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VIRGINIA AND ALABAMA COAL COMPANY v. CENTRAL RAILROAD AND BANKING COMPANY GEORGIA.

decided: May 9, 1898.

VIRGINIA AND ALABAMA COAL COMPANY
v.
CENTRAL RAILROAD AND BANKING COMPANY OF GEORGIA.



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

Author: White

[ 170 U.S. Page 362]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

In each of the intervening petitions a liability of the Central Company was asserted to arise from the fact that the coal was sold to and purchased by the Danville Company for use in operating the lines of railway of the Central Company, and in the lower courts, as in this court, it was contended that under the prayer for general relief the petitioners were entitled to have their demands allowed as a preferential claim against any surplus income which might arise from the operation of the Central road under the receiver, after payment of the ordinary expenses of operation, or out of the corpus of the estate or the proceeds of sale thereof, in the event that the income had been diverted by the receivers in expenditures for betterments.

Had the Central Company, through its own officers, operated its line of railway during the period when the coal in question

[ 170 U.S. Page 363]

     was furnished, it cannot be doubted, in the light of the decision in Burnham v. Bowen, 111 U.S. 776, that in the event that the company failed to make payment for such coal while a going concern, the indebtedness created, upon the appointment of a receiver might have been properly allowed as a charge upon the surplus income arising during the receivership. In the case referred to, an Iowa state court in the early part of 1875, and subsequently, by removal, a Circuit Court of the United States sitting equity, took possession of, and operated through a receiver, a line of railway owned by the Chicago, Dubuque and Minnesota Railroad Company. When the receiver took control the company was indebted to the Northern Illinois Coal and Iron Company for coal furnished "during 1874," and used in running locomotives. During the receivership there was paid from the earnings which came into the hands of the receiver the amount of a judgment indebtedness for lands purchased by the company for its depot and offices, and also several judgments rendered against the company for its right of way. The sum of these payments by the receiver exceeded the amount of the indebtedness owing for the coal furnished as above stated. In October, 1876, a decree of strict foreclosure was entered, in which, however, a reservation was made, for future decision, of all matters in controversy between the plaintiffs and all and any of the defendants and intervenors and claimants. Among the persons who had intervened in the foreclosure proceedings was one Bowen, who had acquired acceptances which had been given to the coal company for the indebtedness referred to. He petitioned for a judgment against the railroad company for the amount of such indebtedness, "and that such judgment be declared a lien on the property and road of said company in the hands of said trustees and their grantees." A decree was entered on October 30, 1880, finding due to Bowen on his claim a specified sum, and declaring that the mortgaged property in the hands of the trustees under the decree of foreclosure was equitably bound for the payment thereof, "said property having pssed to said trustees subject to the rights and equities of said Bowen, intervenor.

[ 170 U.S. Page 364]

     and said trustees, and all parties holding under them, taking said property subject to such rights and equities on the part of said Bowen, intervenor." Provision was then made for a sale of the property if the claim was not paid. An appeal having been taken by the trustees, this court held that, at time of the appointment of the receiver, the indebtedness in question was one of the current debts for operating expenses made in the ordinary course of a continuing business, to be paid out of current earnings. In the course of the opinion, speaking through Mr. Chief Justice Waite, the court reiterated the doctrine enunciated in Fosdick v. Schall, 99 U.S. 235, 252, where it was declared that: "The income [of a railroad company] out of which the mortgagee is to be paid is the net income obtained by deducting from the gross earnings what is required for necessary operating and managing expenses, proper equipment and useful improvements. Every railroad mortgagee in accepting his security impliedly agrees that the current debts made in the ordinary course of business shall be paid from the current receipts before he has any claim on the income."

And it was further said pp. 781, 782:

"So far as anything appears on the record, the failure of the company to pay the debt to Bowen was due alone to the fact that the expenses of running the road and preserving the security of the bondholders were greater than the receipts from the business. Under these circumstances, we think the debt was a charge in equity on the continuing income, as well that which came into the hands of the court after the receiver was appointed as that before. When, therefore, the court took the earnings of the receivership and applied them to the payment of the fixed charges on the railroad structures, thus increasing the security of the bondholders at the expense of the labor and supply creditors, there was such a diversion of what is denominated in Fosdick v. Schall, the 'current debt fund,' as to make it proper to require the mortgagees to pay it back. So far as current expense creditors are concerned, the court should use the income of the receivership in the way the company would have been bound in equity and good conscience

[ 170 U.S. Page 365]

     to use it if no change in the possession had been made. This rule is in strict accordance with the decision in Fosdick v. Schall, which we see no reason to modify in any particular."

It was thus settled that where coal is purchased by a railroad company for use in operating lines of railway owned and controlled by it, in order that they may be continued as a going concern, and where it was the expectation of the parties that the coal was to be paid for out of current earnings, the indebtedness, as between the party furnishing the materials and supplies and the holders of bonds secured by a mortgage upon the property is a charge in equity on the continuing income as well that which may come into the hands of a court after a receiver has been appointed as that before. It is immaterial in such case, in determining the right to be compensated out of the surplus earnings of the receivership, whether or not during the operation of the railroad by the company there had been a diversion of income for the benefit of the mortgage bondholders, either in payment of interest on mortgage bonds or expenditures for permanent improvements upon the property. Nor is the equity of a current supply claimant in subsequent income arising from the operation of a railroad under the direction of the court affected by the fact that while the company is operating its road its income is misappropriated and diverted to purposes which do not inure to the benefit of the mortgage bondholders and are foreign to the beneficial maintenance, preservation and improvement of the ...


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