Railway Companies v. Keokuk Bridge Co. , 131 U.S. 371 ( 1889 )

  • 131 U.S. 371 (1889)


    Nos. 11, 13.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued January 25, 1888.
    Decided May 13, 1889.

    *378 Mr. George Hoadly for appellants.

    Mr. Lyman Trumbull and Mr. Melville W. Fuller for appellee.

    *381 MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case as above reported, delivered the opinion of the court.

    The principal positions taken in the argument for the appellants were, that the Indiana Central Company, the Pittsburgh Company and the Pennsylvania Company never authorized their officers to execute the bridge contract, or to bind them by it; and that the contract was beyond the scope of their corporate powers. But the court is of opinion that upon the facts of this case neither of these positions can be maintained.

    When the president of a corporation executes, in its behalf, and within the scope of its charter, a contract which requires the concurrence of the board of directors, and the board, knowing that he has done so, does not dissent within a reasonable time, it will be presumed to have ratified his act. Indianapolis Rolling Mill v. St. Louis &c. Railroad, 120 U.S. 256. And when a contract is made by any agent of a corporation in its behalf, and for a purpose authorized by its charter, and the corporation receives the benefit of the contract, without objection, it may be presumed to have authorized or ratified the contract of its agent. Bank of Columbia v. Patterson, 7 Cranch, 299; Bank of United States v. Dandridge, 12 Wheat. 64; Zabriskie v. Cleveland &c. Railroad, 23 How. 381; Gold Mining Co. v. National Bank, 96 U.S. 640; Pneumatic Gas Co. v. Berry, 113 U.S. 322, 327. This doctrine was clearly and strongly stated by Mr. Justice Story, delivering the judgment of this court, in each of the first two of the cases just cited.

    In Bank of Columbia v. Patterson, which was an action brought against a corporation by an administrator to recover for work done by his intestate under contracts with the committee of the corporation, he said: "Wherever a corporation *382 is acting within the scope of the legitimate purposes of its institution, all parol contracts, made by its authorized agents, are express promises of the corporation; and all duties imposed on them by law, and all benefits conferred at their request, raise implied promises, for the enforcement of which an action may well lie." 7 Cranch, 306. "Let us now consider what is the evidence in this case, from which the jury might legally infer an express or an implied promise of the corporation. The contracts were for the exclusive use and benefit of the corporation, and made by their agents for purposes authorized by their charter. The corporation proceed, on the faith of those contracts, to pay money from time to time to the plaintiff's intestate. Although, then, an action might have lain against the committee personally, upon their express contract, yet, as the whole benefit resulted to the corporation, it seems to the court that from this evidence the jury might legally infer that the corporation had adopted the contracts of the committee, and had voted to pay the whole sum which should become due under the contracts, and that the plaintiff's intestate had accepted their engagement." 7 Cranch, 307.

    In Bank of United States v. Dandridge, the point decided was that the approval of a cashier's bond by the board of directors of a bank, as required by statute, need not appear upon the records of the board, but might be proved by presumptive evidence, in the same manner as similar facts might be proved in the case of private persons, not acting as a corporation or as the agents of a corporation. The general doctrine was affirmed, that the presumptions, which, by the general rules of evidence, "are continually made, in cases of private persons, of acts even of the most solemn nature, when those are the natural result or necessary accompaniment of other circumstances," are equally applicable to corporations; and it was said: "Persons, acting publicly as officers of the corporation, are to be presumed rightfully in office; acts done by the corporation, which presuppose the existence of other acts to make them legally operative, are presumptive proofs of the latter. Grants and proceedings beneficial to the corporation are presumed to be accepted; and slight acts on their *383 part, which can be reasonably accounted for only upon the supposition of such acceptance, are admitted as presumptions of the fact. If officers of the corporation openly exercise a power which presupposes a delegated authority for the purpose, and other corporate acts show that the corporation must have contemplated the legal existence of such authority, the acts of such officers will be deemed rightful, and the delegated authority will be presumed." 12 Wheat. 70.

