Hampton v. Rouse,
89 U.S. 263 (1874)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hampton v. Rouse, 89 U.S. 22 Wall. 263 263 (1874)

Hampton v. Rouse

89 U.S. (22 Wall.) 263


1. Under a statute which enacts that the "owner," may within a time named, redeem land sold for taxes, a redemption may properly be made by a person who has been decreed a bankrupt, the lands having been his. In the case here before the Court, there had as yet been no appointment of an assignee, nor assignment and conveyance to such person, as provided for in the fourteenth section of the Bankrupt Act of 1867, and the redemption was made between the date of the decree and of such appointment.

2. A charge that a person who had been decreed a bankrupt on his own application

Page 89 U. S. 264

had by such decree ceased to be owner and had lost the right to redeem held to be erroneous, there having been evidence tending to show a redemption by such a person.

A valuable plantation in Mississippi belonging to Wade Hampton, and at the time in his possession, though mortgaged by him, was sold on the 11th of April, 1867, to John Rouse under a statute of the state just named, entitled "An act to incorporate the Board of Levee Commissioners &c." [Footnote 1] This act gives to this board power to assess taxes on lands such as the plantation of Hampton was, and if the taxes are not paid, to have the sheriff sell the lands.

It contains, however, this provision on the subject of redemption:

"The sheriff's deed, however, for all lands sold for taxes, shall be and remain with the probate clerk, and should the owner or owners of said land, their agents or attorneys, apply, they or either of them shall be entitled to the redemption of said land at any time within two years of the day of sale upon the payment of the purchase money &c. This redemption may be made from the levee treasurer or from the probate clerk where the sheriff's deed is kept."

In this state of things, Hampton, on the 29th of December, 1868, applied for the benefit of the Bankrupt Act, and on the 17th of April, 1869, was decreed a bankrupt under it. On the 19th, an assignee in bankruptcy was appointed.

The Bankrupt Act of March 2, 1867, the now existing act and the one under which Hampton was decreed bankrupt, enacts: [Footnote 2]

"SECTION 11. If any person owing debts provable under this act exceeding the amount of $300 shall apply by petition to the judge of the judicial district in which such debtor has resided, . . . setting forth his inability to pay all his debts in full, his willingness to surrender all his estate and effects for the benefit

Page 89 U. S. 265

of his creditors, and shall annex to his petition a schedule containing a full and true statement of all his debts, . . . also an accurate inventory, . . . of all his estate, such petitioner shall be adjudged a bankrupt."

The same section of the act, at its close, further directs that the district judge in that state of the case shall issue a warrant directed to the marshal of the district authorizing him to publish notices in such newspapers as the warrant specifies, to serve written or printed notices on all creditors named in the schedule filed with the petition of the applicant, and to give such notice to all concerned as the warrant directs, which notice shall state as follows:

1. That such a warrant has been issued.

2. That the payment of debts or the delivery or transfer of property to the debtor is forbidden by law.

3. That the creditors will meet, on a day therein named, to prove their debts and choose an assignee.

The twelfth section enacts that at the meeting of the creditors, such as the preceding section contemplates, one of the registers of the district court shall preside, and that the creditors in his presence shall choose one or more assignees of the estate of the debtor.

The act then goes on in its fourteenth section thus:

"As soon as said assignee is appointed and qualified, the judge, or, where there is no opposing interest, the register, . . . shall by an instrument under his hand assign and convey to the assignee all the estate real and personal of the bankrupt, with all his deeds, books, and papers relating thereto, and such assignment shall relate back to the commencement of said proceedings in bankruptcy, and thereupon, by operation of law, the title to all such property and estate, both real and personal, shall vest in said assignee."

The Bankrupt Act of 1841 [Footnote 3] differed, as to the mode and time of appointing the assignee in bankruptcy, from the now existing and above-quoted act of 1867. It ran thus:

"SECTION 3. That all the property and rights of property, . . .

Page 89 U. S. 266

of every bankrupt . . . shall, by mere operation of law, ipso facto, from the time of such decree be deemed to be divested out of such bankrupt without any other act or conveyance whatsoever, and the same shall be vested by force of the same decree in such assignee as, from time to time, shall be appointed by the proper court for the purpose."

Hampton being still in possession of his land, Rouse now brought ejectment against him for it, and on the trial Hampton offered to prove that on the 10th day of April, 1869 -- that is to say, "within two years of the day of sale," the same having been made as above stated on the 11th of April, 1867 -- his son, as his agent, offered to redeem the land, under circumstances which made the offer equivalent to a redemption.

The son testified in substance thus:

"On the 10th of April, 1869, I went as agent of Wade Hampton to the office of Mr. Haycroft, the levee treasurer, and offered to redeem the lands in controversy. I had the means to redeem the lands. There were so many applicants waiting to redeem lands before me that I could not then be attended to. The press of business in the treasurer's office prevented my redeeming the lands when I went on the 10th of April, and that pressure continued until the time of redemption had passed."

"The means which I had were levee bonds. They were my means, and not my father's. They were in the hands of Mr. Haycroft in his office. Some of them had been converted into currency. I do not know how much. The proceeds of some of these bonds had been applied to the redemption of another estate, which was redeemed entirely out of them."

"When I applied to redeem these lands in controversy, Mr. Haycroft exhibited a map of the county to me, and it was perfectly understood between him and myself what lands I wished to redeem and also the taxes of what year. He knew at the time what means were to be used in redeeming said lands, and he made no objection, and the only reason why the lands were not then redeemed was because of the press of business in his office."

Mr. Haycroft, the levee treasurer, referred to above, testified that he occasionally sold the levee bonds, such as just

Page 89 U. S. 267

above spoken of, as an accommodation to taxpayers, and with the proceeds paid the redemption money; that he had done so in the case of other lands for Hampton, but that it was no part of his official duty so to sell bonds and apply the proceeds; that in this case he had told Hampton's son that he would have to pay in currency. He added, however, that the applications for redemption on the 10th of April, 1869, were so numerous that he could not on that day have attended to the redemption of these lands under any circumstances, and that on the 11th, the time expired.

The court charged the jury,

"That Wade Hampton, having been adjudged a bankrupt on his own application, after the land was sold for the taxes, had thereby ceased to be the owner of the land, and had lost the right to redeem."

And this charge was assigned for error.

Page 89 U. S. 273

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