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Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co.

U.S.
Nov 7, 1932
287 U.S. 92 (1932)

Summary

In Schoenthal, the trustee in bankruptcy sued in equity to recover alleged preferential payments, claiming that it had no adequate remedy at law.

Summary of this case from Granfinanciera, S. A. v. Nordberg

Opinion

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT.

No. 14.

Argued October 18, 1932. Decided November 7, 1932.

1. Section 267 of the Judicial Code, providing that "suits in equity shall not be sustained in any court of the United States in any case where a plain, adequate, and complete remedy may be had at law," is declaratory of the rule followed by courts of equity and should be liberally construed as serving to guard the right of trial by jury preserved by the Seventh Amendment. P. 94. 2. The question whether a case should be tried at law or in equity depends upon the facts stated in the bill. P. 95. 3. A suit by a trustee in bankruptcy to recover preferential payments of ascertained and definite amounts and in which the complaint avers no facts that call for an accounting or other equitable relief, should be tried at law. Id. 4. Defendants who answered a bill putting all its allegations in issue including the allegation that plaintiff had no adequate remedy at law, and who, after the case was advanced on the equity calendar but before it was reached for trial, made their motion for a transfer under the 22d Equity Rule, held not to have waived their right to such transfer. Pp. 96-97. 54 F.2d 1079, reversed.

CERTIORARI, 285 U.S. 536, to review the affirmance of a decree in a suit by a trustee in bankruptcy to recover the amount of payments made by a bankrupt which the bill challenged as preferences.

Mr. Leo Guzik, with whom Mr. Horace London was on the brief, for petitioners.

Mr. George C. Levin for respondent.


This is a suit in equity brought by respondent in the district court for southern New York to recover from Morris Schoenthal $500 and from Fannie Schoenthal $1,000 paid them by the bankrupt. The bill alleged facts sufficient to show that each of these payments operated as a preference under § 60b of the Bankruptcy Act, 11 U.S.C. § 96b, asserted that plaintiff had no adequate remedy at law, and prayed decree declaring the payments preferential and directing defendants to account for and pay to plaintiff the amounts so received with interest and costs. October 27, 1930, defendants separately answered and put in issue all the allegations of the bill.

The case was advanced to the February, 1931, calendar. February 13, invoking Equity Rule 22, defendants, on petition and notice of motion to be heard four days later, applied for an order transferring the suit to the law side of the court and for a trial by jury. On the return day the application was referred to the judge sitting in equity and was taken up February 24. After hearing counsel, the court denied the motion and immediately proceeded to trial in equity. It heard evidence, filed findings of fact and conclusions of law and entered judgment that plaintiff recover from Morris Schoenthal $538.74 and from Fannie Schoenthal $1,075.84 and have executions therefor. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The principal question is whether, assuming they made timely application under Rule 22, defendants were entitled to have the suit tried at law.

Section 267 of the Judicial Code provides: "Suits in equity shall not be sustained in any court of the United States in any case where a plain, adequate, and complete remedy may be had at law." 28 U.S.C. § 384. That rule has always been followed in courts of equity. The enactment gives it emphasis and indicates legislative purpose that it shall not be relaxed. New York Guaranty Co. v. Memphis Water Co., 107 U.S. 205, 214. Matthews v. Rodgers, 284 U.S. 521, 525. It serves to guard the right of trial by jury preserved by the Seventh Amendment and to that end it should be liberally construed. Cf. Ex parte Yerger, 8 Wall. 85, 101-103. In England, long prior to the enactment of our first Judiciary Act, common law actions of trover and money had and received were resorted to for the recovery of preferential payments by bankrupts. Suits to recover preferences constitute no part of the proceedings in bankruptcy but concern controversies arising out of it. Taylor v. Voss, 271 U.S. 176, 182. They may be brought in the state courts as well as in the bankruptcy courts. Collett v. Adams, 249 U.S. 545, 549. The question whether remedy must be by action at law or may be pursued in equity notwithstanding objection by defendant depends upon the facts stated in the bill. And, in absence of a clear showing that a court of law lacks capacity to give the relief which the allegations show plaintiff entitled to have, a suit in equity cannot be maintained. Boyce's Executors v. Grundy, 3 Pet. 210, 215. Buzard v. Houston, 119 U.S. 347, 352. United States v. Bitter Root Co., 200 U.S. 451, 472. The facts here alleged give no support to plaintiff's assertion that it has no adequate remedy at law. The preferences sued for were money payments of ascertained and definite amounts. The bill discloses no facts that call for an accounting or other equitable relief. It is clear that there may be had at law "a remedy as practical and as efficient to the ends of justice and its prompt administration, as the remedy in equity." Boyce's Executors v. Grundy, ubi supra. The contention that § 267 prohibits the maintenance of this suit in equity is sustained in principle by numerous decisions of this court. And upon the very question here presented the weight of judicial opinion in the lower federal courts and in the state courts is that suits such as this cannot be sustained in equity.