    The original bridge contract was executed by the president of the Indiana Central Company, in its behalf, upon the formal request of the presidents of the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies, undertaking that these two corporations should assume all the liabilities and obligations of that contract and be entitled to all its benefits. The board of directors of the Indiana Central Company, having been informed by its president that he had executed the contract, never dissented, and must therefore be presumed to have concurred. The modification of the bridge contract was executed by the president of that company, in its behalf, upon a similar request and undertaking of the presidents of the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies in their behalf.

    After all this, the bridge was opened for use, and was used by the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies. For more than three years, semi-annual accounts for the sums payable by the Indiana Central Company were rendered directly by the Bridge Company to the Pittsburgh Company, and settled by the latter, after examination by its comptroller. It must be presumed, although not affirmatively proved, that the comptroller reported his action in this respect to the board of directors, as well as to the stockholders at their annual or other meetings. There is no difficulty, therefore, in holding that the Pittsburgh Company was bound by the bridge contract and the modification thereof, if within its corporate powers.

    The evidence that the directors or stockholders of the Pennsylvania Company authorized or ratified the action of its president in this regard is not so full and conclusive, but is quite sufficient to bind this company. After the execution of *384 the original bridge contract, the directors of the Pennsylvania Company twice joined with the president in a printed annual report to the stockholders, declaring in unequivocal terms the settled policy of this company to secure a continuous line of traffic from Philadelphia to Keokuk and westward, and stating that this object had been accomplished through the Pittsburgh Company.

    The reasonable inference from this evidence, which there is nothing in the record to control or qualify, is that the Pennsylvania Company had the benefit of the original bridge contract, and either authorized or ratified its execution; and, under the circumstances of this case, the president must be considered as having authority to procure and assent to the modification of that contract as to the proportion of the deficiency in tolls to be borne by the Pittsburgh Company as principal and the Pennsylvania Company as guarantor.

    From all the facts of the case, the conclusion is inevitable that the Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Companies were the real, though not the formal, parties to the bridge contract executed by the Indiana Central Company at their request and for their benefit, and that this contract, as well as the lease, bound the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies, if within the scope of their corporate powers.

    The outlines of the doctrine of ultra vires, and the reasons on which it rests, have been clearly stated in previous judgments of this court.

    The reasons why a corporation is not liable upon a contract ultra vires, that is to say, beyond the powers conferred upon it by the legislature, and varying from the objects of its creation. as declared in the law of its organization, are: 1st. The interest of the public, that the corporation shall not transcend the powers granted. 2d. The interest of the stockholders, that the capital shall not be subjected to the risk of enterprises not contemplated by the charter, and therefore not authorized by the stockholders in subscribing for the stock. 3d. The obligation of every one, entering into a contract with a corporation, to take notice of the legal limits of its powers.

    These three reasons are clearly brought out in the unanimous *385 judgment of this court, delivered by Mr. Justice Campbell, in the leading case of Pearce v. Madison & Indianapolis Railroad, 21 How. 441, in which it was held that a railroad corporation was not liable to be sued upon promissory notes which it had given in payment for a steamboat received and used by it, and running in connection with its railroad.

    So it has been repeatedly adjudged by this court that a lease made by one railroad corporation to another, either of which is not expressly authorized by law to enter into the lease, is ultra vires and void. Thomas v. Railroad Co., 101 U.S. 71; Pennsylvania Railroad v. St. Louis &c. Railroad, 118 U.S. 290, 630; Oregon Railway v. Oregonian Railway, 130 U.S. 1.

    But while the charter of a corporation, read in connection with the general laws applicable to it, is the measure of its powers, and a contract manifestly beyond those powers will not sustain an action against the corporation, yet whatever, under the charter and other general laws, reasonably construed, may fairly be regarded as incidental to the objects for which the corporation is created, is not to be taken as prohibited. Accordingly, where the charter of a railroad corporation, or the general laws applicable to it, manifest the intention of the legislature, for the purpose of securing a continuous line of transportation of which its road forms part, to confer upon it the power of making contracts with other railroad or steamboat corporations to promote that end, such contracts are not ultra vires. Green Bay & Minnesota Railroad v. Union Steamboat Co., 107 U.S. 98. See also Branch v. Jesup, 106 U.S. 468, 478.

