Imágenes de páginas

Opinion of the Court.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

governed, and the rights of the parties under it measured, by the rules as above stated. They were the laws of Illinois at the time; and, therefore, entered into the contract, and formed a part of it, without any express stipulation to that effect in the deed. Thus, for example, there is no covenant in the instrument giving the mortgagor the right to redeem, by paying the money after the day limited in the deed, and before he was foreclosed by the decree. Yet no one doubts his right or his remedy, for, by the laws of the State then in force, this right and this remedy were a part of the law of the contract, without any express agreement by the parties. So, also, the rights of the mortgagee, as known to the laws, required no express stipulation to define or secure them. They were annexed to the contract at the time it was made, and formed a part of it, and any subsequent law, impairing the rights thus acquired, impairs the obligations which the contract imposed.

"This brings us to examine the statutes of Illinois which have given rise to this controversy. As concerns the law of February 19, 1841, it appears to the court not to act merely on the remedy, but directly upon the contract itself, and to engraft upon it new conditions injurious and unjust to the mortgagee. It declares that, although the mortgaged premises should be sold under the decree of the court of chancery, yet that the equitable estate of the mortgagor shall not be extinguished, but shall continue twelve months after the sale; and it moreover gives a new and like estate, which before had no existence, to the judgment creditor, to continue for fifteen months. If such rights may be added to the original contract by subsequent legislation, it would be difficult to say at what point they must stop. An equitable interest in the premises may, in like manner, be conferred upon others; and the right to redeem may be so prolonged as to deprive the mortgagee of the benefit of his security by rendering the property unsalable for anything like its value. This law gives to the mortgagor and to the judgment creditor an equitable estate in the premises, which neither of them would have been entitled to under the original contract; and these new interests

Opinion of the Court.

are directly and materially in conflict with those which the mortgagee acquired when the mortgage was made. Any such modification of a contract by subsequent legislation, against the consent of one of the parties unquestionably impairs its obligations, and is prohibited by the Constitution."

In McCracken v. Hayward, 2How. 608, 612, there came for consideration the validity of a law of the State of Illinois, providing that a sale shall not be made of property levied on under an execution, unless it should bring two thirds of its valuation according to the opinion of three householders. The opinion of the court was pronounced by Mr. Justice Baldwin, in the course of which he used the following language:

"In placing the obligation of contracts under the protection of the Constitution, its framers looked to the essentials of the contract more than to the form and modes of proceeding by which it was to be carried into execution; annulling all state legislation which impaired the obligation, it was left to the States to provide and shape the remedy to enforce it.

"The obligation of a contract consists in its binding force on the party who makes it. This depends on the laws in existence when it is made. These are necessarily referred to in all contracts, and forming a part of them as the measure of the obligation to perform them by the one party, and the right acquired by the other. There can be no other standard by which to ascertain the extent of either than that which the terms of the contract indicate, according to their settled legal meaning. When it becomes consummated, the law defines the duty and the right, compels one party to perform the thing contracted for, and gives the other a right to enforce the performance by the remedies then in force. If any subsequent law affect to diminish the duty, or to impair the right, it necessarily bears on the obligation of the contract, in favor of one party to the injury of the other; hence any law, which in its operation amounts to a denial or obstruction of the rights accruing by a contract, though professing to act only on the remedy, is directly obnoxious to the prohibition of the Constitution. The obligation of the contract between the parties, in this case, was to perform the promises

[ocr errors]

Opinion of the Court.

and undertakings contained therein; the right of the plaintiff was to damages for the breach thereof, to bring suit and obtain a judgment, to take out and prosecute an execution against the defendant till the judgment was satisfied, pursuant to the existing laws of Illinois. Any subsequent law which denies, obstructs or impairs this right, by superadding a condition that there shall be no sale for any sum less than the value of the property levied on, to be ascertained by appraisement, or any other mode of valuation than a public sale, affects the obligation of the contract, for it can be enforced only by a sale of the defendant's property, and the prevention of such sale is the denial of a right. The same power in a state legislature may be carried to any extent, if it exists at all; it may prohibit a sale for less than the whole appraised value, or for three fourths, or nine tenths, as well as for two thirds, for if the power can be exercised to any extent, its exercise must be a matter of uncontrollable discretion, in passing laws relating to the remedy which are regardless of the effect on the right of the plaintiff."

