Lanahan v. Sears/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

102 U.S. 318

Lanahan  v.  Sears


The premises described in the complaint are in the city of Waco, in the State of Texas. They have been the homestead of the complainants from the time of their purchase, in May, 1870. The conveyance to Robertson in 1873 was accompanied by a defeasance from him, stating that the deed was executed as security for certain promissory notes of the husband. The two documents-the deed, which was absolute in form, and the defeasance-are, therefore, to be taken together as if forming one instrument. They together constitute a mortgage, and as such would be treated in the courts of Texas.

By the Constitution of that State of 1868, which was in force when the notes were given and the mortgage executed, the homestead of a family was not subject to forced sale for debts, except for the purchase-money, or for taxes, and for labor and materials expended thereon. The premises in question, therefore, could not be sold under therefore, could not be sold under any decree in a suit for the foreclosure of the mortgage. The prohibition of the Constitution extended to any species of compulsory disposition of the homestead, whether denominated a sale or otherwise. A similar prohibition in the Constitution of 1845 was so construed by the Supreme Court of the State in Sampson & Keene v. Williamson, contained in the 6th of Texas Reports. In that case Chief Justice Hemphill said that 'the Constitution obviously intended that the homestead should be exempted from the operation of any species of execution, or from any forced disposition of the property, whether partial or total, which would disturb the family in the quiet and uninterrupted possession of their home with the property thereto attached. The beneficence of the provision has a much wider range than to protect the family from a sale which would utterly extinguish all right in the property. It shields them also from any extents or deliveries of the property, or from any forcible appropriation of its rents, issues, and profits. It protects the domestic sanctuary from every species of intrusion which, under color of law, would subject the property, by any disposition whatever, to the payment of debts.'

The appellant is the owner of the mortgage in this case, and aware-so states him counsel-that he could not enforce it against the homestead in the State courts, as there mortgages can only be enforced by a decree of sale, commenced an action of ejectment for the premises in the Circuit Court of the United States, contending that the mortgage passed the legal title as against the mortgagors, and that, as its owner, he had a right to recover the possession of the premises for default in the payment of the notes secured. He sought, in other words, to get around the State Constitution by the form of his procedure in the Federal court. We do not think that its wise and beneficent purpose of securing a home to the family against the vicissitudes of fortune can be thus easily evaded. A forced dispossession in ejectment is as much within the prohibition as a forced sale under judicial process. We think, therefore, that the decree in the suit, enjoining the action of ejectment, was properly rendered upon the undisputed facts stated in the complaint; and it is accordingly

Affirmed.

Notes[edit]

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).