United States v. Bitter Root Development Co. , 200 U.S. 451 ( 1906 )


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  • 200 U.S. 451 (1906)

    UNITED STATES
    v.
    BITTER ROOT DEVELOPMENT COMPANY.

    No. 223.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued January 8, 9, 1906.
    Decided February 19, 1906.
    APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

    *466 Mr. Marsden C. Burch, and Mr. Fred A. Maynard, Special Assistants to the Attorney General, with whom The Solicitor General was on the brief, for the United States.

    Mr. L.O. Evans, with whom Mr. A.J. Campbell, Mr. A.J. *469 Shores, Mr. C.F. Kelley and Mr. John F. Forbis were on the brief, for appellees.

    *471 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

    Although there is a liberal use in the bill in this case of averments in regard to fraud, conspiracy and violation of trust, of which the pleader avers the defendants have been guilty, *472 in various ways, yet upon a careful examination of the pleading itself, and the actual facts therein stated, we concur in the view of the courts below, that the action is really nothing but an action of trespass or trover to recover damages sustained by the complainant by reason of the wrongful cutting, carrying away and conversion of the property of the complainant, consisting of the timber on the land mentioned in the bill; and for the wrong thus done we think it clear that the complainant has a plain, adequate and complete remedy at law, and consequently the court has no jurisdiction of this bill in equity.

    It is not necessary to cite many authorities for the proposition that where the main cause of action is of a legal nature, equity has no jurisdiction, provided the complainant has a full and adequate remedy at law for the wrongs complained of. Buzard v. Houston, 119 U.S. 347; Scott v. Neely, 140 U.S. 106, 110. A mere charge of fraud does not give equity jurisdiction. Buzard v. Houston, supra; Ambler v. Choteau, 107 U.S. 586; Safford v. Ensign Manufacturing Co., 120 Fed. Rep. 480, and cases cited in opinion. Tyler v. Savage 143 U.S. 79, bears no resemblance to the case at bar. As the court there said, there were in the case discovery, account, fraud, misrepresentation and concealment. There was no demurrer for multifariousness, and no objection in the court below for want of equity, and the case was not one of a plain defect in equity jurisdiction. The suit was clearly one for equitable relief.

    The principal ground upon which it is claimed that the remedy at law is inadequate is really nothing more than a difficulty in proving the case against the defendants. The bill shows that whatever was done in the way of cutting the timber and carrying it away was done by the defendants as tort feasors, and the various devices alleged to have been resorted to by the deceased, Daly, by way of organizing different corporations, in order to, as alleged, cover up his tracks and to render it more difficult for the complainant to make proof of his action, does not in the least tend to give a court of equity jurisdiction on that account. It is simply a question of evidence to show *473 who did the wrong, and upon that point the fact could be ascertained as readily at law as in equity.

    The complainant is entitled in an action at law to an inspection of the books and records of these various corporations, and it has the same power to obtain the facts therefrom in that action as it would have in this suit in equity.

    The complainant contends that where property has been stolen, or obtained by fraud, equity recognizes the law to be that the property always belongs to the true owner, and therefore its proceeds must also belong to him and may be reclaimed in a suit in equity against the voluntary assignee or one holding in bad faith. The cases of Newton v. Porter, 69 N.Y. 133, and American Sugar Refining Co. v. Fancher, 145 N.Y. 552, are cited to sustain the contention. These cases, it will be seen upon examination, show that the plaintiff had no remedy at law, and he was able to fully identify the particular property into which the original property belonging to him had been converted, and which was in the hands of a voluntary assignee. It was a question of following the proceeds, and accurately and certainly identifying them, which the court held was necessary in order to permit of such following. The defendants were also insolvent. The case of Angle v. Chicago, St. Paul &c. Railway Co., 151 U.S. 1, did not involve any question like the one herein. In that case the land had been granted to the Portage Company by the State for the purposes named, and it was conceded by the demurrer that the officials of the Portage Company had been bribed by the Omaha Company to betray their trust, and the legislature had been induced by false allegations to revoke the grant to the Portage Company and to bestow it upon the Omaha Company. The plaintiff had obtained a judgment against the Portage Company in an action at law, and the execution had been returned nulla bona, and the bill in equity was filed in the Circuit Court of the United States by the administratrix of the judgment creditor against the Omaha Company to reach the land formerly owned by the Portage Company and then in the hands of the Omaha *474 Company by reason of its own wrongdoing. Thus there was the illegal and wrongful act of the Omaha Company, by which the land once vesting in the Portage Company had been taken away and that same land regranted to the Omaha Company, and it was to reach that particular land which the Omaha Company had obtained by its wrongful act that the bill was filed. Mr. Justice Brewer, delivering the opinion of this court, said:

    "And when the Omaha Company, by its wrongdoings, secured the full legal title to those lands, equity will hold that the party who has been deprived of payment for his work from the Portage Company, by reason of their having been taken away from it, shall be able to pursue those lands into the hands of the wrongdoer, and hold them for the payment of that claim which, but for the wrongdoings of the Omaha Company, would have been paid by the Portage Company, partially at least, out of their proceeds. While no express trust is affirmed as to the lands, yet it is familiar doctrine that a party who acquires title to property wrongfully may be adjudged a trustee ex maleficio in respect to that property."