    Whether, in view of the previous decisions of this court, the lease from the Indiana Central Company could be upheld it is unnecessary to consider, because the validity of the bridge contract does not appear to us to depend upon the validity or invalidity of the lease.

    The bridge contract and the lease were separate and distinct agreements. The bridge contract was in form between the Bridge Company and the Indiana Central Company. The lease was between the Indiana Central Company and the Pittsburgh *386 and Pennsylvania Companies, and the Bridge Company was not a party to the lease.

    The Bridge Company was organized under the laws of Iowa and Illinois, and was authorized by those laws and by the act of Congress of July 25, 1866, c. 246, § 7, (14 Stat. 245,) to construct and maintain the bridge; and its power to enter into the bridge contract is undoubted. The power of the Indiana Central Company, as an Illinois corporation, to enter into that contract is made equally clear by the statutes of Illinois, collected in the brief of the appellee.

    By the statute of February 28, 1854, all railroad companies of Illinois, having their termini fixed by law, and their roads intersecting by continuous lines, are authorized to consolidate their property and stock with each other, or with companies out of the state, whose lines connect with theirs; and when, by reason of such consolidation, or of such extension into or through an adjoining state, it is necessary for the construction of any railroad to cross any stream of water, it may be done by bridges or viaducts. By the statute of February 12, 1855, all railroad corporations of Illinois have the power to make all necessary and convenient "contracts and arrangements with each other, and with railroad corporations of other states, for leasing or running their roads, or any part thereof;" as well as the "right of connecting with each other and with the railroads of other states, on such terms as shall be mutually agreed upon by the companies interested." By the statute of February 16, 1865, "it shall be lawful for the directors of any railroad company created by the laws of this state to contract for the use and operation of any railroad connecting with their line beyond the limits of the state; and in all contracts for the use and operation of any railroad by another corporation, it shall be lawful for the parties to provide for the use of any of the powers and privileges of either or both of the corporations parties thereto." And by the statute of February 25, 1867, "railroads terminating or to terminate at any point, on any line of continuous railroad thoroughfare, where there now is or shall be a railroad bridge for crossing of passengers and freight in cars over the same as part of such thoroughfare, *387 shall make convenient connections of such railroads, by rail, with the rail of such bridge; and such bridge shall permit and cause such connections of the rail of the same with the rail of such railroads, so that by reason of such railroads and bridge there shall be uninterrupted communication over such railroads and bridge as public thoroughfares." See also Stats. of February 12, 1853, March 5, 1867, and March 11, 1869. Gross's Stats. (3d ed.) 536-539.

    The bridge contract was therefore a lawful and valid contract as between the Bridge Company and the Indiana Central Company. Upon the question of its effect to bind the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies, some other facts attending its execution are worthy of consideration.

    The bridge contract was not in existence as an executed and binding contract when the lease was made. But it was signed after the execution of the lease and the delivery of possession of the road by the Indiana Central Company to the Pittsburgh Company, and at the formal request of the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies, embodying an express agreement on their part with the Indiana Central Company to "assume all the liabilities and obligations, and be entitled to all the benefits of said bridge contract." The reference in that request and agreement to the ninth article of the lease was for the purpose of defining the extent of the liabilities and benefits assumed, and perhaps of indicating that the Pittsburgh Company alone was bound as principal, and the Pennsylvania Company as guarantor only; but it did not make the bridge contract a part of the lease.

    The reasonable inference is that, according to the original intent and by the subsequent action of the parties, the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies were understood and treated as directly liable to the Bridge Company for the proportion of tolls and deficiencies, which, by the terms of the bridge contract, was chargeable to the Indiana Central Company.

