Fowler v. Rapley
APPEAL from the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia; the case being thus:
An act of Congress of February 22d, 1867,  abolishes the right of distress in the District of Columbia, and enacts that
'Instead of it the landlord shall have a tacit lien upon such of the tenant's personal chattels, upon the premises, as are subject to execution for debt, to commence with the tenancy and continue for three months after the rent is due, and until the termination of any action for such rent brought within said three months. And this lien may be enforced—
'First. By attachment, to be issued upon affidavit that the rent is due and unpaid; or if not due, that the defendant is about to remove or sell all or some of said chattels; or,
'Second. By judgment against the tenant, and execution to be levied on said chattels or any of them, in whosesoever hands they may be found; or,
'Third. By action against the purchaser of any of said chattels, with notice of the lien, in which action the plaintiff may have judgment for the value of the chattels purchased by the defendant, but not exceeding the rent in arrear and damages.'
In this condition of the statutory law the firm of Stackpole & Hall engaged in selling lumber and ice, at wholesale and retail, in the city of Washington, on the 1st of July, 1867, rented a wharf, in the said city, for the purpose of a lumberyard and ice-houses, from one Rapley, at the monthly rent of $100. Stackpole & Hall carried on their business, on the premises, until the 23d of November, 1867, when they sold out their stock of ice and lumber to one Perkins, rent being at this time due, and in arrear from the 1st day of the preceding August. Perkins immediately took possession of the stock and of the premises, and continued the business until the 14th of January, 1868, when, there having been no discharge of the arrears of rent, he sold the stock, and delivered the same to one Fowler, who immediately took possession of the premises, and continued the business thereon.
On the 24th of January, 1868, Rapley sued Stackpole & Hall for rent in arrear, to wit, $100 per month for the months of August, September, October, November, and December, 1867, and caused an attachment to be issued under the act of Congress above quoted, and under the same the marshal seized upon part of the property which had belonged to Stackpole & Hall, and had been by them sold to Perkins, and by Perkins to Fowler, and which had not been removed from the premises.
Both Perkins and Fowler knew, at the time of their respective purchases, that the premises were rented premises, but neither of them had notice otherwise than by implication from the facts above set forth, that the rent was in arrear.
Upon this case, which was stated for the opinion of the court below, that court, on a writ of replevin issued by Fowler against Rapley and the marshal for the seized property, gave judgment for the defendants. This judgment Fowler now brought here for review.
Mr. Enoch Totten, for the plaintiff in error:
1. By the two sales of property the landlord's lien was discharged.
The case states that while each of the purchasers knew that the premises were rented, neither of them knew that rents were in arrear. The landlord, it seems, had permitted the rents to remain in arrear six months, and then without taking any action to secure his money, allowed a sale of all the chattels to be made to an innocent purchaser. He stood, stupidly gazing, until this purchaser had parted with his money and was in lawful possession of the property. Then he seizes it.
The statute declares positively what the remedy shall be against a purchaser of chattels on the premises with notice of the lien, and gives no remedy against a purchaser without notice. This necessarily leads to the construction that a bon a fide sale, without notice, discharges the property from the operation of the lien.
And so in Webb v. Sharp,  where this court enforced a landlord's lien as against a subsequent mortgagee, Bradley, J., says:
^1 14 Stat. at Large, 404.
^2 13 Wallace, 14.