The opinion of the court was delivered by: KIRKPATRICK
In equity proceedings, brought in 1932 by a citizen of Virginia, a receiver was appointed for Real Estate Mortgage Guaranty Company, a Pennsylvania corporation engaged in the business of lending money on mortgages and selling them, with its guaranty, to the investing public, generally in the form either of bonds or of fractional certificates of participation. Some $4,000,000 of bonds and certificates were then outstanding. After about eight years of operation, the receivership terminated in bankruptcy under Bankr.Act Chapter X, 11 U.S.C.A. § 501 et seq., and a trustee was appointed. The receiver has filed his ninth and tenth accounts which have been audited by a special master. The turstee in bankruptcy has filed exceptions to the master's refusal to surcharge the receiver in the amount of commissions received by him as an insurance agent during the receivership for placing insurance upon various properties which the company had acquired through foreclosure or otherwise.
The facts are not in dispute and I affirm and adopt the master's findings as stated in his report. The substance of them is as follows:
There has never been the slightest suggestion of any fraud or sharp dealing on his part. The premiums paid by the company were exactly the same as it would have paid had the insurance been placed through any other agency. The possibility of over-insurance was carefully guarded against. Following his appointment, the receiver obtained appraisals of all of the properties from leading building contractors, which appraisals were reviewed annually and, when necessary, reappraisals made. Not only did the receiver's handling of the insurance cause no loss to the estate but it is quite possible that a change to a new agency at the time he became receiver would have been detrimental. Not only was he an expert insurance man, but he had a detailed knowledge of the properties and an insight into their particular insurance problems which a new agent could hardly have acquired without a good deal of lost motion. At any rate, all parties agree that the insurance was well taken care of and that there was no loss to the trust.
In continuing to handle the company's insurance after the receivership the receiver acted without court authorization but with the full knowledge, consent and express approval, through authorized representatives, of a majority ($2,740,000 in face value of securities) of bond and certificate holders, which consent and approval was subsequently ratified in writing. The company is and was, during the receivership, insolvent to a degree that would eliminate stockholders and general creditors and leave security holders the only parties who cound be affected by the payment of the commissions.
The master held (and I agree) that under the law of Pennsylvania, there being no element of bad faith or loss to the estate, this receiver would not be surcharged. Semans v. United Lumber Co., 281 Pa. 404, 126 A. 776; In re Harton's Estate, 331 Pa. 507, 1 A.2d 292.
For the federal courts the law is otherwise. It has been stated by the Supreme Court in Magruder v. Drury, 235 U.S. 106, 35 S. Ct. 77, 82, 59 L. Ed. 151, as follows: "It is a well-settled rule that a trustee can make no profit out of his trust. * * * It makes no difference that the estate was not a loser in the transaction, or that the commission was no more than the services were reasonably worth. It is the relation of the trustee to the estate which prevents his dealing in such way as to make a personal profit for himself."
Does the federal rule apply?
If so, does it require this receiver to be surcharged to the extent of his interest in the insurance commissions in view of the fact that nearly 70 percent of the ultimate beneficiaries of the trust consented to his performing the services by which they were earned?
The master was of the opinion that Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S. Ct. 817, 82 L. Ed. 1188, 114 A.L.R. 1487, required him to follow the law of Pennsylvania. With deference to his painstaking and able analysis of the recent decisions of the Supreme Court, I am unable to agree with his conclusions.
True, the parties to the original equity proceeding came into the federal court, solely by virtue of diversity of citizenship and, if we were engaged in determining their substantive rights or those of creditors sequentially brought in, there would be no doubt that the Pennsylvania law would be controlling. I cannot, however, look upon this question as one which involves substantive rights of litigants.
What is the real nature of a receiver's liability in cases of this kind? He is not brought to account upon any theory resembling tort liability, as in cases of negligence or misfeasance where the basis is, at least in part, indemnity for loss. Nor do profits "belong" to the estate as in the case of a profit arising from a purchase of trust property by the receiver and a resale for his own account, in which it might be said that he took the profit under a constructive trust for the estate, on the theory that it represents part of the real value of a trust asset which only the misconduct of the trustee prevented the estate from realizing, or, perhaps, a profit which, by proper effort on his part, he could have earned for it. But these commissions are quite different. They do not represent the value of anything which ever in any sense belonged or could have belonged to the estate. The estate could not have earned them without illegal rebating, and, if the receiver had not, some third party would.
The matter is wholly administrative and disciplinary, quite as much so as depriving the receiver of all compensation in cases of more serious dereliction. Parenthetically, it is conceded by all parties that the court has discretionary power to do that in the present case, but I doubt that anyone would argue that creditors have a standing, by virtue of any substantive right to the receiver's compensation, to demand its forfeiture, altough the estate would be increased thereby. The doctrine that a receiver may not retain a personal profit made out of his trust ...