Cordova v. Hood/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

84 U.S. 1

Cordova  v.  Hood

The appellees must be held to have had notice of whatever equities were revealed in the line of their title. They claim through a conveyance from Hood, Sr., who had purchased from Shields in 1859, and the deed from Shields plainly exhibited the fact that the purchase-money remained to be paid. It contained not even a receipt for the consideration of the sale. In form it was a deed of bargain and sale, but there was not enough in it to show that the use was executed in the vendee. On the contrary, it recites a consideration to be paid in instalments at subsequent dates, for which a draft and notes were given. That the vendor, by such a deed, had a lien for the unpaid purchase-money, as against the vendee and those holding under him with notice, unless the lien was waived, is the recognized doctrine of English chancery, and Texas is one of the States in which the doctrine has been adopted. [1] It is a general principle that a vendor of land, though he has made an absolute conveyance by deed, and though the consideration is in the instrument expressed to be paid, has an equitable lien for the unpaid purchase-money, unless there has been an express or an implied waiver of it. And this lien will be enforced in equity against the vendee and all persons holding under him, except bon a fide purchasers, without notice. [2] With greater reason, it would seem, should such a lien exist and be enforced when, as in this case, the deed, instead of containing a receipt for the purchase-money, expressly states that it remains unpaid.

The important question to be considered, therefore, is whether the lien has been waived. That there was no express waiver by Shields at the time when his deed to Hood was made and delivered, or at any subsequent time, is not only not proved, but is plainly disproved. Shields himself has testified that the lien was never released by him, and that when the note of his vendee for $5015 was taken for the unpaid portion of the larger note given at the time of the sale, it was with the distinct understanding between him and Hood that the payment then made, and the execution of the note for the balance, made no difference whatever respecting the vendor's lien to secure the balance, but 'that the land should continue just as liable to secure payment of said balance as before.'

It remains then to inquire whether there was any implied waiver of a lien. When the deed was made the vendor took for the purchase-money promissory notes signed not only by Hood, the vendee, but by Hood, Jr., his son. Had the notes been signed by the vendee alone no implication of an intent to waive a vendor's lien could have arisen. It is everywhere ruled that where such a lien is recognized at all it is not affected by the vendor's taking the bond or bill single of the vendee, or his negotiable promissory note, or his check, if not presented or if unpaid, or any instrument involving merely his personal liability. [3] It is true that, taking a note or a bond from the vendee with a surety, has generally been held evidence of an intention to rely exclusively upon the personal security taken, and therefore, presumptively, to be an abandonment or waiver of a lien. But this raises only a presumption, open to rebuttal by evidence that such was not the intention of the parties. [4] And we think the evidence in this case clearly shows that neither party to the deed understood that the vendor intended to take the note of Hood, Sr., and Hood, Jr., as a substitute for the lien. The only evidence we have bearing directly upon the subject is in the testimony of Shields. To some extent he does undoubtedly confound his own impressions with what occurred when the notes were given. But we think it may fairly be deduced from his statements that there was no intention then to waive the lien, which the law implied from the terms of the deed. He is unable to state why the son's name was signed in conjunction with the father's, but he is positive that the additional signature was simply a gratuity not called for by the contract nor altering it. He states also there never was any question between himself and his vendee respecting a vendor's lien, adding, it being considered, of course, that his obligation of warranty in the deed would only be made perfect or complete upon the payment of the whole amount of the purchase-money. And that taking the notes as they were taken was not intended as a waiver of a vendor's lien, or at least that it was not understood by the vendee to be such a waiver, is placed beyond doubt by what took place afterwards, on the 1st of April, 1860. There the renewed note was given for a part of the original purchase-money, and it 'was positively and unequivocally stipulated and agreed by the vendor and vendee' that the original lien was retained, that the land should continue liable as before. How could this be, if the lien had been waived? Waiver is a thing of intention as well as of action, and it is impossible to believe, in view of this testimony, there was an intention to give up the security of the land. Were this a bill to enforce the lien against the lands in the hands of Hood, the purchaser, it would not be permitted to him to assert that the vendor had, from the first, relied only upon the personal security taken.

