Aspinwall v. Butler

In Aspinwall v. Butler, 133 U.S. 595 (1890), the principal question was as to the liability under section 5151 of one who had subscribed and paid for a part of an authorized increase of the stock of a national bank, the whole amount of such increase not having been taken up by subscriptions. Referring to a by-law of the association relating to the power of the directors when there was a deficiency in subscriptions arising from the failure of some to take stock who had the privilege of doing so, the court, speaking by Mr. Justice Bradley, said: "There was no express condition that the individual subscriptions should be void if the whole $500,000 was not subscribed; and, in our judgment, there was no implied condition in law to that effect. Each subscriber, by paying the amount of his subscription, thereby indicated that it was not made on any such condition. It is not like the case of creditors signing a composition deed to take a certain proportion of their claims in discharge of their debtor. The fixed amount of capital stock in business corporations often remains unfilled, both as to the number of shares subscribed, and as to payment of instalments; and the unsubscribed stock is issued from time to time as the exigencies of the company may require. The fact that some of the stock remains unsubscribed is not sufficient ground for a particular stockholder to withdraw his capital. There may be cases in which equity would interfere to protect subscribers to stock where a large and material deficiency in the amount of capital contemplated has occurred. But such cases would stand on their own circumstances. It could hardly be contended that the present case, in which more than ninety-two per cent of the contemplated increase of capital was actually subscribed and paid in, would belong to that category. In Minor v. Mechanics' Bank of Alexandria, 1 Pet. 46, only $320,000 out of $500,000 of capital authorized by the charter was subscribed in good faith, but the court did not regard this deficiency in the subscriptions as at all affecting the status of the corporation, or the validity of its operations. Some reliance is placed upon the words of the act of Congress which authorizes an increase of capital within the maximum prescribed in the articles of association. They are found in section 5142 of the Revised Statutes, which declares that any banking association may, by its articles, provide for an increase of its capital from time to time, but adds, `no increase of capital shall be valid until the whole amount of such increase is paid in, and notice thereof has been transmitted to the Comptroller of the Currency, and his certificate obtained specifying the amount,' etc. This clause would have been violated by an issue of $500,000 of new stock, when only $461,300 was paid in; but not by an issue of the exact amount that was paid in. The clause in question was intended to secure the actual payment of the stock subscribed, and so as to prevent what is called watering of stock. In the present case the statute was strictly and honestly complied with. The argument of the defendant asks too much. It would apply to the original capital of a company as well as to an increase of capital. And will it do to say, after a company has been organized and gone into business, and dealt with the public, that its stockholders may withdraw their capital and be exempt from statutory liability to creditors, if they can show that the capital stock of the company was not all subscribed?" Again: "The stock was lawfully created, the defendant subscribed for the shares in question and paid for them, and received his certificate; and nothing was afterwards done by the directors, the Comptroller of the Currency, or the stockholders in meeting assembled, which they had not a perfect right to do. The defendant became a stockholder; he held the shares in question when the bank finally went into liquidation; and, of course, became liable under section 5151 of the Revised Statutes to pay an amount equal to the stock by him so held."