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decided: May 15, 1899.




[ 174 U.S. Page 419]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

We have already decided, in Citizens' Savings Bank of Owensboro v. Owensboro, 173 U.S. 636, that in the case of a bank whose charter was granted subsequently to the

[ 174 U.S. Page 420]

     year 1856, and which had accepted the provisions of the Hewitt Act, and had thereafter paid the tax specified therein, there was nevertheless no irrepealable contract in favor of such bank that it should be thereafter and during its corporate existence taxed under the provisions of that act. And in the same case we held that the bank was properly taxed under the act of the legislature of Kentucky passed in 1892. Unless the complainant is right in its contention that it is a privy to the judgment in the case of the Louisville Banking Company, (mentioned in the foregoing statement,) and that the question is res judicata in its favor, the complainant has failed to make good its claim to be exempted from the provisions for its taxation under the act of 1892. The Circuit Court has held that the complainant was entitled to be regarded as privy to the judgment above mentioned in favor of the Louisville Banking Company, 88 Fed. Rep. 398, and that it could therefore avail itself of the judgment in that case as res judicata.

The sole question to be determined in this case is as to the validity and effect of the agreement above set forth. The complainant herein was not in fact a party to the judgment in the Louisville Banking Company case, and it can only obtain the benefit of that judgment by virtue of the agreement.

The commissioners of the sinking fund form a separate and distinct corporation from the city of Louisville, and no right is shown to sign or make the agreement for itself or to bind the city thereby. The agreement is not signed by the mayor, nor is it pretended that there was any action on the part of the general council of the city authorizing the making of the agreement. It was signed by the city attorney, and if he had no power to sign on behalf of the city there is nothing to create any liability on its part by virtue of the agreement, unless the payment of the money therein spoken of operates by way of estoppel to prevent the city from setting up the invalidity of such agreement. The effect of the payment of the money will be adverted to hereafter.

Upon its face there is no agreement even formally made between the city of Louisville and the banks of which the complainant herein is one, unless the signature of the City

[ 174 U.S. Page 421]

     attorney makes a valid agreement for the city. When the agreement was made no suit had been commenced by any of the parties; no litigation in regard to matters in dispute was pending. Prior to the making of the agreement it was a question altogether in the future as to what means should be adopted, and what suits commenced, for the purpose of establishing the rights of the various parties, as claimed by them. The question as to what course should be pursued was not one of law only. It was also one of policy. The stipulation actually entered into was of an administrative as well as of a legal nature, involving the administration of the law regarding taxation and the best means of determining the legal questions involved in the dispute, while at the same time obtaining, so far as possible, payment of the taxes claimed by the commissioners of the sinking fund as due from the various banks and trust companies. These were questions which an attorney would have no power to decide, and concerning which he would have no power to make any agreement.

An attorney, in his capacity merely as such, has no power to make any agreement for his client before a suit has been commenced or before he has been retained to commence one. Before the commencement of a suit, or the giving of authority to commence one, there is nothing upon which the authority of an attorney to act for his client can be based. If before the commencement of any suit an attorney assumes to act for his principal it must be as agent and his actual authority must appear, and if it be not shown it cannot be inferred by comparison with what his authority to act would have been if a suit were actually pending and he had in fact been retained as attorney by one of the parties. The authority of an attorney commences with his retainer. He cannot while acting generally as an attorney for an estate or a corporation accept service of process which commences the action without any authority so do from his principal. This was directly decided in Starr v. Hall, 87 N.C. 381, and Reed v. Reed, 19 S.C. 548, so far as regards a personal defendant, but the same rule would follow in case of a corporation unless authority to appear were specially given.

[ 174 U.S. Page 422]

     When an attorney has been retained he has certain implied powers to act for his client, in a suit actually commenced, in the due and orderly conduct of the case through the courts. In cases of suits actually pending he may agree that one suit shall abide the event of another suit involving the same question, and his client will be bound by this agreement. Ohlquest v. Farwell, 71 Iowa, 231; North Missouri Railroad Company v. Stephens, 36 Missouri, 150; Eidam v. Finnegan, 48 Minnesota, 53; Gilmore v. American ...

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