    By the laws of Illinois, as we have seen, the bridge contract was valid, and might lawfully be made between the Bridge Company and the Indiana Central Company; and it appears *388 to us equally clear that the laws of Pennsylvania authorized the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies to assume the obligation of that contract with the Bridge Company, either directly or through the intervention of the Indiana Central Company.

    By the statute of Pennsylvania of April 23, 1861, it is enacted that "It shall and may be lawful for any railroad company, created by and existing under the laws of this commonwealth, from time to time to purchase and hold the stock and bonds, or either, of any other railroad company or companies chartered by, or of which the road or roads is or are authorized to extend into, this commonwealth; and it shall be lawful for any railroad companies to enter into contracts for the use or lease of any other railroads upon such terms as may be agreed upon with the company or companies owning the same, and to run, use and operate such road or roads in accordance with such contract or lease: Provided, that the roads of the companies so contracting or leasing shall be, directly or by means of intervening railroads, connected with each other." Purdon's Digest (11th ed.) 1439.

    While the first provision of that statute authorizes any railroad company of Pennsylvania to purchase and hold stock and bonds of such railroad companies as either are chartered by the State or have roads extending into it, the second clause makes it lawful for railroad companies of Pennsylvania to contract for the use or lease, not merely of railroads of the two classes defined in the first clause, but of any railroads whatever, provided only "the roads of the companies so contracting or leasing shall be, directly or by means of intervening railroads, connected with each other." The only reasonable construction of the words "any other railroads," in the second clause, is that it includes all railroads, whether within or without the State, coming within the description of the proviso.

    But any question of the construction of that statute in this regard is removed, or rendered immaterial, by the statute of Pennsylvania of February 17, 1870, (passed more than a year before the modified bridge contract was executed, or the bridge completed or used,) which, in the clearest terms, authorizes *389 any railroad company of Pennsylvania to enter into a lease or any other contract on such terms and conditions as may be agreed upon, or to guarantee the payments or covenants thereof, as to any railroads, whether "within the limits of this state, or created by or existing under the laws of any other state or states," provided they are connected, either directly or by means of intervening lines, with its road, and form a continuous route for the transportation of persons and property. Purdon's Digest (11th ed.) 1441.

    Nor can we have any doubt that the Bridge Company was a railroad company, and the bridge a railroad, within the meaning of these statutes. The principal purpose and use of the bridge was the passage of railroad trains. It was, in substance and effect, a railroad built over water, instead of upon land; and, strictly speaking, it was a railway viaduct rather than a bridge. Bridge Proprietors v. Hoboken Co., 1 Wall. 116.

    The necessary conclusion from the foregoing considerations is that it was rightly held by the Circuit Court that the Bridge Company was entitled to recover from the Pittsburgh Company, and it having declined to pay upon due demand, to recover from the Pennsylvania Company also, the amount of the deficiencies in tolls which, by the modified bridge contract, was payable by the Indiana Central Company.

    It is proper to add that our judgment does not rest in any degree upon the ground suggested in argument, that the bridge contract and the lease having been executed, the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Companies, having received the benefits of them, are estopped to deny their validity; because, according to many recent opinions of this court, a contract made by a corporation, which is unlawful and void because beyond the scope of its corporate powers, does not, by being carried into execution, become lawful and valid, but the proper remedy of the party aggrieved is by disaffirming the contract, and suing to recover, as on a quantum meruit, the value of what the defendant has actually received the benefit of. Louisiana v. Wood, 102 U.S. 294; Parkersburg v. Brown, 106 U.S. 487, 503; Chapman v. Douglas County, 107 U.S. 348, 360; Salt *390 Lake City v. Hollister, 118 U.S. 256, 263; Pennsylvania Railroad v. St. Louis &c. Railroad, 118 U.S. 290, 317, 318.

    The sole ground of our decision is that the bridge contract is independent of the lease, and is valid and binding as between the parties to this suit, whether the lease is valid or invalid. This being so, the question argued at the bar, whether the appellants, by reason of eviction, are no longer liable on the lease, becomes immaterial; and the judgment of the Circuit Court in a former suit, affirming the validity of the lease, has no effect upon our decision, for the same reason, as well as because the Bridge Company was not a party to that judgment, and therefore neither bound by it nor entitled to the benefit of it.

