93 U.S. 664 (____)


Supreme Court of United States.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Robert G. Ingersoll, for the plaintiffs in error.

Mr. H.S. Greene and Mr. D.T. Littler, contra.

MR. JUSTICE DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.

It was decided by this court, in Green v. Van Buskirk, 5 Wall. 307, 7 id. 139, that the liability of property to be sold under legal process, issuing from the courts of the State where it is situated, must be determined by the law there, rather than that of the jurisdiction where the owner lives. These decisions rest on the ground that every State has the right to regulate the transfer of property within its limits, and that whoever sends property to it impliedly submits to the regulations concerning its transfer in force there, although a different rule of transfer prevails in the jurisdiction where he resides. He has no absolute right to have the transfer of property, lawful in that jurisdiction, respected in the courts of the State where it is found, and it is only on a principle of comity that it is ever allowed. But this principle yields when the laws and policy of the latter State conflict with those of the former.

The policy of the law in Illinois will not permit the owner of personal property to sell it, either absolutely or conditionally, and still continue in possession of it. Possession is one of the strongest evidences of title to this class of property, and cannot be rightfully separated from the title, except in the manner pointed out by statute. The courts of Illinois say that to suffer without notice to the world the real ownership to be in one person, and the ostensible ownership in another, gives a false credit to the latter, and in this way works an injury to third persons. Accordingly, the actual owner of personal property creating an interest in another, to whom it is delivered, if desirous of preserving a lien on it, must comply with the provisions of the Chattel-Mortgage Act. R.S. Ill. 1874, 711, 712. It requires that the instrument of conveyance, if it have the effect to preserve a mortgage or lien on the property, must be recorded, whether the party to it be a resident or non-resident of the State. If this be not done, the instrument, so far as third persons are concerned, has no validity.

Secret liens which treat the vendor of personal property, who has delivered possession of it to the purchaser, as the owner until the payment of the purchase-money, cannot be maintained in Illinois. They are held to be constructively fraudulent as to creditors, and the property, so far as their rights are concerned, is considered as belonging to the purchaser holding the possession. McCormick v. Hadden, 37 Ill. 370; Ketchum v. Watson, 24 id. 591. Nor is the transaction changed by the agreement assuming the form of a lease. In determining the real character of a contract, courts will always look to its purpose, rather than to the name given to it by the parties. If that purpose be to give the vendor a lien on the property until payment in full of the purchase-money, it is liable to be defeated by creditors of the purchaser who is in possession of it. This was held in Murch v. Wright, 46 id. 488. In that case the purchaser took from the seller a piano at the price of $700. He paid $50 down, which was called rent for the first month, and agreed to pay, as rent, $50 each month, until the whole amount should be paid, when he was to own the piano. The court held, "that it was a mere subterfuge to call this transaction a lease," and that it was a conditional sale, with the right of rescission on the part of the vendor, in case the purchaser should fail in payment of his instalments, — a contract legal and valid as between the parties, but subjecting the vendor to lose his lien in case the property, while in possession of the purchaser, should be levied upon by his creditors. That case and the one at bar are alike in all essential particulars.

The engine Smyser, the only subject of controversy in this suit, was sold on condition that each and all of the instalments should be regularly paid, with a right of rescission on the part of the vendor in case of default in any of the specified payments.

It is true the instrument of conveyance purports to be a lease, and the sums stipulated to be paid are for rent; but this form was used to cover the real transaction, as much so as was the rent of the piano in Murch v. Wright, supra. There the price of the piano was to be paid in thirteen months, and here, that of the engine, $12,093.96, in one year. It was evidently not the intention that this large sum should be paid as rent for the mere use of the engine for one year. If so, why agree to sell and convey the full title on the payment of the last instalment? In both cases, the stipulated price of the property was to be paid in short instalments, and no words employed by the parties can have the effect of changing the true nature of the contracts. In the case at bar the agreement contemplated that the engine should be removed to the State of Illinois, and used by Conant & Co., in the prosecution of their business as constructors of a railroad. It was accordingly taken there and put to the use for which it was purchased; but while in the possession of Conant & Co., who exercised complete ownership over it, it was seized and sold, in the local courts of Illinois, as their property. These proceedings were valid in the jurisdiction where they took place, and must be respected by the Federal tribunals.

The Rhode Island Locomotive Works took the risk of losing its lien in case the property, while in the possession of Conant & Co., should be levied on by their creditors, and it cannot complain, as the laws of Illinois pointed out a way to preserve and perfect its lien.

By stipulation the judgment of the court below is affirmed as to the locomotive Olney, No. 1.

As to the locomotive and tender called Alfred N. Smyser, No. 3,

Judgment reversed.

NOTE. — Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Western Railway Company v. Rhode Island Locomotive Works, error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Illinois, was argued by the counsel who appeared in the preceding case. For the reasons there given, the judgment was reversed.


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