127 US 532 Easton v. German-American Bank

8 S.Ct. 1297

127 U.S. 532

32 L.Ed. 210


May 14, 1888.

[Statement of Case from pages 532-536 intentionally omitted]

Charles P. Crosby, J. M. Wilson, and Charles L. Easton, for appellant.

Edward Salomon, for appellee.

Mr. Justice MATTHEWS, after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.


The right of the complainant to the relief prayed for is based upon the contention that the Genman-American Bank originally held the bonds secured by the deed of trust as a pledge given by way of security for the repayment of the loan to Bowen Bros.; that it has never sold that pledge, in pursuance of the terms of the agreement between the parties, and as required by law; that the land itself, the title to which was conveyed by Bowen Bros. to Smith in trust, was a mere incident to the pledge and a part of it; that, notwithstanding the form of a sale under the trust deed by the trustee to Dexter, there was no sale in fact, and in law the conveyance by Dexter to the bank operated only to convey the title to the bank in the same capacity in which it held the bonds as collateral, that is, as trustee for the debtors; that the subsequent sale by the bank to Dore was the first effective conveyance of an absolute title, but was made by the bank in its capacity as trustee for the Bowens; and that, as such, the complainant, having succeeded to the Bowens' rights, is entitled to require the bank to account for its proceeds. Where personal property is pledged, the plede e acquires the legal title and the possession. In some cases, it is true, it may remain in the apparent possession of the pledgeor; but, if so, it can be only where the pledgeor holds as agent of the pledgee. By virtue of the pledge, the pledgee has the right by law, on the default of the pledgeor, to sell the property pledged in satisfaction of the pledgeor's obligation. As in that transaction the pledgee is the vendor, he cannot also be the vendee. In reference to the pledge and to the pledgeor, he occupies a fiduciary relation, by virtue of which it becomes his duty to exercise his right of sale for the benefit of the pledgeor. He is in the position of a trustee to sell, and is, by a familiar maxim of equity, forbidden to purchase for his own use at his own sale. The same principle applies, with a like result, where real estate is conveyed by a debtor directly to a creditor as security for the payment of an obligation, with a power to sell in case of default. There the creditor is also a trustee to sell, and cannot purchase the property at his own sale for his own use. In the present case the bonds of the Bowen Bros., secured by the deed of trust, were pledged to the German-American Bank as security for the repayment of the loan made to the Bowen Bros., but those bonds have not in fact been sold, unless the transfer of them by the bank to Dore be considered a sale. It was not such, however, in point of fact or of law. Nothing was paid for them and they were delivered to Dore merely as muniments of title in connection with his purchase of the real estate. At that time they were of no value, for they were merely the personal obligations of the Bowen Bros., from which they had been released by the discharge in bankruptcy. No suit could have been maintained upon them as against the only obligors by whose discharge in bankruptcy they had lost their character as well as their value as property. The equity of the complainant, therefore, if he have any, must be considered as transferred from the bonds themselves, viewed as instruments and obligations, to the money which had been received on account of them by virtue of the sale of the real estate by the bank to Dore. Whether the complainant can now assert any equitable interest in that money depends, in the first place, on the nature of the title which the bank acquired by the conveyance to it from Dexter; and whether the principles of a pledge, and of a trust arising thereon, apply to the real estate conveyed by the Bowens to Smith as a trustee to secure the payment of the bonds. It is very plain, we think, that these principles do not apply. The land in question was conveyed by the debtor, not directly to the creditor, but to a stranger. That stranger, by virtue of the conveyance, held the legal title in trust for the purpose of sale according to the power contained in it. That power he executed in strict accordance with its terms. A default has been made by the debtor, and at the request of a part of the creditors he public auction to the highest bidder, without public auction to the highest bidder, with-out limit or condition, in order that the proceeds of the sale might be applied to the payment of the debt, to secure which the land had been conveyed in trust. The sale was made under the direction and control of the trustee, but, as the creditors who held the obligations of the debtors were not themselves trustees, there was nothing, either at law or in equity, to prevent their being bidders, and becoming buyers at the trustee's sale. In reference to that sale they occupied no position towards the debtor of trust or confidence. They were charged, in respect to it, whih no duty whatever. They had an interest in it that the property should produce enough to satisfy the debts which it had been given to secure. Beyond that they had neither interest nor duty; and in their own interest the creditors had a right to bid so as to prevent the property from being sacrificed at the sale below its value, in ordert hat it might be made to produce the largest amount towards payment of the debt. The relation of a creditor secured by such a deed of trust to a sale made under a power given to a st.ranger as a power given to a stranger as of real estate sold under judicial proceedings for foreclosure by a decree of a court of equity. At such a sale nothing is more common than for the mortgagee to become the purchaser; and it is as beneficial to the debtor as to himself that he should be permitted to enhance the competition at such a sale in order to protect his own interests. In that respect, his own interest coincides with that of his debtor, as it is for their mutual benefit that the property should not be sacrificed so as to leave any part of the debt unpaid.


It is argued, however, that in the present instance the sale to Dexter was a sale only in form, and not in fact, because no money passed. This, however, is an error, because the whole amount bid by Dexter at the sale, which was the consideration for the conveyance to him by the trustee, was at once credited by the principal creditors, for whom he was acting as agent, as a credit of cash upon the overdue obligations of the debtor. In fact and in law it was a payment of money to the use and benefit of the debtors in pursuance of their authority. In addition to this, there is another ground which equally supports the decree below. As already recited, the assignee in bankruptcy, in pursuance of an order of the court, sold and conveyed to Hermann all the interest which he, as assignee, and the Bowens, as bankrupts, had in and to the real estate in question; and by subsequent conveyances whatever title, if any, thereby passed, has become vested in Dore for his use. All that was conveyed by the assignee to Charles L. Easton, the complainant in this suit, was the interest of the assignee and of the bankrupts 'in all collaterals pledged with said bank by said bankrupts, or either of them.' If this can be considered as the conveyance of any interest in the real estate, it was ineffectual and void, because that interest had been previously conveyed by the same grantor to Hermann. If it is limited to the bonds of the Bowen Bros. secured by the deed of trust, it is equally ineffective, because there was nothing to convey. These bonds were the mere personal obligations of the bankrupts themselves, in which neither they nor their assignee had any right of property, and which had become extinguished as obligations in the hands of any one by the bankrupts' certificate of discharge. For these reasons the decree of the circuit court is affirmed.


Affirming 24 Fed. Rep. 523.