Watson v. Bondurant - 88 U.S. 123 (1874)
U.S. Supreme Court
Watson v. Bondurant, 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 123 123 (1874)
Watson v. Bondurant
88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 123
1. By the law of Louisiana as held by her courts, it is indispensably necessary, in order to make a valid sale of land under a foreclosure of a mortgage that in all parishes except Jefferson and Orleans, there should be an actual seizure of the land -- not perhaps an actual turning out of the party in possession, but some taking possession of it by the sheriff more than a taking possession constructively.
2. Under the arrangement known in Louisiana as the "pact de non aliendo," the mortgagee can proceed to enforce his mortgage directly against the mortgagor without reference to the vendee of the latter. But the vendee has sufficient interest in the matter to sue to annul the sale if the forms of law have not been complied with by the mortgagee of his vendor in making the sale.
3. Where a return in a record, purporting to be a sheriff's return to a fieri facias, alleges that under a proceeding to foreclose a mortgage, the sheriff seized the mortgaged premises, but does not purport to be signed by the sheriff, the return is traversable, and if the law requires an actual seizure, it may be shown that none was made.
Walter Bondurant brought this action against one Watson, in the court below, to recover possession of a lot of land containing one hundred and sixty acres, in the Parish of Tensas, Louisiana.
The case was thus:
Daniel Bondurant, owning a large plantation in the said Parish of Tensas, died intestate, leaving three sons, Horace, Albert, and John, and also a grandson, the plaintiff, then an infant, and co-heir with them. In 1852, the sons sued for a partition, and a decree of sale was ordered. A sale was made,
and the sons bid off the plantation for $150,000, of which sum the plaintiff was entitled, as one heir of his grandfather, to a fourth, or $37,500. The sheriff, on the 4th day of December, 1852, executed to the sons a deed, reserving a special mortgage on the lands as security for the payment to the plaintiff of his share of the purchase money when he should come of age, which would be in March, 1862. In the Act of sale, which was executed by the sheriff and the purchasers, the latter bound themselves not to alienate, deteriorate, or encumber the property to the prejudice of the mortgage, which covenant is called, in Louisiana law, the "pact de non alienando," and dispenses with the necessity of making any persons other than the mortgagors parties to a judicial proceeding upon the mortgage. This mortgage was duly recorded on the 6th of December, 1852. Regularly, it should have been reinscribed within ten years from that time. But it was not reinscribed until September, 1865, the plaintiff alleging, by way of excuse, the existence of the civil war and that he was prevented by "vis major" from reinscribing it.
Meantime the sons divided the plantation between themselves and the tract in question was set off to John Bondurant, who, in 1854, conveyed it to Watson, the defendant, who had been in possession thereof ever since.
On the 30th of January, 1866, the plaintiff commenced an action against his uncles in the District Court, Parish of Tensas, for the recovery of $37,500, the amount of his mortgage, and obtained a judgment against them, under which the sheriff sold all the property mortgaged, including the tract for which the present suit was brought. Under this sale the plaintiff now claimed the land in controversy. The judgment was rendered November 14, 1867. A fieri facias was issued, directed to the sheriff of the parish. This writ was produced in evidence, and had attached thereto a statement, unsigned, purporting to be a return, as follows:
"Received the 9th December, 1867, and served this writ as follows, to-wit: I seized, on the 25th day of December, A.D. 1867, the following described property belonging to defendants,
to-wit (describing the entire plantation). On the 28th day of December, 1867, I advertised said property for sale at the courthouse door, in this parish, on Saturday, the 1st of February, A.D. 1868, for cash &c. I offered said property for sale, when Walter Bondurant bid,"
The sheriff's deed to the plaintiff was also offered in evidence, which recited the same facts.
The defendant proved, and the fact is found by the court, that there was no actual seizure of the property in dispute, the Sheriff of the Parish of Tensas not being in the habit of making actual seizures, and the only notice of seizure was by posting upon the courthouse door a notice of seizure to the said Horace, Albert, and John Bondurant, as absentees, and that the defendant had no knowledge of any proceeding to divest his title until March, 1869, long after the sale.
Upon these facts, the defendant requested the court below to decide that a reinscription of the mortgage within ten years was necessary to its validity, but the court held that the period of the war of rebellion was to be deducted from the period prescribed for the reinscription of mortgages.
The defendant also requested the court to decide:
1st. That it is essential to the validity of a sheriff's return to a writ of execution that it should be signed by him or his deputy in order to validate an adjudication of sale.
2d. That in order to make valid a sale of tangible property in all the parishes of Louisiana except Orleans and Jefferson, there must be an actual seizure by the sheriff on execution.
3d. That in order to divest the title of the defendant, notice of seizure, upon Bondurant at least, if not upon the defendant, was essential.
But the court ruled that inasmuch as the mortgage contained the pact de non alienando, the defendant was not to be considered in possession against the plaintiff, and that it did not matter what irregularities were in the sheriff's proceedings in selling the property, as Watson could not avail him self of them.
Judgment having been given accordingly for the plaintiff, Watson brought the case here.