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SULLY v. AMERICAN NATIONAL BANK.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: May 28, 1900.

SULLY
v.
AMERICAN NATIONAL BANK.

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE.

Author: PECKHAM

[ 178 U.S. Page 296]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

There are two classes of creditors before the court, both of whom insist upon the erroneous character of the decree of the Supreme Court of the State. They are (a) general unsecured and non-resident creditors, and (b) non-resident creditors, who are also mortgagees. The creditors suing out this writ of error are all non-residents of the State of Tennessee, and they claim to have been illegally discriminated against in the courts below by reason of the statute of Tennessee providing for preferences to Tennessee creditors.

In regard to the unsecured non-resident creditors, objection is first made that there is only one of them, A. B. Carhart, who can be heard upon the question of the validity of the act of 1877, because he is the only person who has raised the point in any of the state courts. It is also claimed that the question was raised too late even by Carhart himself, inasmuch as it is alleged to have been raised by him for the first time in the Supreme Court of the State.

[ 178 U.S. Page 297]

     In reply to the first objection, it is urged on the part of creditors, other than Carhart, that they are general creditors in like class with him, and that if he can raise the question they are entitled to participate with him in the benefits of a decision thereof in his favor, to the same extent as if they had each personally raised the same question in the state court.

Cases are cited by counsel for these creditors from the courts of Tennessee, in which they say it has been held that "a broad appeal by any one party from an entire chancery decree, where the matter is purely of equitable cognizance, carries up the whole case so as to allow relief to be granted to those who do not appeal;" and it is said that Carhart made a broad appeal.

In reply, counsel for defendants in error say that the rule in Tennessee is that an appeal by an antagonistic party, even though a broad one, will not avail his opponent. It is also argued that the other creditors cannot be heard under Carhart's appeal, because the interests of such other creditors are not joint or common with him, but they are simply interested in the same question, which has never been held sufficient.

However it may be in regard to the rights of parties on appeal in the state court, we think that in order to be heard in this court the question must have been raised in the state court by the individual who seeks to have it reviewed here. A plaintiff in error in this court must show that he has himself raised the question in the state court which he argues here, and it will not aid him to show that some one else has raised it in the state court, while he failed himself to do so.

The two plaintiffs in error here, Sully, as the assignee of Manning, and Mrs. Myton, failed to appeal from the decree of the chancellor, as well as from the decree of the Court of Chancery Appeals, nor did they except to the report of the master, nor to the decree affirming it, and their first mention of the point in their own behalf is after the decision of the state Supreme Court.

This is not a case where, by the reversal of a decree at the instance of those who particularly raised the question in the courts below, the whole decree is opened and nullified so as to necessarily let in all parties standing in the same position to

[ 178 U.S. Page 298]

     share in the benefits of the decision. The fund is to be distributed in this case according to the decision of the court; and of the parties to this suit, those only can avail themselves of the benefits of the decree who have properly raised the question and in whose favor the decree is rendered.

We must hold, therefore, that neither Sully, as assignee of Manning, nor Mrs. Myton is in a position to raise the question of the invalidity of the state statute.

In regard to the objection that even Carhart has raised the question too late we think it is without foundation. He raised it in the Supreme Court, and that court decided it against him, not on the ground that he had not raised it in the lower court, but on its merits, and for the reason that in the judgment of the Supreme Court the statute was a valid and constitutional exercise of the legislative powers of the State.

The further objection made to Carhart is that it does not appear that he is a citizen of another State than Tennessee, and hence cannot avail himself of the fact of such citizenship in order to claim that his rights as such citizen have been infringed within the meaning of section 2 of article IV of the Constitution, declaring that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States. We think the objection untenable.

In his original bill to foreclose the mortgage securing the eighty-five thousand dollars of bonds held by him, he described himself as a resident of the State of New York, and in the petition of Mrs. Myton and Mr. Carhart, filed October 11, 1895, in the two cases of the bank against the land company, and Sully, trustee, against the land company, Mrs. Myton is described as a resident of the State of New York, and A. B. Carhart is described as a resident of the city of Brooklyn. No question seems to have been made throughout the litigation as to the citizenship of those parties. The question does not seem to have arisen in any stage of the case up to the argument in this court. Although there may be some slight difference in the facts between this case and those which are stated in Blake v. McClung, supra, at page 246, we yet think that Carhart brings himself within the principle decided in that case, and that his citizenship

[ 178 U.S. Page 299]

     in the State of New York should be regarded as sufficiently proved.

