz., those embraced in the deed of trust which was sought to be foreclosed. The deed of trust was made long after the execution of the contract between Beckwith and the Memphis Appeal Company, and vested rights, if any, of Beckwith were not affected by the execution of the deed or by the appointment of a receiver. The agreed statement is silent as to what was the controversy between the trustees and Beckwith, but Beckwith, in the correspondence with the receiver claimed that his contract right was unaffected by the receivership. Now, in the recital in the decrees of sale of the property to be sold there is first an enumeration of property generally, in language similar to that contained in the deed of trust; there is then an exemption from sale of uncollected book accounts accruing prior to the appointment of the receiver; and next is the following recital: "All accounts which may be or are to become due to the receiver by reason of the operation of the newspaper in his hands will pass to and be acquired by the purchaser at this sale, who will become the full owner of the same." It may be fairly inferred, that Reckwith then was

[ 188 U.S. Page 576]

     and prior thereto had been making direct collections from advertisers under the assumed authority of the contract, and he was undoubtedly asserting the right to retain the moneys which he might collect upon advertisements which had been procured by him. The sum due upon such accounts for advertisements published by the receiver was small as compared with the main assets in the custody of the receiver, yet, in that portion of the decree which made the liens and encumbrances operative against the proceeds of sale, the entire proceeds of sale and not the proceeds of a particular portion of the property sold were made subject to all liens and encumbrances sought to be enforced in the litigation.

As before stated, the record shows that, in two of the actions which had been consolidated, the complainants were asserting liens against all the property which had come into the possession of the receiver, and the decree of sale recites that the sale was ordered upon the motion of the complainants. Beckwith nowhere appears to have been an active participant in obtaining such decree or assenting thereto. It does not even appear that, at the time of the entry of the decrees of sale, he was a party to any of the actions which had been consolidated, for it cannot in reason be so inferred from the mere circumstance that nearly two years after, on the entry of the final decree, he is referred to therein as being a cross complainant in one of the actions seeking to enforce a lien, the nature of which was not disclosed.

The stipulations contained in the agreed statement, particularly the recitals in subdivision numbered 13, lend color to the construction that, as respects the accounts in question, all that was intended to be sold was the right, title and interest of the receiver therein, the nature and extent of which title was left unadjudicated. The expression, "the property aforesaid," used in the paragraph, it may well be argued, was intended to refer to something distinct from the accounts in question, and the language may properly be interpreted as relating to the property covered by the trust deed, which came into the possession of the receiver. A reasonable construction of the paragraph can be adopted supporting the claim that, as regards the accounts,

[ 188 U.S. Page 577]

     all that was sold was the right, title and interest of the receiver therein. In the light, therefore, of all the circumstances which have been detailed, we cannot sustain the contention of the plaintiff in error that the guaranty clause of the decrees, transferring liens upon the property to the proceeds of sale, was intended to apply to the accounts in question without indulging in conjecture and giving to the plaintiff in error the benefit of the doubts which arise as to the precise meaning of the decrees.

The parties having chosen to try the case on a statement of facts, which does not afford us the means of saying with that certainty which is required, that the judgment below denied due faith and credit to the decrees in question, we cannot, in view of the burden of proof, reverse the judgment below; and it is therefore

Affirmed,


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