United States v. Villalonga
90 U.S. 35 (1874)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Villalonga, 90 U.S. 23 Wall. 35 35 (1874)

United States v. Villalonga

90 U.S. (23 Wall.) 35

Syllabus

Under the Abandoned and Captured Property Act, which gives to "the owner" of any such property a right, after it has been sold by the government, to recover the proceeds of it in the Treasury of the United States, a factor who has merely made advances on the property, there

Page 90 U. S. 36

being another person who has the legal interest in the proceeds, is not to be regarded as "the owner," at least not to be so regarded beyond the extent of his lien.

The third section of the Act of Congress of March 12th, 1863, [Footnote 1] which authorizes a suit against the United States for the recovery of the proceeds of sale of captured or abandoned property, enacts that:

"Any person claiming to have been the owner of any such abandoned or captured property may at any time within two years after the suppression of the rebellion prefer his claim to the proceeds thereof in the Court of Claims, and on proof to the satisfaction of the court of his ownership of said property, of his right to the proceeds thereof, and that he was never given any aid or comfort to the present rebellion, receive the residue of said proceeds after the deduction of any purchase money which may have been paid, together with the expense of transportation and sale of said property, and any other lawful expense attending the disposition thereof."

Under this enactment, one Villalonga filed a petition in the court below to recover the proceeds of four hundred and ninety-three bales of cotton which were seized by the Army of the United States at Savannah in December, 1864. After its seizure, the cotton was turned over to the agents of the Treasury Department and sold, and the proceeds of the sale were paid into the Treasury. Of the whole number of bales captured, one hundred and ninety-six belonged to Villalonga, but the remainder he had received as a cotton factor from various persons, and had made advances thereon in money of the Confederate States. The aggregate of these advances was $51,153. It did not appear from the case as found who these different owners were, how much had been advanced to each, or what was the value of the advances in money of the United States. Upon this state of facts, the Court of Claims gave judgment in favor of Villalonga, not

Page 90 U. S. 37

only for the proceeds of sale of the cotton which belonged to him in his own right, but also for the entire proceeds of that which he had received as a factor and upon which he had made advances.

The court rested its judgment upon the case of Carroll v. United States, [Footnote 2] a case in which property owned by a disloyal person, had after his death, and when in the hands of the administrator of his estate, who was loyal, been seized by the government under the above-quoted Abandoned and Captured Property Act and sold. This Court then adjudged that on a claim by the loyal administrator, the disloyalty of the decedent did not bar a recovery; that the administrator, who, said the Court, "had a title on which she could maintain trespass or trover," was to be considered "owner" within the meaning of the Abandoned and Captured Property Act.

The Court of Claims, in support of its judgment, said:

"The Supreme Court of the United States decided in Carroll v. United States that a suit may be maintained under the Abandoned and Captured Property Act by one who was not the owner in his own right, but who, at the time of seizure, was possessed of the property under a title upon which he could maintain an action of trover or trespass, and who, at the time of bringing suit, was entitled to receive the proceeds as the trustee or representative of parties not before the court. We perceive no difference in principle between the case of an administrator and of a factor in possession with a lien upon the property for advances made. The factor is entitled to hold the property. He may sell it to repay his advances or maintain an action of trover or replevin to the exclusion of any action by his principal, and on recovering its value, he becomes a trustee of the original owner to the extent of his residuary interest. It may be doubted whether the original owner, not in possession, not entitled to possession, and not primarily entitled to the proceeds, could maintain a suit here under the statute; and it is tolerably certain that he and the factor could not have brought several and conflicting suits for their respective interests, and

Page 90 U. S. 38

compelled this Court to settle disputed accounts between them. Therefore it seems tolerably clear that this suit is properly brought by the factor who, on recovering, will be liable to his principal of the surplus after repaying his own advances, as if this suit were an action of trover brought in a court of the common law."

Whether the judgment of the Court of Claims, given on this view of the case of Carroll v. United States, was correct on such a state of facts as existed in the present case was the question now presented, and the answer to it depended, of course, upon the answer to the antecedent inquiry whether, as to the cotton upon which the claimant had made partial advances as a factor, he could be considered the owner thereof, and as having a right to its proceeds, within the meaning of the Act of Congress.

Certain laws of Georgia, which the claimant relied on as bearing on his case, were as follows:

"SECTION 1987. The lien given by the common law to attorneys, factors, . . . pawnees, and others, under special circumstances (except the vendor's lien) are recognized by and may be enforced under the law of Georgia. [Footnote 3]"

"SECTION 2090. A factor's lien extends to all balances on general account, and attaches to the proceeds of the sale of the goods consigned as well as to the goods themselves."

"SECTION 2965. The owner of personalty is entitled to the possession thereof. Any deprivation of such possession is a tort for which an action lies."

"SECTION 2966. Mere possession of a chattel, if without title or wrongfully, will give a right of action for any interference therewith, except as against the true owner or the person wrongfully deprived of possession."

"SECTION 2967. Trover may be used as a form of action to recover the possession of chattels, an alternative verdict in damages, to be discharged on delivery of the property that has been taken; but it shall not be necessary to prove any conversion of the property where the defendant is in possession when the action is brought. "

Page 90 U. S. 39

"SECTION 2969. In cases of bailments, where the possession is in the bailee, a trespass committed during the existence of the bailment will give a right of action to the bailee for the interference with his special property, and a concurrent right of action to the bailor for the interference with his general property. "

Page 90 U. S. 41

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