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jority of the tax-payers of the township appearing upon its assessment roll for 1867, or their legal representatives, and represented a majority of the landed property of the township appearing upon that assessmeni roll.
In the same month of December, 1868, the commissioners subscribed in behalf of the township for stock in the railroad company, of the value of $127,000, which did not exceed 10 per cent. of the assessed valuation of the landed property of the township in 1867; and caused bonds of the township to an equal amount to be printed in the form hereinafter set forth; and made an arrangement with the railroad company to exchange the bonds of the township for stock in the company, and to deliver the bonds of the company in installments, as calls for payments on subscriptions were made, and as the work on the railroad progressed. The railroad was afterwards built and put in operation through the town; and the commissioners issued to the railroad company, in exchange for stock, instruments to the amount aforesaid, in the form of bonds, of the denominations of $1,000, $500, and $100, respectively, signed by the commissioners, but not sealed, with interest coupons annexed. The form of the bonds and of the coupons was as follows:
United States of America.
$500. “TOWNSHIP OF BERNARDS, SOMERSET COUNTY, STATE OF NEW JERSEY.
“The inhabitants of the township of Bernards, in the county of Somerset, acknowledge themselves to owe to bearer five hundred dollars, which sum they promise to pay the holder hereof, at the American Exchange National Bank, in the city of New York, twenty-three years after the date hereof, and interest thereon at the rate of seven per cent. per annum, payable semi-an nually on the first days of July and January in each year, until the said prin cipal sum shall be paid, on the presentation of the annexed interest coupons at the said bank.
“This bond is one of a series of like tenor, amounting in the whole to the sum of one hundred and twenty-seven thousand dollars, issued on the faith and credit of said township in pursuance of an act entitled 'An act to authorize certain towns in the counties of Somerset, Morris, Essex, and Union to issue bonds and take stock in the Passaic Valley & Peapack Railroad Company,' approved April 9, 1868.
“In testimony whereof the undersigned, commissioners of the said township of Bernards, in the county of Somerset, to carry into effect the purposes and provisions of the said act, duly appointed, commissioned, and sworn, have hereunto set our hands and seals the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine.
“ JOHN H. ANDERSON,
“Commissioners." “Registered in the county clerk's office.
“WILLIAM Ross, Jr., County Clerk.”
“$17.50. The inhabitants of the township of Bernards, in the county of Somerset, will pay the bearer, at the American Exchange National Bank, in
the city of New York, seventeen 50-100 dollars, on the first day of Janu ary 1889, for six months' interest on bond No.
“JOHN H. ANDERSON,
One-fifth of the whole amount of bonds was signed by the commissioners and delivered to the railroad company on the sixteenth of January, 1869, was registered on the eighteenth of the same month, and was afterwards put in circulation by the company. Upon a bill filed by certain tax-payers of an adjoining township in the spring of $ 1869, the court of chancery of New Jersey restrained the issue of like bonds, for want of the consent of a majority of all the tax-payers of the township. Lane v. Schomp, 5 C. E. Green, 82. The commissioners thereupon obtained, and filed in the county clerk's office on the first of September, 1869, the written consent of other tax-payers, which, with those whose consent had been previously filed, constituted a majority of all the tax-payers in the township, with similar affidavits of commissioner and assessor; and the remaining four-fifths of the bonds were afterwards issued and registered, and put in circulation. Of the bonds in controversy, some were issued before, and some after, the first of September, 1869.
The commissioners intended to issue, and supposed that they had issued, perfect bonds, and their failure to affix their seals to the bonds was by oversight and mistake. The bonds were purchased by the present owners in good faith, in open market, for the then market price of from 85 to 100 cents on a dollar, and without observing that they had no seals.
