APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of South Carolina. The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the court.
Mr. Theodore G. Barker and Mr. James Lowndes for the appellants.
Mr. D. H. Chamberlain and Mr. Harvey Terry, contra.
The Merchants' Bank of South Carolina, at Cheraw, was chartered in 1833, and the charter was renewed for twenty years in 1852. Both statutes provided that, 'in case of the failure of the said bank, each stockholder, copartnership, or body politic, having a share or shares in the said bank at the time of such failure, or who shall have been interested therein at any time within twelve months previous to such failure, shall be liable and held bound individually for any sum not exceeding twice the amount of his, her, or their share or shares.'
In December, 1870, Harvey Terry filed a bill in equity, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of South Carolina, to enforce this provision as to certain bills of the bank, of which he claimed to be the holder and owner. He alleges himself to be a citizen of the State of Virginia; and he prays for subpoena against William Godfrey, receiver of the bank, John Mattison, cashier, and five others, as directors of the bank, and some sixty others, as stockholders. The bank is not made a party, and no allegation is found in the bill, or anywhere else in the record, of the citizenship of any of the defendants. Of the persons made defendants by the bill, service was only obtained upon twenty, and no appearance was made for any one else.
The bill charges, among other matters, 'that on the first day of March, A.D. 1865, and, indeed, at an earlier date, the said bank had failed, being then indebted to an amount far exceeding its assets; and that, in consequence of such failure, in accordance with the provisions of the said act, the stockholders, copartnerships, and bodies politic, holding shares in said bank, or who had been interested therein within twelve months previous to such failure, became liable for the debts of the said bank for sums not exceeding twice the amount of the shares held by them respectively.'
And it was alleged that, under statutes of the State of South Carolina enacted for that purpose, the bank and all its property were, by the proper State court, placed in the hands of William Godfrey as receiver, who was then in charge of the same. It then prays for an account of the assets, furnishes a schedule of the stockholders, which plaintiff says is the best he can obtain, and calls for a discovery of the names of all who were stockholders at the date of the failure, and for twelve months next preceding that date, and that, when ascertained, they may be made defendants, and charged with liability for his debt against the bank.
Answers were filed for all, or nearly all, who were served; but no replications to any of these answers are found in the record.
The answers generally set up a plea of the four years' stat ute of limitation. Several of the answers aver that the fail ure of the bank took place Nov. 13, 1860, when this bank, in common with all the banks of South Carolina, suspended specie payment of their obligations, and never afterwards resumed.
The only answers which admit the ownership of shares in the bank, and fix the time of said ownership, are the separate answers of A. Baxter Springs and R. A. Springs, each of whom admits that he held sixty shares of the bank in 1854, and has held the same ever since.
In December, 1872, the court made an order of reference to a master, with instructions to ascertain and report who were stockholders in the bank on the first day of March, 1865, and for twelve months previous thereto, and how many shares they held; also, to ascertain and report who were the creditors and bill-holders of the bank, and the amount due to them respectively.
This order, it will be seen, fixed the day of the failure of the bank at March 1, 1865. What evidence was before the court, or whether there was any, of the date of failure, the record does not show, except the following agreed statement of facts, which, as far as they show any thing on that subject, support the allegations of the answers, that the failure occurred in November, 1860:––
'In this case, the following facts are agreed to by counsel in the cause, and to be considered as testimony in the same before the court:––
'1. The Merchants' Bank of South Carolina, at Cheraw, suspended specie payments at the same time with the other banks in the State; was so suspended in November, ...