    These lands were identified, and were found in the hands of the actual wrongdoer, who had acquired them by reason of such wrong.

    Now, there is no pretense in this case that any specific piece of property was in fact either the same timber or the proceeds of the timber wrongfully cut and disposed of by the defendants, or any of them. Nor was it averred that any particular timber had been taken from the land described in the bill. On the contrary, it is alleged in the bill that the complainant was unable to show just when or by whom the cutting had been performed, or the logs manufactured into lumber had been sold, or just when and by whom the proceeds thereof were obtained and when the same were divided. There is a general allegation in the bill of complaint that the deceased, Daly, left an estate worth $12,000,000, located in the State of Montana and elsewhere, and that a large portion of that estate was the *475 result of the proceeds of Daly's illegal acts in his lifetime, in trespassing upon the lands of the complainant, and converting the proceeds of the sale of the timber growing thereon to his own use and benefit. It is also averred that he made his will, appointing Margaret P. Daly, defendant, executrix; and the will was duly admitted to probate, and letters of administration were duly issued to the defendant, Margaret P. Daly, on the fifteenth day of February, A.D. 1901, and she duly qualified and entered upon the discharge of her duties as such executrix; that Margaret P. Daly, under and by virtue of the terms of the will, and as the wife of Marcus Daly, is the owner of a large portion of his estate. It is plain that such allegations fall far short of even a pretense of identifying specific, definite property as the proceeds of certain other property wrongfully or fraudulently taken by defendants from the lands described in the bill. Such allegations are totally inadequate for that purpose.

    Under the law providing for the examination of defendants, and under section 724 of the Revised Statutes, providing for the production of books and writings in actions at law, under the same circumstances that defendants might be compelled to produce them under the ordinary rules of proceeding in chancery, there is nothing in these allegations, which shows any necessity for a discovery in equity, such as would render the remedy more adequate therein than in an action at law.

    Nor was there anything in the cases cited by complainant as showing a right to proceed in equity because one of the defendants is the executrix of a deceased person, who, it is alleged, was one of the parties guilty of the wrongdoing set forth in the bill. Upon the question of liability she is entitled to a trial at law and by jury, as well as the other defendants. In Green's Administratrix v. Creighton, 23 How. 90, it was said that a single creditor has been allowed to sue an administratrix for his demand in equity, and obtain decree for payment out of the personal estate, without taking a general account of the testator's debts. In that case the facts were complicated; *476 the original debtor and his surety were dead, and had died insolvent, and a portion of the assets of the estate of the latter could be traced to the possession of his administratrix, and the authority of a court of equity was required to call for a discovery of the nature and amount of the assets in hand. It was said that the debtor, Tunstall, had died insolvent, and Whiting, his surety, had also died insolvent. A portion of the assets belonging to the estate of the latter was in the hands of the surety of this administrator. A discovery of the nature and amount of the assets in hand was necessary if they were subject to the application, and it was held that the Circuit Court was authorized to entertain the suit, and the decree dismissing the bill was reversed. Certainly there is nothing in that case which in the least degree aids the proposition that because there is an administratrix named as a party, equity has jurisdiction, even though no discovery of assets is sought, and the bill shows that the estate represented by the administratrix is largely solvent, and the demand is for unliquidated damages against others besides the administratrix, and no debt is admitted, the alleged cause of action having arisen against the deceased, among others, for a tort.

    In Kennedy v. Creswell, 101 U.S. 641, it was held that the creditor of a deceased person had a right to go into a court of equity for a discovery of assets and the payment of his debt, and that when there he would not be turned back to a court of law, to establish the validity of his claim. The basis of getting into a court of equity being a discovery of assets, the object of the bill was obtained, as the court held, by the admission of the executor, that he had sufficient assets, and that if so, the jurisdiction of the court remained to give a decree for the payment of the debt. Here is no such case. Daly is alleged to have been the principal wrongdoer, out of several defendants, in cutting and converting the timber on these lands owned by the Government. He died, leaving an estate of over $12,000,000, as averred in the bill of complaint, and the claim of the complainant is only for $2,000,000. Thus, by complainant's *477 own averment, the estate is largely solvent. There is no endeavor to discover assets and no ground for jurisdiction in equity, simply because one of the defendants is an executrix. The proposition of the complainant would confer jurisdiction in equity in every case of a legal cause of action for unliquidated damages for a tort, where one of the wrongdoers had died and an administratrix had been appointed, and the existence of assets was alleged by complainant, largely in excess of the complainant's demand, and the other defendants remained parties. This has never been so held in any case to which our attention has been called, and we are unable to find any principle of equity jurisdiction upon which to permit the maintenance of this suit on the special ground here asserted.

