Brown v. Clarke/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

45 U.S. 4

Brown  v.  Clarke

By the law of the State of Mississippi, a judgment is a lien upon the personal as well as real property of the defendant, from the time of its rendition (Smith et al. v. Everly et al., 4 How. 178; Commercial Bank of Manchester v. Coroner of Yazoo County, 6 How. 350); and if the first judgment obtained by Brown against Cozart could be upheld against the objections taken to it, there is no doubt, according to the law of Mississippi, that the instructions given by the Court below to the jury were erroneous. That judgment was docketed on the 18th of May, 1840, whereas Clarke's was not recovered till the 16th of June following.

It is insisted, however, that the seizure of the property of the defendant by the sheriff, under the first judgment, an discharge of it on the execution and delivery of the forthcoming bond, operated to extinguish the lien, and let in that of the junior judgment of Clarke, so as to give it the preference. This raises the principal question discussed in the case.

By the act of 1827 (Laws of Miss., p. 123, § 2), the sheriff or other officer is required, upon the levy of an execution upon personal property, to take a bond, if tendered, with sufficient security, from the debtor, payable to the creditors, reciting the service of such execution, and the amount due thereon, in a penalty of double the amount of such execution, with condition to have the property levied on forthcoming at the day of sale; and if the owners of such property or the defendant in the execution shall fail to deliver the same according to the condition of the bond, such sheriff or other officer shall return the bond so forfeited, with the execution, to the court from which the same issued, on the return day thereof; and every bond so forfeited shall have the force and effect of a judgment, and execution shall issue against all the obligors thereon, &c.

Under this statute, it appears to have been uniformly held in the courts of Mississippi, that the bond thus given to the creditor on the seizure of the goods was intended as a substituted security for the lien acquired by the judgment and seizure; and consequently, on its execution and delivery, the goods, by operation of law, are released from all charge, and left in the possession of the debtors as free and unencumbered as before it attached; and if the property is not delivered, in pursuance of the condition, the remedy is then upon the bond, which on the breach or forfeiture becomes, by operation of the statute, a statutory judgment against the defendant and sureties from that time, followed by a new lien upon the real and personal estate of all the obligors. The original judgment is merged and satisfied by the new and more comprehensive statutory judgment upon the bond, and the remedy of the creditors limited to the enforcement of this judgment.

This is, in substance, the view of the statute as expounded by the courts of Mississippi in several cases, and particularly in the case of the Bank of the United States v. Patton et al. (5 How. 200) in the Court of Appeals, which was argued twice, and very fully considered by the court. (Stewart v. Fuqua, Walk. R. 175; Witherspoon v. Spring, 3 How. 60; Archibald et al. v. Anderson, 2 How. 852; King v. Terry, 6 How. 513; Minor v. Lancashire, 4 How. 347.) In the case of the Bank of the United States v. Patton, the court, speaking of what would have the effect of the forthcoming bond, if the statute had not annexed to it the force of a judgment, say,-'As it releases the levy, and restores the property to the debtor, it is tantamount to a satisfaction of the execution, and the creditor would be left to pursue his remedy upon the bond.'

The court then liken it to the replevin bond in Virginia, which had been held to be a substitute for the original judgment, and operated as a satisfaction; and add,-'It was no doubt in view of this principle that the framers of our statute saw proper to relieve the creditors from the delay and expense of a second suit upon the bond, by giving to it after forfeiture the force of a judgment against all the obligors therein, with a consequent right to have execution on the same; and also to provide, that no security should be taken on the execution which is sued out upon the new judgment.'

It will be seen, therefore, that the forthcoming bond and statutory judgment consequent upon the forfeiture, in its operation and effect, reversed the original position of these parties in respect to the priority of lien under their respective judgments, and gave to Clarke, the plaintiff below, the preference, his judgment having been docketed the 16th of June, and the new judgment of Brown not taking effect till the 17th of August, the date of the forfeiture of the bond. (Minor v. Lancashire.)

If the case stood upon this footing, it is very plain that Clarke, the purchaser under the sale of the marshal, acquired the better title to the property in question, and that the instructions were in conformity to the law of the case.

It is contended, however, that the quashing of the forthcoming bond, and consequently the new statutory judgment, operated to revive the original one, and to restore the priority of lien, the same as it stood before any of the proceedings on that judgment had intervened.