Meggott v. Mills, 1 Ld. Raym. 286. Atkin v. Barwick, 1 Stra. 165. Alderson v. Temple, Burr. 2235. Harman v. Fishar, Cowp. 117. Rust v. Cooper, Cowp. 629. Thompson v. Freeman, 1 D. E. 155. Barnes v. Freeland, 6 D. E. 80. Smith v. Payne, 6 D. E. 152. Nixon v. Jenkins, 2 H. Bl. 135. Marks v. Feldman, L.R. 5 Q.B. 275, 280-281. Cf. Ex parte Scudamore, 3 Ves. 85, 87. Farrow v. Mayes, 18 Q.B. 516.

Hipp v. Babin, 19 How. 271, 279. Parker v. Winnipiseogee Lake Co., 2 Black 545, 550 et seq. Kennedy v. Gibson, 8 Wall. 498, 505. Insurance Co. v. Bailey, 13 Wall. 616, 620-621. Grand Chute v. Winegar, 15 Wall. 373, 376. Lewis v. Cocks, 23 Wall. 466, 469. New York Guaranty Co. v. Memphis Water Co., 107 U.S. 205, 214. Buzard v. Houston, 119 U.S. 347, 352-353. Whitehead v. Shattuck, 138 U.S. 146, 150-151. United States v. Bitter Root Co., 200 U.S. 451, 472.

Warmath v. O'Daniel (C.C.A.-6, 1908) 159 F. 87, 90. Sessler v. Nemcof (E.D. Pa., 1910) 183 F. 656. Grant v. National Bank Page 96 of Auburn (N.D.N.Y., 1912) 197 F. 581, 590. First State Bank v. Spencer (C.C.A.-8, 1915) 219 F. 503. Simpson v. Western Hardware Metal Co. (W.D. Wash., 1915) 227 F. 304, 313. Edwards Co. v. La Dow (C.C.A.-6, 1916) 230 F. 378, 381. Turner v. Schaeffer (C.C.A.-6, 1918) 249 F. 654. Rosenthal v. Heller (M.D. Pa., 1920) 266 F. 563. Morris v. Neumann (C.C.A.-8, 1923) 293 F. 974, 978. Adams v. Jones (C.C.A.-5, 1926) 11 F.2d 759, certiorari denied, 271 U.S. 685. Lewinson v. Hobart Trust Co. (N.J., 1931) 49 F.2d 356. Gelinas v. Buffum (C.C.A.-9, 1931) 52 F.2d 598.
Contra: Pond v. New York National Exch. Bank (S.D.N.Y., 1903) 124 F. 992. Off v. Hakes (C.C.A.-7, 1905) 142 F. 364, 366. In re Plant (S.D. Ga., 1906) 148 F. 37. Parker v. Black (C.C.A.-2, 1907) 151 F. 18. Parker v. Sherman (C.C.A.-2, 1914) 212 F. 917, 918. Reed v. Guaranty Security Corp. (Mass., 1925) 291 F. 580.

McCormick v. Page (1901) 96 Ill. App. 447. Detroit Trust Co. v. Old National Bank (1908) 155 Mich. 61, 64; 118 N.W. 729. Boonville National Bank v. Blakey (1906) 166 Ind. 427, 442; 76 N.E. 529. Irons v. Bias (1920) 85 W. Va. 493; 102 S.E. 126. People's Bank v. McAleer (1920) 204 Ala. 101, 103; 85 So. 413.

Plaintiff insists that defendants waived their right to have the suit transferred to the law side.

Rule 22 declares: "If at any time it appear that a suit commenced in equity should have been brought as an action on the law side of the court, it shall be forthwith transferred to the law side and be there proceeded with, with only such alteration in the pleadings as shall be essential." As plaintiff's bill shows that it had a plain, adequate and complete remedy at law, defendants were entitled upon proper application to have the suit transferred and trial by jury. Undoubtedly they might have waived that right. Reynes v. Dumont, 130 U.S. 354, 395. American Mills Co. v. American Surety Co., 260 U.S. 360, 363. But the record discloses no act or omission of theirs at all inconsistent with their denial by answer of the assertion in the bill that plaintiff had no remedy at law or to suggest that they were willing that the case should be tried in equity. Their application was noticed to be heard about a week before the case was reached for trial. It is not shown that they delayed the hearing of the motion. Presumably the matter was referred to the judge sitting in equity to serve the convenience of the court. The rule directs the transfer if "at any time" it shall appear that the suit should have been brought as an action at law. An application for transfer brought on for hearing before the commencement of the trial is not too late. Parkerson v. Borst, 251 F. 242, 245. Plaintiff's claim that defendants waived their right under the rule is without merit.