Being entitled to raise the question, we must hold, in conformity to our decision in the Blake case, that Carhart, as an unsecured creditor and a citizen of New York, is entitled to share in the distribution of the assets of the Carnegie Land Company upon the same level as like creditors of the company residents of the State of Tennessee, and as the decree denies him that right, it must be reversed for that reason.

The next question arises out of the mortgage given as security for the payment of the bonds of the land company, of which Carhart held all that had been issued -- $85,000.

Part of the fifth section of the act of 1877 provides --

"Nevertheless, creditors who may be residents of this State shall have a priority in the distribution of assets, or subjection of the same, or any part thereof, to the payment of debts over all simple contract creditors, being residents of any other country or countries, and also over mortgage or judgment creditors, for all debts, engagements and contracts which were made or owing by said corporation previous to the filing and registration of such valid mortgages, or the rendition of such valid judgments."

Under this provision of the section, creditors of the land company residing in Tennessee, whose debts accrued prior to the filing and registration of the Sully, trustee, mortgage were by the decree of the court below preferred in payment over the mortgagee. By reason of such preference Carhart did not receive what he would have received, but for the preference so given. He claims that this preference in favor of resident creditors, whose debts existed when his mortgage was registered, is an illegal discrimination against him as a non-resident mortgagee, because the statute, as he says, while directing such a discrimination against a non-resident mortgagee, does not permit it as against a resident mortgagee. Such a discrimination, if it existed, is invalid within the decision of Blake v. McClung, supra.

It is objected, however, on the part of the defendants in error, that this is a merely abstract or moot question, because

[ 178 U.S. Page 300]

     there are no resident mortgagees, and their rights have not, therefore, been determined. The objection is not well taken. Although there are no resident mortgagees in this case, yet the decree of the court below, following the statute, has postponed the payment of the mortgage, in favor of resident creditors whose debts accrued prior to the registration of that mortgage. If the statute does not permit such postponement against a resident mortgagee, then the postponement in the case of a non-resident mortgagee would be invalid. The postponement has in fact been made as against the non-resident mortgagee, and whether that postponement was legal and valid is no mere abstraction, because by reason thereof this non-resident mortgagee has actually suffered a loss in the payment of his mortgage. It is, therefore, entirely immaterial whether in this particular case there are or are not resident mortgagees. We are in this case necessarily brought to a decision of the question, whether the postponement was valid, and that depends upon the question, whether the act permits a similar postponement in the case of a resident mortgagee? If it does, it is conceded that the act is valid, so far as this particular question is concerned.

For us to hold that such postponement is not permitted in the case of a resident mortgagee is to condemn the statute on that point as a violation of the Constitution of the United States. Such a construction should not be adopted if the statute is reasonably susceptible of another which renders it valid. That rule applies, even though on some other point the statute has been already held to be a violation of the Federal Constitution.

We think the true construction of the statute requires us to hold that the resident owner of a mortgage would be postponed in its payment in favor of those debts made or owing by the corporation prior to the filing and registration of his mortgage.In other words, that the Tennessee general creditor has the same right of preference as against a resident mortgagee that he has against a non-resident, and the same burden that is placed upon non-resident mortgagees and judgment creditors is by the statute placed upon resident mortgagees and judgment

[ 178 U.S. Page 301]

     creditors. We do not think that this construction leads to any absurd result.

It is urged that if it were to be so construed, a Tennessee creditor who had no mortgage or judgment would share with all other unsecured Tennessee creditors in the assets of the insolvent company, but that if he, being such creditor, took a judgment or mortgage as a security for the payment of his debt, he would thereby lose his right to share with the other resident non-secured creditors, and the latter would have a preferred right of payment over him for all debts of the company existing at the time of the registration of the mortgage. The creditor, it is said, would thus lose his right as a general creditor, and he would obtain no lien by his mortgage or judgment as against those creditors of whom he was one before he took his mortgage.

