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decided: April 7, 1924.



Author: Brandeis

[ 264 U.S. Page 427]

 Mr. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Taubel-Scott-Kitzmiller Co., Inc., recovered, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, a judgment against Cowen Hosiery Co., Inc. Execution thereon was levied upon personal property of the defendant lying upon

[ 264 U.S. Page 428]

     premises occupied by it. The levy created a lien upon the property. New York Civil Practice Act, § 679. The sheriff took, and thereafter retained, exclusive possession and control of the property. Within four months of the date of the levy, the Cowen Co. filed, in the Southern District of New York, a voluntary petition in bankruptcy and was adjudged a bankrupt. Relying upon subdivision f*fn* of § 67 of the Bankruptcy Act, the trustees sought, by a summary proceeding before the referee, to have the lien on execution declared void and to obtain possession of the property. The referee ordered that the judgment creditor show cause before him why this should not be done. Before the District Court, the judgment creditor seasonably challenged the jurisdiction of the referee and of the bankruptcy court; furnished substantial support for its claim that the debtor was solvent at the date of the entry of judgment and levy of execution thereon; and insisted that, since the bankrupt did not have, and the bankruptcy court did not acquire, possession of the property, the execution lien and the right to possession under

[ 264 U.S. Page 429]

     the levy could not be assailed by the trustees except by a plenary suit in the appropriate forum. The trustees, on the other hand, urged that the referee had jurisdiction, even if the adverse claim by the judgment creditor be deemed a substantial one. The District Court sustained the contention of the judgment creditor and stayed the proceeding before the referee. Upon a petition to revise, its order was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 286 Fed. 351. The case is here on writ of certiorari. 260 U.S. 719.

A trustee seeking to have declared void, under subdivision f of § 67, a lien obtained through legal proceedings, and to recover possession of property, may be confronted with an adverse claim upon several grounds. It may be asserted that the lien attacked is of a character different from those provided for in that subdivision.*fn1 Or, although the lien (e.g., that obtained by levy of execution) is clearly one to which subdivision f applies, that it is valid by reason of other facts. For the statute does not, as a matter of substantive law, declare void every lien obtained through legal proceedings within four months of the filing of the petition in bankruptcy. The lien may be valid, because the debtor was, in fact, solvent at the time the levy was made.*fn2 Or, although the debtor

[ 264 U.S. Page 430]

     was then insolvent, because the property had passed into the hands of a bona fide purchaser.*fn3 Or, although the debtor was then insolvent and the levy was made within the four months, because inchoate rights by way of lien had been acquired earlier.*fn4 As the establishment of any one of these facts would bar recovery by the trustee, their assertion presents a judicial question. In this case, since the possession of the sheriff was the possession of the state court, the trustees' claim to the property would, under general principles of law, have to be litigated in the state court.*fn5 The question for decision is: Has Congress conferred upon the bankruptcy court, under these circumstances, jurisdiction to adjudicate the controverted rights by summary proceedings?

Congress has, of course, power to confer upon the bankruptcy court jurisdiction to adjudicate the rights of trustees to property adversely claimed. In matters relating to bankruptcy its power is paramount.*fn6 Hence, even if the property is not within the possession of the bankruptcy court, Congress can confer upon it, as upon any other lower federal court, jurisdiction of the controversy, by conferring jurisdiction over the person in

[ 264 U.S. Page 431]

     whose possession the property is. Congress has, also (subject to the constitutional guaranties), power to determine to what extent jurisdiction conferred, whether through possession of the res or otherwise, shall be exercised by summary proceedings and to what extent by plenary suit.*fn7 But Congress did not, either by § 2, § 23 of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898 or any other provision of the act, confer generally such broad jurisdiction over claims by a trustee against third persons.*fn8 Nor has it provided, in terms, that a substantial adverse claim to property which is not in the possession of the bankruptcy court and which is demanded by the trustee under subdivision f of § 67, may be litigated, without consent, by a summary proceeding. To sustain the judgment under review, a specific grant of power to so deal with such a controversy must be shown. The contention is that a specific grant of the power is implied in ...

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