    Decree affirmed.

    MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER and the late MR. JUSTICE MATTHEWS, having been of counsel, took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Document Info

DocketNumber: 11, 13

Citation Numbers: 131 U.S. 371, 9 S. Ct. 770, 33 L. Ed. 157, 1889 U.S. LEXIS 1827

Judges: Gray, After Stating the Case as Above Reported

Filed Date: 5/13/1889

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 4/15/2017

Authorities (16)

Bank of United States v. Dandridge , 25 U.S. 64 ( 1827 )

Pearce v. Madison & Indianapolis R. Co. , 62 U.S. 441 ( 1859 )

Zabriskie v. Cleveland, C. & CR Co. , 64 U.S. 381 ( 1860 )

Bridge Proprietors v. Hoboken Co. , 68 U.S. 116 ( 1864 )

Gold-Mining Co. v. National Bank , 96 U.S. 640 ( 1878 )

Thomas v. Railroad Co. , 101 U.S. 71 ( 1880 )

Louisiana v. Wood , 102 U.S. 294 ( 1880 )

Branch v. Jesup , 106 U.S. 468 ( 1883 )

Parkersburg v. Brown , 106 U.S. 487 ( 1883 )

Green Bay, Etc. RR Co. v. Union, Etc. Co. , 107 U.S. 98 ( 1883 )

Chapman v. County of Douglas , 107 U.S. 348 ( 1883 )

Pneumatic Gas Co. v. Berry , 113 U.S. 322 ( 1885 )

Salt Lake City v. Hollister , 118 U.S. 256 ( 1886 )

Penn. Co. v. ST. LOUIS, ALTON, &C., RAILROAD , 118 U.S. 290 ( 1886 )

Indianapolis Rolling Mill v. St. Louis, FS & WR. Co. , 120 U.S. 256 ( 1887 )

Oregon R. & Nav. Co. v. Oregonian R. Co. , 130 U.S. 1 ( 1889 )

View All Authorities »

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Jacksonville, Mayport, Pablo R. & Nav. Co. v. Hooper , 160 U.S. 514 ( 1896 )

Union Pacific R. Co. v. Chicago, RI & PR Co. , 163 U.S. 564 ( 1896 )

McCormick v. Market Bank , 165 U.S. 538 ( 1897 )

California Bank v. Kennedy , 167 U.S. 362 ( 1897 )

De La Vergne Co. v. German Savings Inst. , 175 U.S. 40 ( 1899 )

Fidelity & Deposit Co. v. Courtney , 186 U.S. 342 ( 1902 )

mike-h-kostelac-and-maryland-casualty-company-a-corporation-v-united , 247 F.2d 723 ( 1957 )

Bernard J. Lee, Platiff-Appellant v. Jenkins Brothers, ... , 268 F.2d 357 ( 1959 )

g-e-lawrence-as-trustee-in-bankruptcy-of-commercial-engineering , 378 F.2d 452 ( 1967 )

Wolfe v. Texas Co. , 83 F.2d 425 ( 1936 )

Parrott v. Noel , 8 F.2d 368 ( 1925 )

City of New York v. Davis , 7 F.2d 566 ( 1925 )

Positype Corporation v. Mahin , 32 F.2d 202 ( 1929 )

Cary v. US Hoffman MacHinery Corporation , 148 F. Supp. 748 ( 1957 )

People Ex Rel. Spitzer v. COUNTY OF LA SALLE , 23 Ill. App. 2d 139 ( 1959 )

Yucca Mining & Petrol. Co. v. Howard C. Phillips Oil Co. , 69 N.M. 281 ( 1961 )

Standard L. Co. v. Bank of California , 67 Cal. App. 381 ( 1924 )

Robinson v. Building Loan Assn. , 112 Cal. App. 252 ( 1931 )

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