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Opinion of the Court.
ship in the State of New York should be regarded as sufficiently proved.
Being entitled to raise the question, we must hold, in conformity to our decision in the Blake case, that Carhart, as an unsecured creditor and a citizen of New York, is entitled to share in the distribution of the assets of the Carnegie Land Company upon the same level as like creditors of the company residents of the State of Tennessee, and as the decree denies him that right, it must be reversed for that reason.
The next question arises out of the mortgage given as security for the payment of the bonds of the land company, of which Carhart held all that had been issued—$85,000.
Part of the fifth section of the act of 1877 provides
“Nevertheless, creditors who may be residents of this State shall have a priority in the distribution of assets, or subjection of the same, or any part thereof, to the payment of debts over all simple contract creditors, being residents of any other country or countries, and also over mortgage or judgment creditors, for all debts, engagements and contracts which were made or owing by said corporation previous to the filing and registration of such valid mortgages, or the rendition of such valid judgments.”
Under this provision of the section, creditors of the land company residing in Tennessee, whose debts accrued prior to the filing and registration of the Sully, trustee, mortgage were by the decree of the court below preferred in payment over the mortgagee. By reason of such preference Carhart did not receive what he would have received, but for the preference so given. He claims that this preference in favor of resident creditors, whose debts existed when his mortgawe was registered, is an illegal discrimination against him as a non-resident mortgagee, because the statute, as he says, while directing such a discrimination against a non-resident mortgagee, does not permit it as against a resident mortgagee. Such a discrimination, if it existed, is invalid within the decision of Blake v. McClung, supra.
It is objected, however, on the part of the defendants in error, that this is a merely abstract or moot question, because
Opinion of the Court.
there are no resident mortgagees, and their rights have not, therefore, been determined. The objection is not well taken. Although there are no resident mortgagees in this case, yet the decree of the court below, following the statute, bas postponed the payment of the mortgage, in favor of resident creditors whose debts accrued prior to the registration of that mortgage. If the statute does not permit such postponement against a resident mortgagee, then the postponement in the case of a non-resident mortgagee would be invalid. The postponement has in fact been made as against the non-resident mortgagee, and whether that postponement was legal and valid is no mere abstraction, because by reason thereof this nonresident mortgagee has actually suffered a loss in the payment of his mortgage. It is, therefore, entirely immaterial whether in this particular case there are or are not resident mortgagees. We are in this case necessarily brought to a decision of the question, whether the postponement was valid, and that depends upon the question, whether the act permits a similar postponement in the case of a resident mortgagee? If it does, it is conceded that the act is valid, so far as this particular question is concerned.
For us to hold that such postponement is not permitted in the case of a resident mortgagee is to condemn the statute on that point as a violation of the Constitution of the United States. Such a construction should not be adopted if the statute is reasonably susceptible of another which renders it valid. That rule applies, even though on some other point the statute has been already held to be a violation of the Federal Constitution.
We think the true construction of the statute requires us to hold that the resident owner of a mortgage would be postponed in its payment in favor of those debts made or owing by the corporation prior to the filing and registration of his mortgage. In other words, that the Tennessee general creditor has the same right of preference as against a resident mortgagee that he has against a non-resident, and the same burden that is placed upon non-resident mortgagees and judgment creditors is by the statute placed upon resident mortgagees and judgment
Opinion of the Court.
creditors. We do not think that this construction leads to any absurd result.
It is urged that if it were to be so construed, a Tennessee creditor who had no mortgage or judgment would share with all other unsecured Tennessee creditors in the assets of the insolvent company, but that if he, being such creditor, took a judg. ment or mortgage as a security for the payment of his debt, he would thereby lose his right to share with the other resident non-secured creditors, and the latter would have a preferred right of payment over him for all debts of the company existing at the time of the registration of the mortgage. The creditor, it is said, would thus lose his right as a general creditor, and be would obtain no lien by his mortgage or judgment as against those creditors of whom he was one before he took his mortgage.