Cyrus Curtis, a citizen of New York, (of whom the appellee in the first case is the executor,) held and owned such bonds to the amount of $2,000, and held like bonds to the amount of $3,000, owned by other citizens of New York, in amounts varying from $1,300 to $500 each, except that one owned only $200, and delivered by them to him solely for the purpose of bringing suit on the coupons; and also held coupons, past due and unpaid, upon like bonds to the amount of $18,600, owned by citizens of New Jersey, who had assigned those coupons to him for the sole purpose of collecting the amount thereof. Thomas H. Morrison and Gardner S. Hutchinson, citizens of New York, (the appellees in the second case,) held and owned such bonds to the amount of $10,000, and also held like bonds to the amount of $12,000, owned by other persons, citizens of New York or Pennsylvania, in amounts varying from $6,000 to $500 each, as well as bonds to the amount of $5,100, owned by citizens of New Jersey, all which bonds had been transferred to them by the owners for the mere purpose of collecting the unpaid coupons thereon. In April,
1874, actions of debt were brought by Curtis, and by Morrison and Hutchinson against the township, in the circuit court of the United States for the district of New Jersey, to recover the amount of unpaid coupons for three years' interest on all the bonds so held by the plaintiffs; to which the township pleaded that the bonds were not sealed by the commissioners.
The plaintiffs in each of those actions thereupon, in the spring of 1876, after requesting the two surviving commissioners (the third having died meanwhile) to affix their seals to the bonds, which they declined to do unless by order of some court of competent jurisdiction, filed a bill in equity in the same court, praying for a reformation of the bonds; for an order that the surviving commissioners affix seals opposite the signatures; for a decree that the bonds should be deemed and taken to be as valid and effectual in law as if they had been ir fact sealed by the commissioners before being issued; for a perpetual injunction against the setting up of the want of seals as a defense in the action already brought, or in any future action by the plaintiffs to recover principal or interest, due or to grow due, on the bonds; and for further relief. Demurrers to the bills were interposed and overruled; answers and replications were filed, and a bearing was had upon pleadings and proofs.
At the bearing, it was objected, in behalf of the township, that the plaintiffs, if entitled to any relief, could maintain their bills so far only as concerned the bonds that were both owned and held by them, and not as regarded the bonds owned by other persons. The court overruled the objection, and entered a final decree upon each bill that the bonds, or writings in the nature of bonds, therein described, be held and deemed to be as valid and effectual in law as if they had been in fact sealed by the commissioners before being issued; and that the township be perpetually enjoined from setting up the want of seals in the action at law already brought, or in any action to be thereafter brought, upon any of these bonds or coupons. From those decrees the township has appealed to this court.
It was contended in behalf of the township that the bonds were void—First, because they were not under the seals of the commissioners, as required by the statute; second, because the statute did not authorize the issue of bonds with annexed and detachable coupons not under seal; third, because the consent of the tax-payers to the borrowing of money and issue of the bonds was obtained by fraud; fourth, because the consent of a majority of all the tax-payers, as well as of those who represented a majority of the landed property of the township, was not obtained before the subscription for stock and the issue of the bonds; fifth, because the bonds were issued by the commissioners directly to the railroad corporation in exchange for stock, instead of being sold or disposed of by the commissioners, and the money thus obtained applied to the purchase of stock, as required by the statute. In dealing with these objections, it must be borne in mind that the cases before us are not actions at law upon the bonds or coupons, but bills in equity to restrain the township from setting up the want of seals in the actions at law heretofore brought by these plaintiffs against the township to recover the amount of the coupons; and the objections above recited are to be considered so far only as they affect the question whether the bills can be maintained.
It has been settled, upon fundamental principles of equity jurisprudence, by many precedents of high authority, that when the seal of a party, required to make an instrument valid and effectual at law, has been omitted by accident or mistake, a court of chancery, in order to carry out his intention, will, at the suit of those who are justly and equitably entitled to the benefit of the instrument, adjudge it to be as valid as if it had been sealed, and will grant relief accordingly, either by compelling the seal to be affixed, or by restraining the setting up of the want of it to defeat a recovery at law. Smith v. Ashton, Freem. Ch. 308; S. C. Cas. t. Finch, 273; Cockerell v. Cholmeley, 1 Russ. & M. 418, 424; Wadsworth v. Wendell, 5 Johns. Ch. 224; Montville v. Haughton, 7 Conn. 543; Rutland v. Paige, 24 Vt. 181. See, also. Wiser v. Blachly, 1 Johns. Ch. 607; Green v. Morris & Essex R. Co. 1 Beasl. 165, and 2 McCart. 469; Druiff v. Parker, L. R. 5 Eq. 131.
