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BRADLEY V. LIGHTCAP, 195 U. S. 1 (1904)

U.S. Supreme Court

Bradley v. Lightcap, 195 U.S. 1 (1904)

Bradley v. Lightcap

No. 243

Argued April 21, 1904

Decided May 31, 1904

195 U.S. 1


1. By the law of Illinois in respect of mortgages, the legal title passes to the mortgagee, who is entitled to possession, at least after condition broken. The mortgagor has an equity of redemption, and, in case of foreclosure by sale, has by statute twelve months within which to redeem by payment.

2. Where a mortgagee has rightfully taken possession of the mortgaged premises on condition broken, the filing of a bill to foreclose is in aid of the legal title, and not inconsistent with it.

3. Prior to the passage of a certain statute, where at the sale on foreclosure, the mortgagee bid in the property conveyed by the mortgage at less than the amount due, and the mortgagor did not redeem, failure by the mortgagee to take out a deed had no effect so far as the mortgagor was concerned on the original title of the mortgagee as against the mortgagor, though it might let in the right of redemption.

4. When, by a statute passed subsequently to a mortgage and going into effect after the mortgagee has taken possession as such, on condition broken, it is enacted that, if the mortgagee, being in possession, bids in the mortgaged premises at sale on foreclosure at less than the amount found due on the mortgage, and the mortgagor does not redeem, the legal title of the mortgagee and his right of possession shall be forfeited by failure to obtain a deed within the time prescribed to the mortgagor, who has not redeemed or in fact paid anything in extinguishment of the mortgage, such statute impairs the obligation of the prior mortgage contract, and operates to deprive the mortgagee of property rights without due process.

Page 195 U. S. 2

Five ejectment suits were brought by Lightcap against tenants of Mrs. Bradley, July 13, 1895, in the Circuit Court of Mason County, Illinois, and taken on change of venue to Fulton County, where they were consolidated; Mrs. Bradley was let in to defend, and the case went to judgment in her favor. This judgment was reversed by the Supreme Court of Illinois, after several hearings, and the case remanded to the circuit court. 186 Ill. 510. On the retrial, judgment was recovered by Lightcap, which was affirmed by the supreme court, 201 Ill. 511, and this writ of error prosecuted.

On the disposition of the case when brought to the supreme court the second time, the division of opinion among the seven members of the court found expression. Mr. Chief Justice Magruder, Mr. Justice Carter, and Mr. Justice Ricks concurred in the opinion of Mr. Justice Cartwright in affirmance of the judgment. Mr. Justice Wilkin and Mr. Justice Boggs filed dissents, and Mr. Justice Hand, while agreeing that the legal title was in Lightcap, was of opinion that the full beneficial interest was in Mrs. Bradley, and that she, being in possession, a court of chancery might protect her equitable interest and possession by enjoining the prosecution of the ejectment suit.

The facts are in substance these:

Tobias S. Bradley loaned T. B. Breedlove, June 3, 1867, $19,616, evidenced by notes payable in one, two, three, four, and five years, respectively, and secured by a trust deed on 1,200 acres of land in Mason County, Illinois. On Bradley's death, Lydia, his widow, became the sole owner of the trust deed and notes. October 8, 1867, Breedlove conveyed the 1,200 acres to Prettyman, subject to the mortgage to Bradley. August 13, 1868, Prettyman conveyed 680 acres to McCune, and McCune gave a trust deed thereon to E. G. Johnson, trustee, to secure the payment of $15,000, evidenced by three notes, to the order of Lydia Bradley, and due in one, two, and three years after date. Mrs. Bradley, through her agent, accepted these notes and trust deed as part payment of the

Page 195 U. S. 3

Breedlove notes, and Prettyman paid the difference, and the 1,200 acres were released from the Breedlove trust deed or mortgage.

November 13, 1868, McCune conveyed the 680 acres to Prettyman, subject to the trust deed to Johnson. No taxes were paid by McCune or by Prettyman, and no part of the mortgage debt was ever paid.

May 24, 1871, Mrs. Bradley redeemed from the tax sales for taxes of 1868 and 1869, and in 1872 for the taxes of 1871, and she has paid all other taxes assessed on the land since the trust deed or mortgage was given.

Early in the summer of 1871, Austin Johnson, whom Mrs. Bradley, in July, 1870, had appointed her business agent, went on the land on her behalf, and, in 1872, Mrs. Bradley and Austin Johnson together went upon the land, and she took personal and exclusive possession of it, which, by herself and her tenants, she has retained ever since.

February 22, 1872, Mrs. Bradley filed a bill in the Circuit Court of Mason County to set aside the release of the Breedlove trust deed or mortgage, on the ground of fraud, and for the foreclosure of that mortgage on the 1,200 acres for the payment of the balance of the original debt. McCune was a party, but seems to have left the state, and was brought in by publication. The bill was contested, and on August 22, 1879, the Mason Circuit Court entered a decree of foreclosure and sale on the McCune trust deed, finding the amount due Mrs. Bradley to be $31,500. The 680 acres were sold by the master in chancery October 27, 1879, bid in for Mrs. Bradley for $10,000, and a certificate was issued to her.