In Howard v. Bugbee, 24 How. 461, a statute of the State of Alabama, authorizing a redemption of mortgaged property in two years after the sale under a decree, by bona fide creditors of the mortgagor, was held unconstitutional and void as to sales made under mortgages executed prior to the enactment. It was contended that the law did not affect the mortgage contract, but only enlarged the time at the completion of which the purchaser at the mortgage sale would acquire an indefeasible title, and that the new law only operated as between the purchaser and bona fide creditors of the mortgagor. But this court, through Mr. Justice Nelson, recognized the cases of Bronson v. Kinzie and McCracken v. Hayward as applicable to and decisive of the case.

Brine v. Insurance Company, 96 U. S. 627, 637, is worthy of notice, because in that case the court had occasion to apply the principles of previous cases, announced in protection of the rights of creditors, to the case of a mortgagor whose land had been ordered by the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois to an immediate sale, in

Opinion of the Court.

disregard of a law of the State in existence at the time the mortgage was executed, which allowed to the mortgagor twelve months to redeem after a sale under a decree of foreclosure, and to his judgment creditor three months after that.

The view of the trial court was that remedy of an immediate sale, by decree of the Circuit Court of the United States sitting in equity, was not affected by the state statute. But this court held, through Mr. Justice Miller, that all the laws of a State existing at the time a mortgage or any other contract is made, which affect the rights of the parties to the contract, enter into and become a part of it, and are obligatory on all courts which assume to give a remedy on such contracts

that the construction, validity and effect of contracts are governed by the place where they are made and are to be performed, if that be the same-that it is therefore said that these laws enter into and become a part of the contract. In the opinion it was said:

"There is no doubt that a distinction has been drawn, or attempted to be drawn, between such laws as regulate the rights of the parties, and such as apply only to the remedy. It may be conceded that in some cases such a distinction exists. In the recent case of Tennessee v. Sneed, 96 U. S. 69, we held that so long as there remained a sufficient remedy on the contract, an act of the legislature, changing the form of the remedy, did not impair the obligation of the contract. But this doctrine was said to be subject to the limitation that there remained a remedy which was complete, and which secured all the substantial rights of the party. At all events, the decisions of this court are numerous that the laws which prescribe the mode of enforcing a contract, which are in existence when it is made, are so far a part of the contract that no changes in these laws which seriously interfere with that enforcement are valid, because they impair its obligation within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States."

The learned justice, in enforcing his argument, quoted largely from the opinion of Chief Justice Taney in the case of Bronson v. Kinzie, as expressing truly "the sentiment of the

Opinion of the Court.

court as it was then organized, as it is organized now, and as the law of the case."

These principles were applied in the case of Seibert v. Lewis, 122 U. S. 284, where, after citing Bronson v. Kinzie, Von Hoffman v. City of Quincy, 4 Wall. 535, and Louisiana v. New Orleans, 102 U. S. 203, as declaring the settled doctrine of this court that "the remedy subsisting in a State when and where a contract is made and is to be performed is a part of its obligation," the court, through Mr. Justice Matthews, held: That the legislature of Missouri having, by the act of March 23, 1868, to facilitate the construction of railroads, enacted that the county court should, from time to time, levy and cause to be collected, in the same manner as county taxes, a special tax in order to pay the interest and principal of any bond which might be issued by a municipal corporation in the State on account of a subscription, authorized by the act, to the stock of a railroad company, which tax should be levied on all the real estate within the township making the subscription, in accordance with the valuation then last made by the county assessor for county purposes, it was a material part of this contract that such creditor should always have the right to a special tax to be levied and collected in the same manner as county taxes at the same time might be levied and collected; that the provisions contained in the subsequent enactments of Missouri, respecting the assessment and collection of such taxes, were not a legal equivalent for the provisions of the act of 1868, and that the law of 1868, although repealed by the legislature of Missouri, was still in force for the purpose of levying and collecting the tax necessary for the payment of a judgment recovered against a municipal corporation in the State upon a debt incurred by subscribing to the stock of a railroad company in accordance with its provisions.

The case of the Conn. Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Cushman, 108 U. S. 51, does not collide with the previous and subsequent cases. There the new statute did not lessen the duty of the mortgagor to pay what he had contracted to pay, nor affect the time of payment, nor affect any remedy which

« AnteriorContinuar »