Harkness v. Russell
118 U.S. 663 (1886)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Harkness v. Russell, 118 U.S. 663 (1886)

Harkness v. Russell

Submitted November 17, 1885

Decided November 8, 1886

118 U.S. 663

Syllabus

In the absence of fraud, an agreement for a conditional sale of personal property accompanied by delivery is good and valid, as well against third persons as against the parties to the transaction.

A bailee of personal property who receives it under an agreement that he may purchase it on the performance of conditions on his part cannot convey title to it or subject it to execution for his own debts until performance of the conditions on which the agreement to sell is made.

A, having agreed to sell certain personal property to B on the performance of conditions on his part, delivered it to him and took from him a promissory note stating the following as the condition of the sale:

"The express condition of this transaction is such that the title, ownership, or possession of said property does not pass from the said A until this note and interest shall have been paid in full, and the said A has full power to declare this note due and take possession of said engine and saw mill when he may deem himself

Page 118 U. S. 664

insecure, even before the maturity of this note. In case said property shall be taken back, A may sell the same at public or private sale without notice, or he may without sale endorse the true value of the property on this note, and I agree to pay on the note any balance due thereon after such endorsement as damages and rental for said machinery."

B entered into possession and, without performing the conditions of sale, sold the property to C, who knew that it had not been paid for and that A claimed title to it. At the time of the sale to C, the value of the property was less than the amount due on the note. In an action against C to recover the value of the property, held that this transaction was not a mortgage, but was an executory conditional sale, and, being free from fraud, that it was valid.

This was an appeal from the Supreme Court of Utah. The action was brought in the District Court for Weber County to recover the value of two steam engines and boilers and a portable saw mill connected with each engine. A jury being waived, the court found the facts and rendered judgment for the plaintiff, Russell & Co. The plaintiff is an Ohio corporation, and by its agent in Idaho, on the 2d of October, 1882, agreed with a partnership firm by the name of Phelan & Ferguson, residents of Idaho, to sell to them the said engines, boilers, and saw mills for the price of $4,988, nearly all of which was secured by certain promissory notes which severally contained the terms of the agreement between the parties. One of the notes (the others being in the same form) was as follows, to wit:

"SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 2, 1882"

"On or before the first day of May, 1883, for value received in one sixteen-horse portable engine, No. 1026, and one portable saw mill, No. 128, all complete, bought of L. B. Mattison, agent of Russell & Co., we or either of us promise to pay to the order of Russell & Co., Massillon, Ohio, $300, payable at Wells, Fargo & Co.'s bank, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, with ten percent interest per annum from October 1, 1882, until paid, and reasonable attorney's fees, or any costs that may be paid or incurred in any action or proceeding instituted for the collection of this note or enforcement of this covenant. The express condition of this transaction is such that the title, ownership, or possession of said engine and saw mill does not

Page 118 U. S. 665

pass from the said Russell & Co. until this note and interest shall have been paid in full, and the said Russell & Co. or his agent has full power to declare this note due and take possession of said engine and saw mill when they may deem themselves insecure, even before the maturity of this note, and it is further agreed by the makers hereof that if said note is not paid at maturity, that the interest shall be two percent per month from maturity hereof till paid, both before and after judgment, if any should be rendered. In case said saw mill and engine shall be taken back, Russell & Co. may sell the same at public or private sale without notice, or they may, without sale, endorse the true value of the property on this note, and we agree to pay on the note any balance due thereon after such endorsement as damages and rental for said machinery. As to this debt, we waive the right to exempt, or claim as exempt, any property, real or personal, we now own or may hereafter acquire by virtue of any homestead or exemption law, state or federal, now in force or that hereafter may be enacted."

"P.O., Oxford, Oneida County, Idaho Territory."

"$300 PHELAN & FERGUSON"

Some of the notes were given for the price of one of the engines with its accompanying boiler and mill, and the others for the price of the other. Some of the notes were paid, and the present suit was brought on those that were not paid. The property was delivered to Phelan & Ferguson on the execution of the notes, and subsequently they sold it to the defendant Harkness in part payment of a debt due from them to him and one Langsdorf. The defendant, at the time of the sale to him, knew that the purchase price of the property had not been paid to the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff claimed title thereto until such payment was made. The unpaid notes given for each engine and mill exceeded in amount the value of such engine and mill when the action was commenced.

The Territory of Idaho has a law relating to chattel mortgages, requiring that every such mortgage shall set out certain particulars as to parties, time, amount, etc., with an affidavit attached that it is bona fide and

Page 118 U. S. 666

made without any design to defraud and delay creditors, and requiring the mortgage and affidavit to be recorded in the county where the mortgagor lives and in that where the property is located, and it is declared that no chattel mortgage shall be valid (except as between the parties thereto) without compliance with these requisites unless the mortgagee shall have actual possession of the property mortgaged. In the present case, no affidavit was attached to the notes, nor were they recorded.

The court found that it was the intention of Phelan & Ferguson and of Russell & Co. that the title to the said property should not pass from Russell & Co. until all the notes were paid. Upon these facts, the court found as conclusions of law that the transaction between Phelan & Ferguson and Russell & Co. was a conditional executory sale, and not an absolute sale with a lien reserved, and that the title did not pass to Phelan & Ferguson or from them to the defendant, and gave judgment for the plaintiff. The supreme court of the territory affirmed this judgment.

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.