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BROWNING v. DE FORD.

decided: May 21, 1900.

BROWNING
v.
DE FORD.



ERROR TO AND APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF THE TERRITORY OF OKLAHOMA.

Author: Brown

[ 178 U.S. Page 197]

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

This was a contest between mortgage creditors suing as plaintiffs and attaching creditors representing the defendant sheriff.

The facts are that on December 15, 1890, the firm of W. F. Wolfe & Son, retail merchants, and conducting a store at Oklahoma City, executed a joint chattel mortgage to one Vance and several other creditors for whom he acted, and by whom he was authorized to take any security he could get, of their stock of goods at Oklahoma City, and another stock at the city of Guthrie, not involved in this case. The mortgagees immediately took possession of the mortgaged property by one Harvey, their agent, and a brother-in-law of Vance, who proceeded to take an inventory. Shortly after the execution of the mortgage, a number of other creditors brought suits in attachment against Wolfe & Son, and through the defendant De Ford, sheriff of Oklahoma County, levied upon the goods, and dispossessed the mortgagees, who brought suits for the conversion of the property. These suits were subsequently consolidated into two cases, in one of which all the mortgage creditors appear as plaintiffs, and the sheriff of Oklahoma County as defendant. The defence was that the goods were fraudulently obtained of the attaching creditors by false representations made by W. F. Wolfe & Son as to their assets, and that

[ 178 U.S. Page 198]

     Vance, one of the mortgage creditors, acting for himself and as agent and attorney for the others, not only had full knowledge that such goods were wrongfully and fraudulently obtained, but actively participated in obtaining the same, and that he had full knowledge that the mortgage was executed by Wolfe & Son for the purpose of hindering, delaying and defrauding their creditors, and actively participated in such fraudulent device. In other words, in brief, that the goods were purchased in the pursuance of a conspiracy that when a large stock had been obtained by Wolfe & Son by means of fraudulent statements as to their assets, certain deeds of their real estate which had been previously made, but which had remained unrecorded, should be placed of record, and the goods and merchandise obtained upon such fraudulent statements should be mortgaged to the plaintiffs in satisfaction of their claims.

In this connection the court charged the jury that, "in order to invalidate the chattel mortgage, it is not enough for the defendant to show simply that the firm of W. F. Wolfe & Son fraudulently purchased goods of the attaching creditors, but it must also appear from the evidence that the plaintiffs in this case were parties to such fraud; that they were either active participants in such fraud, or that they aided or abetted in such fraud, or that such plaintiffs at the time they took such mortgage actually knew that Wolfe & Son had fraudulently incurred a liability and debt for the goods or a portion thereof described in the chattel mortgage."

Though there are many assignments of error, there are really but two which require our consideration: First, that there was no evidence of knowledge on the part of Vance, who acted for the mortgage creditors, of the fraudulent character of the purchases made by Wolfe & Son of the attaching creditors; second, that the court erred in holding the mortgagees liable simply upon proof that the mortgage was taken with knowledge of such fraudulent representations.

1. To make out their case the attaching creditors were bound to show, first, that the goods were fraudulently purchased, and, second, that the mortgagees, or Vance, their agent, was a party to or cognizant of such frauds. There was ample evidence that

[ 178 U.S. Page 199]

     the goods were fraudulently purchased. The firm of W. F. Wolfe & Son was composed of William F. Wolfe, the father, and Louis H. Wolfe, the son. On January 5, 1887, Louis H. Wolfe deeded to his wife Winifred, in consideration of love and affection, a certain lot of land, No. 15, in Topeka, Kansas, by deed, which was not recorded until December 17, 1890. On July 26, 1890, William F. Wolfe and his wife Georgia H. deeded to Laura V. Vance, their daughter, and the wife of A. H. Vance, another lot in the city of Topeka, No. 20, in consideration of the sum of $6500, and subject to a mortgage of $4000. This deed was also filed for record December 17, 1890. On September 8, Georgia H. Wolfe, wife of William F. Wolfe, made application to the townsite trustees of Oklahoma City for a deed to four lots of land in that city, being the site of their business house, stating that she had purchased the same on May 17, 1890, of Louis H. Wolfe, her son, and William F. Wolfe, her husband, who had given her a quitclaim deed to the same. This deed was also recorded the same day (December 17). Notwithstanding these deeds, the Wolfes, in their statement of assets furnished the attaching creditors, included all this real estate, putting an estimate of $20,000 upon that in Topeka and $12,000 upon that in Oklahoma. This amount added to the value of the Oklahoma store stock $17,000 and the Guthrie store stock $35,000, made their total assets $84,000, less $27,000 liabilities, net assets $57,000. Sundry letters were produced from the firm, written during the summer and fall of 1890 to several of the attaching creditors, in which this real estate was included as a part of their assets, notwithstanding that most of it had already been conveyed to different members of their families. These facts, which were not denied, and which were scarcely susceptible of denial, were fully established, and were clearly sufficient to lay before the jury as to the fraudulent character of the purchases of the attaching creditors.

The facts that Vance was a lawyer of long standing and considerable practice, and, as already stated, was the son-in-law of William F. Wolfe; that one of the deeds was to his wife, and was withheld from record for several months, and until a ...


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