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AMERICAN IRON AND STEEL MANUFACTURING CO. v. SEABOARD AIR LINE RAILWAY

April 6, 1914

AMERICAN IRON AND STEEL MANUFACTURING CO
v.
SEABOARD AIR LINE RAILWAY



CERTIFICATE FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney; Lurton took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: Lamar

[ 233 U.S. Page 263]

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

The statement of facts made by the Circuit Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit, shows that supplies were sold to a railway company on 30 days' credit. Before the credit period expired the road, alleged to be insolvent, was, on its own application placed in the hands of Receivers, their appointment being subsequently continued under a Bill for foreclosure filed by mortgage trustees. The

[ 233 U.S. Page 264]

     Railway Company succeeded in making a readjustment of its bonded indebtedness and the property was returned to the owners. The court, however, retained jurisdiction for the purpose of passing upon the claims of creditors aggrieved by the Company's default in paying its obligations. Among those presented was the American Iron and Steel Manufacturing Company's claim for supplies secured by a lien which by statute took priority over mortgages. The matter was referred to a Master on pleadings not before us. He made a report (not in the record) and on exceptions thereto the Circuit Court refused to allow interest. From that statement, in connection with the briefs and arguments, of both counsel, we infer that the Railway was directed to pay the principal of the claim. The case was then taken to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit which certifies to this court the question,. "Is interest recoverable on such a claim for the period of the Receivership?"

Both parties agree that the matter is controlled by the law in Virginia, but no light is thrown on the subject by the statute of the State which merely declares that legal interest shall continue to be at the rate of six per cent. Pollard's Code, ยง 2817. No Virginia case directly in point is cited in either of the briefs and there is a complete disagreement between counsel as to the bearing of the state decisions on the question here involved.

On the part of the Railway Company it is contended that interest could not have been recovered on this claim even in an action at law. On the authority of Calton v. Bragg, 15 East, 223; Newton v. Wilson, 3 Hen. & M. 470; Quincy v. Humphreys, 145 U.S. 82, and other like cases, it is argued that the right to interest is a matter of agreement and can be recovered, as a part of the debt, only where it has been reserved in the contract or where a promise is implied from the character of the note or instrument evidencing the debt. The Railway therefore

[ 233 U.S. Page 265]

     insists that as the Intervenor sold the supplies, without taking a note and without securing a promise to pay interest, there was no right to recover interest as an incident of the debt, although a jury, as a matter of discretion, might have allowed it by way of damages for unreasonable delay in making payment.

On the other hand, counsel for the Iron & Steel Company contend that as these supplies were sold on a credit of 30 days a promise was implied to pay interest after that date as an incident of the debt itself. From Chapman v. Shepherd, 24 Gratt. 377, 383; Craufurd v. Smith, 93 Virginia, 623 (2); Tidball v. Shenandoah Bank, 100 Virginia, 741; Butler Co. v. Virginia Railway Co., 113 Virginia, 28 (7); Roberts v. Cocke, 28 Gratt. 207, and Cooper v. Coates, 21 Wall. 105, 111, we reach the conclusion that whatever may have been the English and early American rule, the tendency in Virginia, as elsewhere in this country, is to allow interest on contracts to pay money from the date that the debt becomes due. 2 Minor's Institute, 381. The sale here of supplies on 30 days' credit was not, as argued, a mere agreement for the benefit of the buyer that it should not be sued before the expiration of that time, but was the fixing of a definite date for payment of the purchase money. The acceptance of the supplies, sold on those terms, was equivalent to a promise to pay the money on that day. Atlantic Phosphate Co. v. Grafflin, 114 U.S. 492, 500. As payment was not then made, the Railway Company was in default and interest began to accrue as an incident of the debt, recoverable as such and not merely as damages to be allowed in the discretion of court or jury. This appears to have been the view of the Circuit Court of Appeals since the interest-bearing quality of the debt seems to be assumed in the question -- "Is interest recoverable on such a claim for the period of the Receivership?"

In the discussion as to the answer ...


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