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WINDETT V. UNION MUT. LIFE INS. CO., 144 U. S. 581 (1892)

U.S. Supreme Court

Windett v. Union Mut. Life Ins. Co., 144 U.S. 581 (1892)

Windett v. Union Mutual Life Insurance Company

No. 253

Argued March 31, April 1, 1892

Decided April 18, 1892

144 U.S. 581




If a mortgagor, who has agreed by the terms of the mortgage that he will pay all taxes and that the mortgagee, in case of sale for breach of condition, shall be allowed all moneys advanced for taxes or other liens or assessments, with interest, neglects to pay taxes duly assessed, and the land is duly sold for the nonpayment of such taxes, and the validity of the deed made to the purchaser is doubtful, the mortgagee, upon a bill for foreclosure, is entitled to be allowed a sum paid by him to buy up the tax titles, exceeding the amount of unpaid taxes and interest by a very small part only of the penalties accrued.

An agreement to pay an attorney at law a retainer for professional services which are never performed is not to be implied.

In equity, to foreclose a mortgage. The mortgagor having failed to pay the taxes on the mortgaged premises, they were sold for taxes. The mortgagee bought in the tax titles from the purchaser and filed this bill to foreclose the mortgage. The mortgagor set up in reduction of the mortgage debt a claim for retainers as attorney at law of the mortgagee for services never performed, and further contested the allowance of the amount paid by the mortgagee to acquire the tax titles, on the ground that the sales were void by reason of noncompliance with the provisions of the Statutes of Illinois in this respect. The master allowed the sum paid for the acquisition of the tax titles, and disallowed the amounts claimed for retainer, allowing only amounts for services actually performed. From the decree rendered on that basis the defendant appealed.

Page 144 U. S. 582

MR. JUSTICE GRAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was a bill in equity by a corporation of Maine against a citizen of Illinois to foreclose a deed of trust in the nature

Page 144 U. S. 583

of a mortgage of land in Chicago, made by the defendant to the plaintiff on July 12, 1869, to secure the payment of his note of that date for $7,500, payable in five years, with interest at the rate of eight percent and containing covenants that the premises were "free and clear of all liens and encumbrances" and that the mortgagor would

"in due season pay all taxes and assessments on said premises, and exhibit once a year receipts of the proper persons to said party of the second part, showing payment thereof,"

and a power to sell on any breach of condition, and out of the proceeds, after paying all expenses,

"including all moneys advanced for taxes, insurance, or other liens and assessments, with the interest thereon at the rate of ten percent per annum from the date of payment, all which advances shall be secured by this trust,"

to pay the principal and interest of the note to the mortgagee and any surplus to the mortgagor.

This bill was filed February 10, 1882, after default in payment of principal and interest of the mortgage debt. The master, to whom it was referred to state the account between the parties, reported that there was due to the plaintiff the sum of $20,556.11. The defendant excepted to the master's report in two respects, and appealed from a final decree rendered for the plaintiff in accordance with that report.

1. The defendant failed to pay the taxes assessed on the land from 1869 to 1879, and the land was sold and conveyed for nonpayment of these taxes to Asahel Gage. The plaintiff's president urged the defendant to redeem the land from the tax sales (as he might, under the Revised Statutes of Illinois, c. 120, § 210, by paying the amounts for which the land was sold, with interest at the rate of ten percent, and certain penalties), and told him that otherwise the plaintiff would be obliged to take steps to protect itself. The defendant promised to pay the taxes and interest, but insisted that the tax deeds were void for want of previous notice to the tenants of Gage's purchases as required by chapter 120, § 216, of the same statutes. The defendant never paid the taxes or took any steps toward redeeming the land. After waiting two years, the plaintiff, on August 1, 1881, bought in Gage's

Page 144 U. S. 584

tax titles for the sum of $3,750, which exceeded the amount of unpaid taxes and interest by the sum of $300 only, equal to a very small part of the penalties accrued. The master allowed the plaintiff this sum of $3,750, with interest at the rate of ten percent, amounting to $1,809.24.

The defendant argued that the plaintiff could not be allowed for the taxes, because they had been extinguished by the tax sales and deeds, and could not recover on the tax titles, because they were void, and because equity would not enforce them.

But the plaintiff did not set up the tax deeds as a ground of suit, but only as evidence of clouds upon his title arising out of the mortgagor's own neglect to pay the taxes. It is at least doubtful, upon the evidence, whether Gage did not give notice to the tenants of the tax sales, and there is no evidence whatever of any invalidity in the taxes, the sales, or the deeds in any other respect. In this state of things, the mortgagee was not bound to take the risk of contesting the tax titles, and the sums paid to extinguish those titles were reasonable expenses chargeable to the mortgagor by the terms of the mortgage.

2. The defendant, who is an attorney at law, claimed by way of setoff the sum of $2,500 for professional services, and the further sum of $5,000 for a general retainer, by reason of the president's having, as the defendant testified, said that he

"wished to engage him professionally in behalf of the company with reference to fifteen or twenty cases, litigated or complicated cases, growing out of their foreclosure proceedings and claims upon property."

The master allowed the defendant the sum of $600 for professional services actually rendered, and the evidence does not satisfy us that they were worth more.

The defendant's claim for a retainer for services in suits to be brought in the future was rightly disallowed by the master. No express agreement to pay a retainer was proved, and an agreement to pay a retainer for services which are never performed is not to be implied.

Decree affirmed.

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