First Nat. Bank of Charlotte v. National Exchange Bank of Baltimore

Court Case Details
  • Case Name: First Nat. Bank of Charlotte v. National Exchange Bank of Baltimore
  • Court: Supreme Court of the United States
  • Filed: April 24, 1876
  • Precedential Status: Published
  • Citations: 92 U.S. 122, 23 L. Ed. 679, 1875 U.S. LEXIS 1736
  • Docket #: 193
  • Judges: Waite
Court Case Opinion
92 U.S. 122 (____)


Supreme Court of United States.

*125 Mr. J. Upshur Dennis and Mr. John Scott, Jr., for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. William F. Frick, contra.

*126 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE delivered the opinion of the court.

The question presented for our consideration in this case is, whether a national bank, organized under the National Banking Act, may, in a fair and bona fide compromise of a contested claim against it growing out of a legitimate banking transaction, pay a larger sum than would have been exacted in satisfaction of the demand, so as to obtain by the arrangement a transfer of certain stocks in railroad and other corporations; it being honestly believed at the time, that, by turning the stocks into money under more favorable circumstances than then existed, a loss, which would otherwise accrue from the transaction, might be averted or diminished. Such, according to the finding below, was the state of facts out of which this suit has arisen. That finding is conclusive upon us.

A national bank can "exercise by its board of directors, or *127 duly authorized officers or agents, subject to law, all such incidental powers as shall be necessary to carry on the business of banking, by discounting and negotiating promissory notes, drafts, bills of exchange, and other evidences of debt; by receiving deposits; by buying and selling exchange, coin, and bullion; by loaning money on personal security; and by obtaining, issuing, and circulating notes." Rev. Stat., sect. 5136, par. 7; 15 Stat. 101, sect. 8.

Authority is thus given to transact such a banking business as is specified, and all incidental powers necessary to carry it on are granted. These powers are such as are required to meet all the legitimate demands of the authorized business, and to enable a bank to conduct its affairs, within the general scope of its charter, safely and prudently. This necessarily implies the right of a bank to incur liabilities in the regular course of its business, as well as to become the creditor of others. Its own obligations must be met, and debts due to it collected or secured. The power to adopt reasonable and appropriate measures for these purposes is an incident to the power to incur the liability or become the creditor. Obligations may be assumed that result unfortunately. Loans or discounts may be made that cannot be met at maturity. Compromises to avoid or reduce losses are oftentimes the necessary results of this condition of things. These compromises come within the general scope of the powers committed to the board of directors and the officers and agents of the bank, and are submitted to their judgment and discretion, except to the extent that they are restrained by the charter or by-laws. Banks may do, in this behalf, whatever natural persons could do under like circumstances.

To some extent, it has been thought expedient in the National Banking Act to limit this power. Thus, as to real estate, it is provided (Rev. Stat., sect. 5137; 13 Stat. 107, sect. 28) that it may be accepted in good faith as security for, or in payment of, debts previously contracted; but, if accepted in payment, it must not be retained more than five years. So, while a bank is expressly prohibited (sect. 5201; 13 Stat. 110, sect. 35) from loaning money upon or purchasing its own stock, special authority is given for the acceptance of its shares as security for, *128 and in payment of, debts previously contracted in good faith, but all shares purchased under this power must be again sold or disposed of at private or public sale within six months from the time they are acquired.

Dealing in stocks is not expressly prohibited; but such a prohibition is implied from the failure to grant the power. In the honest exercise of the power to compromise a doubtful debt owing to a bank, it can hardly be doubted that stocks may be accepted in payment and satisfaction, with a view to their subsequent sale or conversion into money so as to make good or reduce an anticipated loss. Such a transaction would not amount to a dealing in stocks. It was, in effect, so decided in Fleckner v. Bank U.S., 8 Wheat. 351, where it was held that a prohibition against trading and dealing was nothing more than a prohibition against engaging in the ordinary business of buying and selling for profit, and did not include purchases resulting from ordinary banking transactions. For this reason, among others, the acceptance of an indorsed note in payment of a debt due was decided not to be a "dealing" in notes. Of course, all such transactions must be compromises in good faith, and not mere cloaks or devices to cover unauthorized practices.

It is difficult to see how a debt due from, or a contested obligation resting upon, a bank, occupies any different position in respect to this power of adjustment and compromise from that of a debt owing to it. The object in both cases is to get rid of or reduce an apprehended loss growing out of legitimate business; and it would seem that whatever might be done in the one case ought not to be excluded from the other under the same circumstances. Often a discharge by a bank of its own obligation creates a debt due to it from another. Such was the case here. Bayne, without authority, transferred to the defendant, as collateral security for his indebtedness, a certificate of deposit issued to him by the plaintiff, and afterwards collected the money due upon the certificate from the plaintiff without disclosing the transfer. Any payment by the plaintiff to the defendant, therefore, in discharge of its liability upon the certificate, became a lawful charge against Bayne. He was insolvent. It was, on this account, not only the right, but *129 the duty, of the officers and agents of the plaintiff to protect by their arrangements, as far as possible, the stockholders whose interests they represented. This was necessarily left to their judgment and discretion. No question of good faith is involved. The transaction for all the purposes of this suit must be taken to have been, in fact, what it purports to be, — a fair and honest compromise of an outstanding claim, with a view to ultimate protection against an impending loss. As such, we think it was within the corporate powers of the bank, and that the Court of Appeals did not err in so holding.

Judgment affirmed.

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