We agree that a construction which leads to such a result would be absurd, but such a result does not follow from our construction of the statute. When the Tennessee creditor takes his mortgage or recovers his judgment to secure an existing indebtedness, a new debt is not thereby created, but he has simply received, or obtained, a security for its payment, and a preference as against all other creditors whose debts may accrue subsequently to the filing and registration of his mortgage or the recovery of his judgment. He gains no priority over existing creditors of his class by taking a mortgage or judgment. The debts existing at that time, including his own, are to be paid, and it is only against debts subsequently incurred that the mortgage, or the judgment, has a preferential lien. If the debt for which he took the mortgage existed prior to the execution thereof, the mortgagee did not, by taking his mortgage, lose his right to share with the other unsecured creditors, but he did not acquire the right to assert the lien of his mortgage in preference to and against those creditors whose debts existed at the time of its registration. His rights as a general creditor of the land company, existing prior to the registration of the mortgage, were not in any manner lost or affected by the mortgage. He cannot assert the lien of his mortgage against prior creditors, but he does not lose his own right as a prior creditor
Opinion of the Court.
by taking the mortgage. Although the act was evidently passed for the purpose of awarding certain preferences to Tennessee over foreign creditors, yet we see nothing in its general purpose which requires us to consider the act as making a distinction in favor of a Tennessee mortgagee as against a nonresident mortgagee.
While the effect of this construction deprives both classes of mortgagees, in case of insolvency of the mortgagor, of any benefit from their mortgages as against resident non-secured creditors, existing when the mortgages were registered, yet, at the same time, it permits such mortgagees to share in the distribution of assets with such unsecured creditors, provided their own debts existed prior to the taking of the mortgage, and did not spring into existence simultaneously with the mortgage.
The rights of Carhart as a secured creditor must be adjusted with reference to these views. If his secured debt, or any portion thereof, did, in fact, exist prior to his mortgage, he is entitled to share with other unsecured creditors, who are residents of the State of Tennessee.
Plaintiff in error Carhart also insists that section 5 of the act of 1877 violates section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, in that it deprives the nonresident mortgagee of his property without due process of law.
We are unable to perceive any foundation for the claim, and we think the question has been already so decided in Blake v. McClung, which we have so frequently referred to. It was stated in that case, at page 260:
"It does not follow that, within the meaning of that amendment, (XIV,) the judgment below deprived the Virginia corporation of property without due process of law simply because its claim was subordinated to the claims of the Tennessee creditors. That corporation was not, in any legal sense, deprived of its claim, nor was its right to reach the assets of the British corporation in other States or countries disputed. It was only denied the right to participate upon terms of equality with Tennessee creditors in the distribution of particular assets of another corporation doing business in that State. It had notice of the proceedings in the state court, became a party to those
Opinion of the Court.
proceedings, and the rights asserted by it were adjudicated. If the Virginia corporation cannot invoke the protection of the second section of article IV of the Constitution of the United States relating to the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States, as its co-plaintiffs in error have done, it is because it is not a citizen within the meaning of that section; and if the state court erred in its decree in reference to that corporation the latter cannot be said to have been thereby deprived of its property without due process of law within the ineaning of the Constitution.”
That language fits this case. The principle is not altered by the fact that in this case the creditor had a mortgage which was postponed, while in the case cited his debt was unsecured, but it was also postponed to the Tennessee creditor.
Nor can we see that there has been any denial by the State of Tennessee to any person within its jurisdiction of the equal protection of the laws. Upon this point also we refer to the same case of Blake v. McClung, where, at page 260, the question is decided.
These two last points would apply also to the mortgage of the Travelers' Insurance Company. That company being a corporation of the State of Connecticut could not raise the question of a denial of any privilege or immunity as such citizen, under the provision of section 2, article IV, of the Constitution. Blake v. McClung, supra. But the questions as to the deprivation of property without due process of law and of being denied the equal protection of the laws are raised by that corporation, and must be decided in a way similar to the case of Carhart.
With the exception of Carhart as a non-resident unsecured creditor, we do not see that the plaintiffs in error herein have any right to complain of the decree of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, but as such non-resident unsecured creditor he has the right to share in the distribution of the assets of the Carnegie Land Company upon the same level as like creditors of the company who are residents of the State of Tennessee, and as the decree below denies him that right, it must be reversed as to him for that reason, and the case remanded to the Supreme