A statement of the condition of the record title made by an
owner of property in Porto Rico does not necessarily enlarge the
scope of an incumbrance mentioned in the statement from what it
Page 236 U. S. 136
or estop the person making the statement; e.g.,
reference to a mortgage on crops as being one on the land.
A mortgage on property in Porto Rico held
in this case
to be one on the crops alone, and not on the land.
The facts, which involve the construction of a mortgage
affecting property in Porto Rico and the determination of the
question of whether it embraced the land or only the crops, are
stated in the opinion.
Page 236 U. S. 137
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a bill to foreclose a mortgage annexed to the bill, and
alleged to create a lien upon the Cacique sugar plantation. It was
brought against the appellants, who are the heirs of one Gallardo,
a purchaser of the estate. A demurrer and a plea of prescription of
thirty, twenty, fifteen, and five years were filed and overruled,
subject to exception, and thereafter the bill was taken as
confessed and a decree entered as prayed. The mortgage was made on
December 22, 1865, and the plaintiffs agree that their claim
depends upon its being construed to embrace the land. The
construction of the instrument therefore is the main question to be
dealt with. It is made more difficult by the fact that still, as
when the case was here
Page 236 U. S. 138
before (223 U.S. 223 U. S. 65
there is only an obviously inartificial translation in the record,
but enough can be gathered to make the result tolerably plain.
The mortgage, after reciting a debt due from the mortgagor, Don
Ramon Ruiz, to the mortgagee, Mr. William Noble, "for the payment
of the lease" on the Cacique estate, goes on the say that the
mortgagor "binds himself to pay the above-mentioned sum to his
creditor Noble, with the proceeds of the first crops which may be
ground," etc. It then recites a debt of Ruiz to Goenaga that must
be paid in October, 1866,
"thereby being cancelled that deed of refaccion, and Ruiz
obliged not to execute any other agreement or deed with damage to
this present one. . . . For the better security of the aforesaid,
besides the general obligation which he hereby makes of all his
property hindering the special obligation, neither the special
hindering the general, the appearing party hereto mortgages
expressly and especially not only the canes which may be ground in
the next crop by the Cacique plantation, . . . but also those which
it may grind in the following crops, until the complete payment of
the amount herein acknowledged."
The appellee gives the original Spanish:
"y sin que la obligacion general que hace de todos sus bienes
impide la especial ni por el contrario esta a aquella, el
compareciente don Ram on Ruiz hypoteca expresa y se naladamente no
tan solo los frutos que en la proxima cosecha elabore la Hacienda
Casique . . . como ya queda precisado, sino tambien los que
fabrique en los dem as cosechas venideras hasta el completo pago de
la cantidad que deja reconocida."
We agree with the appellant that a negative is left out in the
translation, and that the meaning is: without the general
obligation of all the debtor's property hindering the special, or
conversely this hindering that. So translated, we think it is
obvious that the general obligation of all the mortgagor's property
is referred to not as the object
Page 236 U. S. 139
or effect of "this" special one, but as something presupposed.
It is in fact the general obligation of all a debtor's property
that is incident to the existence of a debt; an obligation which is
recognized in some degree by every system of law, and shown in ours
by the invalidity of conveyances in fraud of creditors, but which
in the civil law is more emphasized and expressed. The object of
the instrument, and the only object, is to pledge the crops, and to
provide for the severance and application of them to the debt --
what is called an anticipatory mobilization. Williamson v.
31 La.Ann. 685, 687. It could not well have gone
further, seeing that, by the allegations of the bill, Ruiz owned
only an undivided interest in the plantation, and was in possession
under a lease.
The reference to the canceling of a deed of refaccion has no
bearing upon the nature of the present instrument, although that
point was argued. The obligation of Ruiz not to execute any other
agreement to the damage of the present one is the well known
general pact de non alienando,
intended to give an
additional safeguard to the mortgagee against later aliences of the
mortgaged property. Febrero, Part 2, Book 3, c. 2, no. 85. Curia
Filipica, Part 2, § 11, no. 11; Tercero Poseedor. Nathan v.
2 Martin (La.) N.S. 32. The language means any agreement
other than the present -- not any deed of refaccion other than the
present -- and so we need not consider the nature and effect of
such deeds in creating, so to speak, a salvage lien. We turn,
therefore, to a so-called acknowledgment that is relied upon as
estopping the appellants from denying the operation of the mortgage
upon the land. It seems from the bill that Ruiz became bankrupt,
that a co-owner, Gallardo, obtained a possessory title, and that,
on his applying for registry of the same in 1882, he was required
to set forth the encumbrances, and mentioned among them the
mortgage to Noble. But even on the allegations of the bill, and
still more plainly on looking at the instrument,
Page 236 U. S. 140
which is in the record and is referred to by both parties, this
is merely a statement of the condition of the record title. It does
not in any way enlarge or purport to enlarge the scope of the
original transaction. The mortgage, of course, bound the land in a
certain sense, because the crops were land until they were severed.
Williamson v. Richardson,
31 La.Ann. 685. But that was the
extent to which it bound it, and the recital of it in the registry
means no more. At a later date, a registrar declined to recognize
the mortgage as a lien upon the property, on the ground that it
affected only the products to be manufactured in the plantation. He
may have been wrong in his law for the reason that we have
suggested, but he was plainly right in his construction of the
document. There is no other recognition needing mention.
As our opinion is that the mortgage bound only the crops, it
follows without more that the decree must be reversed.