By the necessary effect and the very terms of the statute of New Jersey of 1868, the money is borrowed on the credit of the township, the stock obtained by the disposal of the bonds belongs to the township, the bonds are issued on behalf of the township, and are the bonds of the township, and the commissioners, though not elected by the township, but otherwise appointed as provided by the statute, act in issuing the bonds, and in doing everything else that they are required by the statute to do, as the agents of the township. This view has been affirmed by the judgment of the supreme court of New Jer. sey, construing this very statute, in Morrison v. Bernards, 7 Vroom, 219, and by the judgment of this court upon the effect of a similar statute of New York in Draper v. Springport, 104 U. S. 501.
In Draper v. Springport it was held that the mere fact that the commissioners had only signed, without sealing, the bonds, did not exempt the town from liability to a purchaser thereof in good faith and for valuable consideration. And Mr.Justice BRADLEY, in delivering judgment, said:
“It is apparent from the law that the substantial thing authorized to be done on behalf of the town was to pledge the credit of the town in aid of the railroad company in the construction of its road, by subscribing to its capital stock, and issuing the obligations of the town in payment thereof. The technical form of the
obligations was a matter of form rather than of substance. The issue of bonds under seal, as contradistinguished from bonds or obligations without a seal, was merely a directory requirement. The town, indeed, had no seal; and the individual seals of the commissioners would have had no legal efficacy; for the bonds were not their obligations, but the obligations of the town; and their seals could have added nothing to the solemnity of the
instruments." “We cannot agree with the courts of the state that the form of a seal was an essential part of the transaction.”
It was argued that the power conferred upon the commissioners to issue bonds was a statutory power, defects in the execution of which could not be supplied or relieved against in equity. There is much learning on this subject in the books. But Mr. Chance, upon a full review of the older cases, has clearly demonstrated that the true ground upon which equity grants relief is “the same as that on whicho it relieves against the want of livery, the want of enrollment, or any other ceremony required, either at common law or by statute, but considered as not meant to be positively essential. The main point to be ascertained, at least with reference to forms prescribed by act of parliament, is whether the legislature has attached a decisive weight to the observance of the forms. Chance, Powers, § 2989. See, also, 2 Sugd. Powers, (7th Ed.) 125–129.
In Darlington v. Pulteney, Cowp. 260, 267, Lord MANSFIELD said that the reason why equity could not relieve from defects in the execution of statutory powers to make leases, was "that there is nothing to affect the conscience of the remainder-man.” And in De Riemer v. Cantillon, 4 Johns. Ch. 85, where a sheriff's deed of land sold by him on execution omitted, by mistake in the description, an impor. tant part of the estate advertised and intended to be sold and purchased, and the purchaser, with the consent of the judgment debtors, took possession of and improved the whole, and afterwards, at their request, sold it, and conveyed by a like description, all parties un. derstanding and believing that the whole was included in both deeds, and the price paid by the second purchaser being estimated on this basis, Chancellor Kent, upon a bill in equity filed by the last pur. chaser against the debtors, restrained them from prosecuting suits brought against him for the recovery of the land not included in the description, and decreed that they should release it to him.
In the present case, the commigsioners, in issuing the bonds, acted rather in the capacity of agents of the township than as donees of a statutory power in the ordinary sense; and the direction of the statute that the bonds should be under the seals, as well as the hands, of the commissioners, was declared by this court in Draper v. Spring. port, supra, to be “a matter of form rather than of substance, “merely a directory requirement," and not "an essential part of the transaction.” The bonds are, in other respects, in the form prescribed by the statute. The commissioners intended to issue them in behalf of the town, pursuant to the statute, and stated on the face of the bonds that they had done so, and that they had thereto set* their hands and seals. The town received full consideration for the bonds, and the purchaser bought them in open market, in good faith and for value, and in ignorance of the want of seals. These facts present a strong case for the interposition of a court of equity, having jurisdiction of the cause and of the parties, to prevent the formal defect of