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United States Supreme Court

96 U.S. 291

Burbank  v.  Conrad

This is a suit for a partition of certain real property situated in the city of New Orleans in the State of Louisiana. The plaintiff alleges that he is the owner of an undivided half of the premises; that the defendants are the owners of the other undivided half; and that from the nature of the property it cannot be conveniently divided in kind. He therefore asks a partition by licitation; that is, by a sale of the premises and a division of the proceeds.

The plaintiff asserts title to an undivided half by a deed of the marshal of the United States, executed to him upon a sale under a decree of the District Court, condemning and forfeiting the property to the United States, in proceedings taken against it as the property of Charles M. Conrad, under the Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862.

The defendants assert title to the whole property by a sale by public act, made to them by their father, the said Charles M. Conrad, before the recorder and ex-officio notary-public of the parish of St. Mary, in Louisiana, on the 3d of June, 1862. This parish was then within the Confederate lines; and the Conrads, father and sons, were engaged in the rebellion against the United States. The act of sale was not placed on record in the city of New Orleans until 1870. The good faith of the parties in the transaction is not questioned, nor is the sufficiency of the consideration. But it is contended that the parties, being public, enemies in hostile territory, were incompetent at the time to transfer or to accept the title to real property situated within the Federal lines. And if this position should not be sustained, it is further contended that the act of sale not having been recorded in the city of New Orleans until after the condemnation of the property by the District Court and its sale by the marshal, the plaintiff, as purchaser, took the title unaffected by the transaction; in other words, that his position is that of a third party buying upon the faith of the title standing in the name of the elder Conrad upon the public records.

We have recently had occasion, in Conrad v. Waples (supra, p. 279), to consider the first of these questions, and it will be unnecessary here to do more than refer to our opinion in that case. And the second question requires only a brief notice. The object of requiring a public record of instruments affecting the title to real property is to protect third parties dealing with the vendor, by imparting notice to them of any previous sale or hypothecation of the property, and to protect the purchaser against any subsequent attempted disposition of it. In Louisiana, the conveyance is valid between the parties without registration, and passes the title. The only consequence of a failure of the purchaser to place his conveyance on the records of the parish where the property is situated is that he is thereby subjected to the risk of losing the property if it be again sold or hypothecated by his vendor to an innocent third party, or if it be seized and sold by a creditor of his vendor for the latter's debts. The second purchaser from the vendor and the bidder at the judicial sale would, in that case, hold the property. The United States never stood in the position of a second purchaser of the property sold by the elder Conrad. They were not purchasers at any sale of his property. They had caused his estate in the land, whatever that was, to be seized and condemned. By the decree of condemnation, that estate vested in them for the period of his life. His estate for that period was then their property. The statute declares that the property condemned 'shall become the property of the United States, and may be disposed of as the court shall decree.' It was the property of the United States, therefore, which was sold and conveyed at the marshal's sale. The United States acquired by the decree, for the life of the offender, only the estate which at the time of the seizure he actually possessed; not what he may have appeared from the public records to possess, by reason of the omission of his vendees to record the act of sale to them: and that estate, whatever it was, for that period passed by the marshal's sale and deed; nothing more and nothing less. The Registry Act was not intended to protect the United States in the exercise of their power of confiscation from the consequences of previous unrecorded sales of the alleged offender. It was in the power of Congress to provide for the confiscation of the entire property, as being within the enemy's country, without limiting it to the estate remaining in the offender; but, not having done so, the court cannot enlarge the operation of the stringent provisions of the statute. The plaintiff had notice of the character and legal effect of the decree of condemnation when he purchased, and is therefore presumed to have known that if the alleged offender possessed no estate in the premises at the time of their seizure, nothing passed to the United States by the decree, or to him by his purchase.

We see no error in the ruling of the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana, and its judgment is




This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).