We do not assent to this view of the effect of the order vacating the new judgment, so far, at least, as respects the liens or rights of third parties which have legally attached in the mean time to the goods of the defendant, discharged from the original judgment by the giving of the forthcoming bond. After that lien was suspended or discharged, the original judgment being, in contemplation of law, satisfied by the new and substituted security, the debtor was at liberty to deal with the property as his own, and it remained in his possession, subject to any charge or lien impressed upon it either by the act of the party, or by operation of law, the same, after the forthcoming bond, as before the entry of the original judgment. Possibly as between the parties the judgment revived, but it would be against principle, and work manifest injustice, to give to it this retrospective operation, so as to extinguish the intermediately acquired legal rights of third persons. We deny to it this effect.

It would be otherwise, if the forthcoming bond had been shown to be void, as it might then be treated as a nullity, and as affording no foundation for the statutory judgment consequent upon the forfeiture. Under such circumstances, the lien of the original judgment would remain unaffected, and might be enforced by execution; it would then, of course, continue uninterrupted by the lien of any subsequent judgment entered up against the defendant.

This view of the statute was taken by the court of Mississippi, in Carleton et al. v. Osgood et al. (6 How. 285).

But no such ground is presented in the record before us; nor did it exist in point of fact in the case. On the contrary, the forthcoming bond was in conformity to the statute, and the only reason for the action of the court in quashing the proceedings, for aught that appears or has been shown, was either that the tribunal conceded to the plaintiff the right to vacate his own judgment at his election, and thus voluntarily give up all the rights acquired under it, or that the surety was irresponsible, which latter ground would probably have been unavailing had the fact appeared before the court, the Brown himself, with full knowledge of all the circumstances, approved of the sufficiency of the security.

At all events, it is enough to sustain the ground upon which we have placed the priority of lien upon the property, that, for aught appearing in the case, the new judgment of Brown upon the forthcoming bond was regular, and existed in full force and effect until set aside and vacated on his own motion. For, if so, it is clear, upon the statute and decisions of the courts of Mississippi, that the lien of his original judgment against Cozart became thereby lost and postponed, so as to let in that of the junior judgment of Clarke, and consequently the sale of the marshal, by virtue of the execution under it, vested in the purchaser the better title.

We have thus far examined this case upon the law of Mississippi, where the cause of action arose, as we understand it to have been expounded and applied by the courts of that State.

Another view may be taken, leaving out of consideration the priority of lien as acquired under the judgments of the respective parties, and looking solely to priority as acquired by virtue of an actual seizure of the property under execution, regarding that as the test in cases where the conflicting executions issued out of the federal and state courts, and to the executive officers of the different jurisdictions. (Hagan v. Lucas, 10 Peters, 400.) In this aspect of the case, the legal result is equally decisive in favor of the right of the plaintiff below.

If we have not misapprehended the rule of law prevailing in Mississippi in the view already taken, the right to the property acquired under the seizure of the first execution of Brown became extinguished by the operation and effect of the forthcoming bond. No title, therefore, can be set up by virtue of that seizure.

The case, then, as it respects the right depending upon priority of actual seizure and legal custody of the property, instead of priority of judgment, stands thus:-The marshall levied upon the slaves on the 9th of November; the sheriff not till the 7th of December following. The former, therefore, under the law giving effect to the first seizure, was entitled to the property, and of course the purchaser at his call acquired the better title.

In every view we have been able to take of the case, we are satisfied the judgment of the District Court was right, and should be affirmed.

The court have had some difficulty in noticing the exceptions taken to the instructions in this case, in the form in which they are presented upon the record. It is matter of doubt whether they point to the instructions given and refused to the jury, or the refusal of the court below to grant a new trial. If to the latter, no question is presented upon which error would lie, according to the repeated decisions of this court. (4 Wheat. 213; 6 Wheat. 542.)

The counsel were probably misled, in making up the record, by the practice in Mississippi, where error will lie to the appellate court for a refusal to grant a new trial by statute. (Laws of Miss., p. 493, § 53.) But the rule is otherwise in the federal courts. That State has also a statute providing for the case of exceptions to be taken in the progress of the trial in the usual form (p. 620, § 40), which is the form that should have been observed in this case. The practice is particularly stated and explained in Walton v. The United States (9 Wheat. 651), and in several later cases (4 Peters, 102).

The practice is well settled and exceedingly plain and simple, and will be strictly adhered to by the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).