We agree that a construction which leads to such a result would be absurd, but such a result does not follow from our construction of the statute. When the Tennessee creditor takes his mortgage or recovers his judgment to secure an existing indebtedness, a new debt is not thereby created, but he has simply received, or obtained, a security for its payment, and a preference as against all other creditors whose debts may accrue subsequently to the filing and registration of his mortgage or the recovery of his judgment. He gains no priority over existing creditors of his class by taking a mortgage or judgment. The debts existing at that time, including his own, are to be paid, and it is only against debts subsequently incurred that the mortgage, or the judgment, has a preferential lien. If the debt for which he took the mortgage existed prior to the execution thereof, the mortgagee did not, by taking his mortgage, lose his right to share with the other unsecured creditors, but he did not acquire the right to assert the lien of his mortgage in preference to and against those creditors whose debts existed at the time of its registration. His rights as a general creditor of the land company, existing prior to the registration of the mortgage, were not in any manner lost or affected by the mortgage. He cannot assert the lien of his mortgage against prior creditors, but he does not lose his own right as a prior creditor

[ 178 U.S. Page 302]

     by taking the mortgage. Although the act was evidently passed for the purpose of awarding certain preferences to Tennessee over foreign creditors, yet we see nothing in its general purpose which requires us to consider the act as making a distinction in favor of a Tennessee mortgagee as against a nonresident mortgagee.

While the effect of this construction deprives both classes of mortgagees, in case of insolvency of the mortgagor, of any benefit from their mortgages as against resident non-secured creditors, existing when the mortgages were registered, yet, at the same time, it permits such mortgagees to share in the distribution of assets with such unsecured creditors, provided their own debts existed prior to the taking of the mortgage, and did not spring into existence simultaneously with the mortgage.

The rights of Carhart as a secured creditor must be adjusted with reference to these views. If his secured debt, or any portion thereof, did, in fact, exist prior to his mortgage, he is entitled to share with other unsecured creditors, who are residents of the State of Tennessee.

Plaintiff in error Carhart also insists that section 5 of the act of 1877 violates section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, in that it deprives the nonresident mortgagee of his property without due process of law.

We are unable to perceive any foundation for the claim, and we think the question has been already so decided in Blake v. McClung, which we have so frequently referred to. It was stated in that case, at page 260:

"It does not follow that, within the meaning of that amendment, (XIV,) the judgment below deprived the Virginia corporation of property without due process of law simply because its claim was subordinated to the claims of the Tennessee creditors. That corporation was not, in any legal sense, deprived of its claim, nor was its right to reach the assets of the British corporation in other States or countries disputed. It was only denied the right to participate upon terms of equality with Tennessee creditors in the distribution of particular assets of another corporation doing business in that State. It had notice of the proceedings in the state court, became a party to those

[ 178 U.S. Page 303]

     proceedings, and the rights asserted by it were adjudicated. If the Virginia corporation cannot invoke the protection of the second section of article IV of the Constitution of the United States relating to the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States, as its co-plaintiffs in error have done, it is because it is not a citizen within the meaning of that section; and if the state court erred in its decree in reference to that corporation the latter cannot be said to have been thereby deprived of its property without due process of law within the meaning of the Constitution."

That language fits this case. The principle is not altered by the fact that in this case the creditor had a mortgage which was postponed, while in the case cited his debt was unsecured, but it was also postponed to the Tennessee creditor.

Nor can we see that there has been any denial by the State of Tennessee to any person within its jurisdiction of the equal protection of the laws. Upon this point also we refer to the same case of Blake v. McClung, where, at page 260, the question is decided.

These two last points would apply also to the mortgage of the Travelers' Insurance Company. That company being a corporation of the State of Connecticut could not raise the question of a denial of any privilege or immunity as such citizen, under the provision of section 2, article IV, of the Constitution. Blake v. McClung, supra. But the questions as to the deprivation of property without due process of law and of being denied the equal protection of the laws are raised by that corporation, and must be decided in a way similar to the case of Carhart.

With the exception of Carhart as a non-resident unsecured creditor, we do not see that the plaintiffs in error herein have any right to complain of the decree of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, but as such non-resident unsecured creditor he has the right to share in the distribution of the assets of the Carnegie Land Company upon the same level as like creditors of the company who are residents of the State of Tennessee, and as the decree below denies him that right, it must be reversed as to him for that reason, and the case remanded to the Supreme

[ 178 U.S. Page 304]

     Court of the State for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

So ordered.

MR. JUSTICE BREWER and MR. JUSTICE WHITE did not hear the argument and took no part in the decision of this case.

19000528

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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