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WALBRUN V. BABBITT, 83 U. S. 577 (1872)

U.S. Supreme Court

Walbrun v. Babbitt, 83 U.S. 16 Wall. 577 577 (1872)

Walbrun v. Babbitt

83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 577


1. When on the undisputed parts of a case a verdict is clearly right, so that if a new venire were awarded, the same verdict would have to be given, a court will not reverse because on some disputed points a charge may have been technically inaccurate.

2. A sale by a retail country merchant then insolvent of his entire stock, suddenly, is a sale "not made in the usual and ordinary course" of his business; and therefore prima facie evidence of fraud within the 35th section of the bankrupt law.

Page 83 U. S. 578

3. The presumption of fraud arising from the unusual nature of such a sale can be overcome only by proof on the part of the buyer that he pursued in good faith all reasonable means to find out the pecuniary condition of the vendor.

4. One purchasing in such a case from a vendee who he knows has used no such means, but on the contrary has bought under other suspicious circumstances, takes with full knowledge of the infirmity of the title. And as against either or both purchasers, the assignee in bankruptcy may set the sale aside if made within six months before a decree in bankruptcy, even though a fair money consideration have been paid by each.

Babbitt, assignee in bankruptcy of Marks Mendelson, brought trover against Walbrun & Co. in the court below, to recover the value of a stock of merchandise sold by the bankrupt to one Summerfield, and by the latter to the said defendants. The ground of the action was that the several transfers were frauds on the bankrupt law under the 35th section thereof -- a section in these words: [Footnote 1]

"If any person, being insolvent or in contemplation of insolvency or bankruptcy, within six months before the filing of the petition by or against him, makes any payment, sale, assignment, transfer, conveyance, or other disposition of any part of his property to any person who then has reasonable cause to believe him to be insolvent, or to be acting in contemplation of insolvency, and that such payment, sale, assignment, transfer, or other conveyance, is made with a view to prevent his property from coming to his assignee in bankruptcy or to prevent the same from being distributed under this act, or to defeat the object of, or in any way impair, hinder, impede, or delay the operation and effect of, or to evade any of the provisions of this act, the sale, assignment, transfer, or conveyance shall be void, and the assignee may recover the property or the value thereof as assets of the bankrupt; and if such sale, assignment, transfer, or conveyance is not made in the usual and ordinary course of business of the debtor, the fact shall be prima facie evidence of fraud."

The facts of the case which were undisputed, were thus:

In November, 1868, Mendelson, doing business in Kingsville,

Page 83 U. S. 579

a small town in the interior of Missouri, as a retail country merchant, wrote to one Summerfield, who was his brother-in-law, living in St. Louis and engaged there in the furniture business, to bring some money and come and buy him out. Summerfield at once went to Kingsville, and took, in currency, money enough for the purpose. On his arrival there Mendelson told him he was desirous of selling his stock, because he could not succeed in the business in which he was engaged, and wished to deal in furniture and hardware. An account of stock was taken, and Summerfield paid Mendelson for it after deducting 25 percent off the cost price. Soon after this purchase Summerfield, leaving Mendelson in possession of the store, went to Chillicothe, Missouri, and told Walbrun & Co., a firm there with which he had some acquaintance, of his purchase of the stock of goods at 25 percent below cost, because the owner wanted to go into the furniture business, and that, as he only desired to make 5 percent, he would resell to them at 20 percent below cost. They agreed to take the goods at his offer, as they needed some of the articles to replenish their stock, if they came up to the account that was given of them. Accordingly, one Ritter, a member of the firm, went back of Kingsville with Summerfield. They found Mendelson still in charge of the store. Some of the goods were boxed up and some on the shelves. In making his purchase, Ritter made no inquiry of the pecuniary condition of either Mendelson or Summerfield. Both parties lodged at Mendelson's house. The morning after arriving they commenced examining the goods at the store, and found some of them in bad condition, of which Ritter complained. After measuring several pieces, to see if the stock conformed to the inventory, Summerfield excused himself from further service on the ground that he had to return to St. Louis, as he had just learned of the sickness of his wife, and told Ritter to take the goods home with him, and if the inventory was defective he would make it right. Ritter replied that he thought that if they would work hard they could soon get through, but finally yielded to Summerfield's persuasions,

Page 83 U. S. 580

and, with the assistance of Mendelson, boxed the goods up and shipped them to Chillicothe. Ritter paid the full inventory price at the agreed rate, and both parties left Kingsville that night for their respective homes. Mendelson's debts at the time of this sale were about $9,000. This stock of goods was all the property worth naming that he had. The price given by Summerfield for it was $5,373.

On the 24th of December, 1868, on petition of his creditors, Mendelson was adjudicated a bankrupt. The money received by him from Summerfield for the goods did not reach his creditors, as, according to his own statement, he lost it.

There were other facts and circumstances connected with the transactions which invited inquiry, but, as they were represented differently in the sworn testimony of the different witnesses, they are not given as any part of the case. All the witnesses agreed in the case as stated above, and as this Court considered, there was no necessity, for the purposes of this suit, of going beyond it.

The court below gave several instructions bearing, some of them, on these disputed parts of the case. These instructions were assigned for error, though in several points not unfavorable to the defendant. But on the whole case, embracing the undisputed parts of the suit (the case as above given), the court directed the jury to find for the plaintiff. Verdict and judgment went accordingly. The defendants now brought the case here.

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