« ForrigeFortsett »
the consolidated Northern and Western company. That company, in addition to the three-eighths transferred to it by Hubbell and Dodge, had the two quarter-interests originally owned by those companies, making seveneighths in all. In October, 1893, the consolidated company pledged to F. M. Hubbell & Son five-eighths of the terminal company stock (2,500 shares) as security for a debt. The stock was transferred to the Hubbell firm on the books at that time, and so remained down to the institution of this suit, except as to five "qualifying shares" placed in the names of individuals but controlled by the firm. On January 29, 1894, the indebtedness was settled between the directors of the consolidated company and the Messrs. Hubbell upon terms that included a purchase by the latter of the 2,500 shares of terminal company stock at ten per centum of its par value. Passing for the moment certain special grounds of attack upon the title they thus acquired to these shares, it is obvious that they took them subject to all qualifications arising out of the trust that pertained to the property and franchises of the terminal company.
The quarter-interest in the terminal company stock retained by the consolidated company afterwards passed from it to the complainant Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company, which acquired at the same time the Northern and Northwestern lines. That company took with notice of the claim of the Hubbells to a fiveeighths interest; but this does not estop it from disputing the validity of their claim, nor from setting up, as in this suit, whatever beneficial participation in the trust respecting the terminal property may be incident to its ownership of one-fourth of the stock of the terminal company together with connecting lines of railroad, and asking for relief against any inequitable use by the Hubbells of the five-eighths interest claimed by them.
As to the amendments to the articles of incorporation: These are alleged to have been adopted at a meeting of
Opinion of the Court.
the stockholders of the terminal company held April 8, 1890. Their purport was, briefly, to omit from the articles the copy of the contract of 1882 recited therein, the declaration that the powers exercised by the company should be in accordance with the terms and spirit of that contract, and the requirement that assent in writing of the proprietary companies should be necessary before any disposition of the franchises of the terminal company should be made; to set aside previous proceedings respecting the amount of capital stock to be issued to the proprietary companies and provide for the distribution of a much decreased amount ($400,000 par instead of $2,000,000) but in the same proportions as before, the remaining capital stock ($1,600,000 par) to be issued only by resolution of the stockholders adopted by vote of more than seveneighths of all the stock theretofore issued; and to eliminate the former method of selecting directors and provide that they should be elected by the stockholders, but that it should require the votes of more than seven-eighths of all the stock to elect a director, and that as to all matters except the ordinary operation of the property the directors could act only upon unanimous vote of the eight members of the board. One of the articles adopted purported to repeal, strike out, and expunge the proceedings of a stockholders' meeting held December 10, 1884, at which the original articles of incorporation were adopted.
It is plain enough, and is conceded, that the corporation could not, by merely altering its own internal organization, affect the interests of its cestuis que trustent. It is as evidence of a modification of the agreement between the stockholders of the terminal company-themselves beneficiaries of the trust-that the amendments are invoked. So regarding them, the question is, by what authority and with what intent were they adopted? The stockholders' meeting was attended by six individuals (including the two Hubbells), and two others by proxy, each of
Opinion of the Court.
whom assumed to represent, and in a general sense did represent, one or the other of the three proprietary companies. F. M. Hubbell himself was president of the Northwestern Company and assumed to represent it. Others present were the vice president of the Northern and the president of the St. Louis companies. The evidence fails to show that those present had express authority to act for the proprietary companies in amending the articles; and action of this kind-materially affecting the property interests of the three companies in a matter so vital as the ownership and control of an important terminal-was so far out of the usual or ordinary course of business that authority to represent their corporations in assenting to it was not to be implied as coming within the general scope of their duties. Nor did either of the proprietary companies, by any formal corporate action, accept or ratify the amendments.
Moreover, it affirmatively appears, and both courts below in effect found, that there was no actual intent on the part of any of the parties concerned to affect the substantial rights or equities of the proprietary companies, or to terminate, repudiate, or substantially modify the trust respecting the terminal property. It does appear that some of those active in proposing the amendments, and assuming to act for the proprietary companies in assenting to them (there is a question whether they actually were adopted by a proper vote of the stockholders, but we do not go into this), were under the impression that the contract of 1882, recited in the articles of incorporation, already had been abrogated and the trust set aside by the issuance of the terminal company's bonds and apportionment of the stock to the proprietary companies in payment for the property conveyed and by the making of deeds absolute in form; that both in respect to the ownership of the property and the management of it under the contract of 1889 the original arrangement had been abandoned; and
Opinion of the Court.
that it was desirable to amend the articles so as to make them conform to the situation actually existing.
Clearly, this was a mistaken impression, as will appear from what we have said. It was a mistake not indeed as to any mere matter of fact, nor on the other hand as to any pure question of law, but rather as to the existing legal rights, interests, and relations of the parties resulting from antecedent transactions. Whether it was such a mistake as to furnish ground for a cancellation of the amendments in equity, is a question into which we need not enter. (See Snell v. Insurance Co., 98 U. S. 85, 90; Griswold v. Hazard, 141 U. S. 260, 284; Utermehle v. Norment, 197 U. S. 40, 56; Philippine Sugar Co. v. Philippine Islands, 247 U. S. 385, 389; Pom. Eq. Jur., §§ 841-849.) For the fact that those who assumed to act for the proprietary companies in assenting to the amendments were mistaken as to the existing legal situation, so that the amendments, if given effect according to their terms, instead of bringing the articles into conformity with the situation already actually existing, would materially change the situation to the disadvantage of the proprietary companies by putting an end to an important trust contrary to their actual intent as parties beneficially interested, is a cogent reason for holding as we do that authority on the part of agents to assent to such amendments is not to be implied where it was out of the ordinary course of business and express authority was not conferred.
254 U. S.
In support of the contention that the terminal property was not subject to any trust either before or after the amendments, defendants cite a series of contracts in which the terminal company asserted its ownership without qualification, and of conveyances, mortgages, etc., by the proprietary companies recognizing the legal title of the terminal company to its property and asserting in themselves only a title to shares in the terminal company. But when a trust is once established and acknowledged it does
Opinion of the Court.
not need to be constantly reiterated or confessed. None of the instruments referred to is in anywise inconsistent with the trust; the contracts of the terminal company were made in the very course of its administration of the trust; and the mortgages and conveyances of the proprietary companies dealt with legal titles only, their equitable interests in the terminal passing without mention as incidental to their ownership of the stock together with the connecting lines.
The majority of the Circuit Court of Appeals held that the control of the proprietary companies was relinquished by reason of the amendments and the conduct of the parties at the time and thereafter, upon this theory: that although the amendments were neither previously authorized nor afterwards formally accepted or ratified by the three companies, yet since their executive officers were aware of and approved the action of the meeting; since Hubbell was encouraged to purchase the bonds and stock, the value of the stock being wholly prospective; since after the amendments the stock of the terminal company was issued in accordance therewith and directors elected by the new method, the railroads making no attempt to exercise their right of naming directors in certain proportions as before; since for seventeen years the railroads acted, as it seemed to the court, in harmony with the amended articles, not questioning their validity until this suit was commenced; they could not, after such delay, enforce their rights in a court of equity against defendants who to their knowledge had acted upon the belief that such rights did not exist, and had acquired and held property which had largely increased in value in the interval. It was held that this result had come to pass although the railroads never had intended it; that the sale of a part of the Wabash stock by the purchasing committee to Hubbell and Dodge, then influential in the two other roads, would seem at the time a mere rearrangement of the interests of