Reversed.


Summaries of

Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co.

U.S.
Nov 7, 1932
287 U.S. 92 (1932)

In Schoenthal, the trustee in bankruptcy sued in equity to recover alleged preferential payments, claiming that it had no adequate remedy at law.

Summary of this case from Granfinanciera, S. A. v. Nordberg

In Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co., 287 U.S. 92, 53 S.Ct. 50, 77 L.Ed. 185 (1932), the Supreme Court examined whether or not a claim of preference asserted by a trustee in bankruptcy against the beneficiary of the preference was legal or equitable.

Summary of this case from In re Harbour

In Schoenthal, the Court actually construed a provision of the judicial code, 28 U.S.C. § 384, not the seventh amendment.

Summary of this case from In re Harbour

In Schoenthal, the Court stated that "[s]uits to recover preferences constitute no part of the proceedings in bankruptcy but concern controversies arising out of it.

Summary of this case from In re Harbour

In Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co., 287 U.S. 92, 94-95, 53 S.Ct. 50, 51-52, 77 L.Ed. 185 (1932), the Supreme Court held that a bankruptcy trustee's suit to recover a money judgment arising from an allegedly voidable preference is indistinguishable from all other cases in which one civil party seeks a money judgment from another civil party.

Summary of this case from In re Michigan Real Estate Ins. Trust

In Schoenthal, the Supreme Court applied the law/equity test and held that preference actions, such as the one brought by the trustee here, which seek nothing other than money damages are legal, as opposed to equitable, in nature.

Summary of this case from In re Michigan Real Estate Ins. Trust

In Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co., 287 U.S. 92, 53 S.Ct. 50, 77 L.Ed. 185 (1932), the Supreme Court find that suits to recover preferences were not part of the proceedings in bankruptcy but concerned controversies arising out of it. The Court went on to hold that the preference action should have been tried at law because it was an action for money damages reasoning that where a legal remedy is available, a plaintiff is not entitled to maintain a suit in equity and that such a determination must be made based upon the facts of the complaint.

Summary of this case from In re Arnett Oil, Inc., (N.D.Ind. 1984)

In Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co., 287 U.S. 92, 53 S.Ct. 50, 51, 77 L.Ed. 185, with regard to a suit by a trustee to recover preferential payments of ascertained and definite amounts, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that no basis for equitable relief was indicated.

Summary of this case from Williams v. Collier

In Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co.... the Supreme Court unequivocally established that preference actions seeking only monetary relief are properly classified as actions at law, thereby entitling the parties to a trial by jury.

Summary of this case from Marcus v. Dairies (In re Dairies)

In Schoenthal the defendant was allowed a jury trial, while in Katchen he was not. The only significant factual difference between the cases is that Katchen filed a claim, and the Schoenthals did not. Clearly, the act of filing a claim took Katchen beyond the protection of the Seventh Amendment. By filing a claim against the estate, Katchen converted his legal claim to an equitable one and invoked the summary jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court. His claim had become part of the bankruptcy process.

Summary of this case from In re Carter Paper Company, Inc.

In Schoenthal, the trustee in bankruptcy sued in equity to recover alleged preferential payments, claiming that he had no adequate remedy at law.

Summary of this case from In re Carter Paper Company, Inc.

In Schoenthal, the bankruptcy trustee sought recovery in equity for alleged preferential payments maintaining that no adequate remedy at law existed.

Summary of this case from In re Lee Way Holding Co.

In Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co., 287 U.S. 92, 94-95, 53 S.Ct. 50, 77 L.Ed. 185 (1932), the Supreme Court held that a bankruptcy trustee's suit to recover a money judgment arising from an allegedly voidable preference is indistinguishable from all other cases in which one civil party seeks a money judgment from another civil party.

Summary of this case from In re Michigan Real Estate Insurance Trust

In Schoenthal, the Supreme Court based its decision on the observation that "[i]n England, long prior to the enactment of our first Judiciary Act, common-law actions of trover and money had and received were resorted to for the recovery of preferential payments by bankrupts."

Summary of this case from Matter of Silver Mill Frozen Foods

In Schoenthal, the Supreme Court held that under § 267 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 384, as it read in 1932, a preference action must be brought at law when the defendants have not waived their right to a jury.

Summary of this case from Matter of Silver Mill Frozen Foods
Case details for

Schoenthal v. Irving Trust Co.

Case Details

Full title:SCHOENTHAL ET AL. v . IRVING TRUST CO., TRUSTEE IN BANKRUPTCY

Court:U.S.

Date published: Nov 7, 1932

Citations

287 U.S. 92 (1932)
53 S. Ct. 50

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