Mrs. Bradley proceeded to develop and improve the 680 acres, drained the tract, erected farm buildings, laid tiles, reduced the land to cultivation, and has maintained exclusive possession to this date.

September 4, 1893, Prettyman gave a quitclaim deed of the land to Lightcap, which was recorded November 30, 1894. July 13, 1895, these actions in ejectment were commenced.

Page 195 U. S. 4

The McCune trust deed or mortgage was executed August 13, 1868, and at that time chapter 57 of the Revised Statutes of Illinois contained these sections:

"SEC. 12. Whenever any lands or tenements shall be sold by virtue of any execution, it shall be the duty of the sheriff or other officer, instead of executing a deed for the premises sold, to give to the purchaser or purchasers of such land or tenements a certificate in writing, describing the lands or tenements purchased, and the sum paid therefor, or, if purchased by the plaintiff in the execution, the amount of his bid, and the time when the purchaser will be entitled to a deed for such lands or tenements, unless the same shall be redeemed, as is provided in this chapter, and such sheriff or other officer shall, within ten days from such sale, file in the office of the recorder of the county, a duplicate of such certificate, signed by him, and such certificate, or a certified copy thereof, shall be taken and deemed evidence of the facts therein contained."

"SEC. 13. It shall be lawful for any defendant, his heirs, executors, administrators, or grantees, whose lands or tenements shall be sold by virtue of any execution, within twelve months from such sale, to redeem such lands or tenements, by paying to the purchaser thereof, his executors, administrators, or assigns, or to the sheriff or other officer who sold the same, for the benefit of such purchaser, the sum of money which may have been paid on the purchase thereof, or the amount given or bid, if purchased by the plaintiff in the execution, together with interest thereon at the rate of ten percentum from the time of such sale, and on such sum being made as aforesaid, the said sale and the certificate thereupon granted shall be null and void."

"SEC. 22. If such lands or tenements so sold shall not be redeemed as aforesaid, either by the defendant or by such creditor as aforesaid, within fifteen months from the time of such sale, it shall be the duty of the sheriff or other officer, who sold the same, or his successor in office, or his executors

Page 195 U. S. 5

or administrators, to complete such sale, by executing a deed to the purchaser. . . ."

"SEC. 24. In all cases hereafter where lands shall be sold under and by virtue of any decree of a court of equity for the sale of mortgaged lands, it shall be lawful for the mortgagor of such lands, his heirs, executors, administrators, or grantees to redeem the same in the manner prescribed in this chapter for the redemption of lands sold by virtue of executions issued upon judgments at common law, and judgment creditors may redeem lands sold under any such decree in the same manner as is prescribed for the redemption of lands in like manner sold upon executions issued upon judgments at common law."

The statutes contained no limitation of time within which a sheriff's or master's deed must be taken after the period for redemption had expired, and prescribed no penalty or loss of right to the purchaser by reason of delay or failure in taking out such deed.

In Rucker v. Dooley, 49 Ill. 377, the Supreme Court of Illinois at its September term, 1868, reasoning by analogy, held in an equity suit, as against a purchaser of real estate at an execution sale, who was never in its possession, and had no claim to it, except under his judgment and sale, and who had taken out a sheriff's deed twenty-nine years after the sale, and in favor of a bona fide purchaser, in possession, claiming by mesne conveyances from the judgment debtor, that, for the protection of purchasers for a valuable consideration, without notice, from the judgment debtor and those claiming under him, a sheriff's deed ought not to be issued after the lapse of twenty years, and that application for a deed made after the lapse of seven years, during which the judgment was a lien, and fifteen months, the time given for redemption, and within twenty years, should be made to the proper court by rule on the sheriff and notice to the parties interested.

March 22, 1872, an act of the General Assembly of Illinois was approved, entitled

"An Act in Regard to Judgments and Decrees, and the Manner of Enforcing the Same by Execution,

Page 195 U. S. 6

and to Provide for the Redemption of Real Estate Sold Under Execution or Decree,"

which went into force July 1, 1872, the provisions of which were not materially different from those above quoted, but section 30 was as follows, the additions to former acts being indicated by italics:

"SEC 30. When the premises mentioned in any such certificate shall not be redeemed in pursuance of law, the legal holder of such certificate shall be entitled to a deed therefor at any time within five years from the expiration of the time of redemption. The deed shall be executed by the sheriff, master in chancery, or other officer who made such sale, or by his successor in office, or by some person specially appointed by the court for the purpose. If the time of redemption shall have elapsed before the taking effect of this act, a deed may be given within two years from the time this act shall take effect. When such deed is not taken within the time limited by this act, the certificate of purchase shall be null and void; but if such deed is wrongfully withheld by the officer whose duty it is to execute the same, or if the execution of such deed is restrained by injunction or under of a court or judge, the time during which the deed is so withheld or the execution thereof restrained shall not be taken as any part of the five years within which said holder shall take a deed. "

Page 195 U. S. 16

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