And Scroggin and Hanna, the purchasers from Hood, are in no better position. They are not bon a fide purchasers without notice. As we have seen, the lien for the purchasemoney was apparent in the line of their title. The deed from Shields to Hood informed them that the consideration was unpaid. It imposed upon them the duty of inquiring whether it remained unpaid when they were about to make their purchase. [5] Wherever inquiry is a duty, the party bound to make it is affected with knowledge of all which he would have discovered had he performed the duty. Means of knowledge with the duty of using them are, in equity, equivalent to knowledge itself. Had inquiry been made of the vendor, it would easily have been ascertained that a portion of the purchase-money remained unpaid. Inquiry of Hood, the debtor, if any such inquiry was made, was an idle ceremony. The deed pointed to the person from whom purchasers from Hood were bound to seek information.

It has been suggested in the argument on behalf of the appellees, that taking up the original note, and giving another note for an unpaid balance of the first, may have terminated the lien if any existed. Undoubtedly no agreement made in 1860, when the new note was given, created a vendor's lien for its security. But the original lien was for all the purchase-money, and for every part of it so long as it remained unpaid. It was not merely security for the notes first given; it was for the debt of which the notes were evidence. Giving the new note was not payment of the debt, it was only a change of the evidence, and, therefore, the fact that it was given did not affect the lien. In Mims v. Lockett, [6] it was held that if a vendor of land takes a note for the price, and subsequently renews it, adding in the new note a sum of money due him by the vendee on a different account, his vendor's lien will not be invalidated thereby.

It has been further argued that even if Shields, the vendor, might have enforced a lien against the land had he continued to hold the note, Bartlett, his assignee, cannot. It is contended that a vendor's lien is a personal right of the vendor himself, not assignable. And hence that the assignee of a note given for the purchase-money cannot resort in equity to the land sold. It must be admitted that such is the doctrine of very many cases, perhaps of those which have been best considered, though there are many well-reasoned judgments to the contrary. But we think, for the purposes of the present case, the law, as held by the Supreme Court of Texas, must furnish the rule of decision. And the decisions of that court appear to be that an assignment of the notes given for purchase-money carries with it the lien to the assignee. [7]

It has been held that in order to enforce a vendor's lien, the bill must show that the complainant has exhausted his remedy at law against the personal estate of the vendee, or must show that he cannot have an adequate remedy at law. And this bill makes no such showing. But in Texas, as in some other States, the creditor may proceed in the first instance to enforce the lien in equity. [8]

Upon the whole, then, we think the Circuit Court erred in dismissing the complainant's bill. He was entitled to a decree.

DECREE REVERSED, and the case remitted with instructions to enter a decree for the complainant against Scroggin and Hanna, the appellees and defendants below.


^1  Osborn v. Cummings, 4 Texas, 13; Neel v. Prickett, 12 Id. 138; Briscoe v. Bronaugh, 1 Id. 326.

^2  Mackreth v. Symmons, 15 Vesey, 329.

^3  See numerous cases collected in note 1, Leading Cases in Equity, Hare & Wallace, 235, under the case of Mackreth v. Symmons.

^4  Campbell v. Baldwin, 2 Humphreys, 248, 258; Marshall v. Christmas, 3 Id. 616; Mims v. Railroad Co., 3 Kelley, 333; Griffin v. Blanchar, 17 California, 70; Parker v. Sewell, 24 Texas, 238; Dibblee v. Mitchell, 15 Indiana, 435.

^5  McAlpine v. Burnett, 23 Texas, 649.

^6  23 Georgia, 237.

^7  Moore v. Raymond, 15 Texas, 554; Watt v. White, 33 Id. 425.

^8  McAlpine v. Burnett, 19 Texas, 497.

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).