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ST. LOUIS & SAN FRANCISCO RAILROAD COMPANY ET AL. v. SPILLER ET AL.

decided: May 16, 1927.

ST. LOUIS & SAN FRANCISCO RAILROAD COMPANY ET AL
v.
SPILLER ET AL.



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

Taft, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, Stone

Author: Brandeis

[ 274 U.S. Page 307]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1913, the federal court for eastern Missouri appointed receivers for the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad. In 1916, the system was sold on foreclosure, was purchased for the Reorganization Committee and was conveyed to the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company, which has operated it since. In 1920, Spiller recovered in the federal court for western Missouri a judgment against the old company in personam for $30,212.31 and for counsel fees taxed as costs pursuant to ยง 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce.*fn1 Thereupon, he filed in the receivership suit,*fn2 upon leave granted, an intervening petition praying that the judgment be satisfied out of the property so acquired by the new company. The Master recommended that the prayers of the petition be granted. The District Court denied Spiller any relief and dismissed the intervening petition without costs to either party. 288 Fed. 612. The Court of Appeals reversed the decree; remanded the case to the lower court with directions to enter a decree for Spiller in the amount of the judgment with interest but without counsel fees; declared that the judgment was prior in lien and superior in equity to the mortgages of the old company; and directed that it be enforced against the property conveyed to the new company. 14 F.2d 284. This Court granted the petition of the two companies for a writ of certiorari. 273 U.S. 680.

The judgment which Spiller seeks to enforce through the intervening petition was entered by the trial court

[ 274 U.S. Page 308]

     in 1916, after the foreclosure sale and before confirmation thereof; was reversed by the Court of Appeals in 1918; and was reinstated by this Court in 1920. Spiller v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 253 U.S. 117. It is for overcharges collected by the old company, in 1906, 1907 and 1908 under a freight tariff which had been increased in 1903 and which was held by the Interstate Commerce Commission to be unreasonable in 1905, and again in 1908. Cattle Raisers' Association v. Missouri, Kansas & Texas R. R. Co. et al., 11 I. C. C. 296; 13 I. C. C. 418. The action in which the judgment was recovered was begun in 1914, after the appointment of the receivers. The reparation order on which the action was based was entered also after their appointment; but the petition for reparation was filed prior thereto.

The validity of the judgment as against the old company is not challenged in this proceeding. The question here is whether Spiller is entitled to have it satisfied out of the property of the new company. The railroads contend that in nature the claim is one not entitled to preferential payment; and that, in any event, Spiller is barred by laches or otherwise from obtaining any relief in this suit. The Court of Appeals held that the old company became liable as trustee ex maleficio for overcharges and that this liability is enforceable, as upon a constructive trust, against the property acquired by the new company on foreclosure. It held further that Spiller was not barred by laches or otherwise, because of the provision of the foreclosure decree, by which the purchaser became bound to pay, as a part of the purchase price, any unpaid claims of creditors of the old company which should be adjudged superior in equity to its mortgages, the court reserving to itself jurisdiction to determine the amount and validity of any such claim.

First. The contention that the judgment constitutes a lien or equity upon the property of the new company,

[ 274 U.S. Page 309]

     as upon a constructive trust, rests upon the following argument. The freight rates being unreasonable were unlawful. The shipper was obliged to pay the charges exacted, although they were unlawful, because they were the published rates. As the shipper was obliged to pay the unlawful charges the payment was made under duress. One may be held as trustee ex maleficio of funds obtained by duress as well as of those procured by fraud. The old company by collecting the unlawful charges became trustee ex maleficio of the funds collected. These can be traced and may be followed. They passed to the receivers who took the funds with notice and without paying value. Upon the foreclosure they passed to the new company. It also took them with notice and is subject to the trust, either because the shipper's equitable lien or interest was not cut off by the foreclosure sale, to one with notice, in a suit to which the shipper was not a party, or because the new company agreed to pay pursuant to the foreclosure decree claims prior in lien and superior in equity to the mortgages of the old company.

We need not consider whether, in the absence of legislation, charges illegally exacted by a carrier may be recovered under the doctrine of a constructive trust; or whether the alleged equitable remedy is applicable to overcharges subject to the Interstate Commerce Act, which provides a different remedy;*fn3 or whether the equitable remedy, if any, has been lost by proceeding to judgment at law. For, even if the overcharges when ...


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