    But it is averred there was a fiduciary relationship existing on account of the permits or licenses to cut timber, which, it is alleged, were given the defendant, Bitter Root Development Company, and that in such permits there was set forth an obligation on the part of that company, and others acting for it, to make under oath monthly returns of the amounts and kinds of timber cut, with a description of the particular tract or tracts from which it was cut, how much was disposed of, and to whom, and that a failure to do so was a failure in a fiduciary capacity on the part of the defendant company, and therefore there is jurisdiction in equity. The Government contends that by reason of the duty of the Bitter Root Development Company to keep true and accurate accounts and to monthly submit statements to the officers of the Government, and by reason of its failure so to do, the proceeds of the lumber retained by it became in its hands a trust fund belonging to the complainant; that there was a breach of this trust; its extent is in the defendants' knowledge; and in such cases choice of remedy is with the party aggrieved, and he may proceed in equity for an accounting and pursue the fund. It is doubtful, to say the least, whether an obligation to report as to timber cut on the permitted lands constitutes any fiduciary relationship between the licensees and the Government, *478 with regard to an alleged wrongful cutting of timber on other and separate lands. It is not, in truth, alleged that the returns called for by the permit were not made. Safford v. Ensign Manufacturing Co., 120 Fed. Rep. 480 (Circuit Court of Appeals). However that may be, there is no such obligation (to render monthly accounts) set forth in the bill as being part of the permit or license referred to therein. The bill simply avers that Daly did, at certain times, during the several years of said depredations, apply to and obtain from the lawful agents of the Government licenses to cut upon certain small portions of the tracts above described, and under cover of such permits the conspirators not only cut, carried away and manufactured timber growing on the said lands included in such licenses, but, well knowing that such permits gave them no right or authority to enter upon other lands, they willfully and fraudulently entered upon large tracts of land adjacent thereto and cut the timber therefrom. There is no mention of an obligation to render monthly accounts. The fact that the defendants had permission to cut timber on certain tracts of land described did not make their cutting of timber on other tracts the act of trustees ex maleficio. When they went outside of the tracts for which license was given, they committed a trespass for which they were liable at law. And, again, as the contents of the permits are not set forth, we cannot take judicial notice of such contents in any particular case. Different conditions may be contained in different permits, and they are the subject of the discretion of the department giving the permits.

    It is also argued that a court of equity has jurisdiction in such a case as this on the ground of an accounting. We do not think that this is any such case as gives a court of equity jurisdiction because of an accounting being necessary. There are no accounts between the parties. The cause of action is one arising in tort and cannot be converted into one for an account. The case made is a plain trespass, for which the defendants are liable in damages. Or it might be termed an *479 action in trover, as stated. Whatever books, if any, defendants may have kept, showing the amount and location of the timber cut and its value, can be perfectly well obtained by an inspection of these books in an action at law. No discovery is alleged to be necessary in aid of any action at law, although the bill shows that several such actions have in fact been commenced. The facts averred do not show jurisdiction for the general purpose of discovery.

    Nor do we see that there is any jurisdiction on the ground of prevention of a multiplicity of suits. Those persons who were guilty of the wrong must be made parties in either court, in order to bind them. Such alleged multiplicity is not avoided in one court more than in the other. It is not a case where a few defendants may be made parties as representatives of a class holding under or claiming the same title or right, and so that a judgment against the representative defendants may bind all others of the class. There is no class and there can be no representatives.

    We fail to see any fact alleged in this bill which constitutes a proper foundation for the jurisdiction of a court of equity. The Government counsel, however, assert that since the filing of this bill new and material facts have been discovered by the Government, which in the judgment of counsel would furnish foundation for a bill in equity, even though this bill is defective. In order to permit of the filing of such a bill, if counsel should be so advised, and so as not to run against a plea of res adjudicata, the judgment of dismissal is

    Affirmed, without prejudice, etc.

    MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE McKENNA took no part in the decision of this case.

Document Info

DocketNumber: 223

Citation Numbers: 200 U.S. 451, 26 S. Ct. 318, 50 L. Ed. 550, 1906 U.S. LEXIS 1491

Judges: Peckham, After Making the Foregoing Statement

Filed Date: 2/19/1906

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 4/15/2017

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