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United States v. New Orleans Railroad

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

79 U.S. 362

United States  v.  New Orleans Railroad

APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the District of Kentucky.

This was a suit instituted by the United States, as the holder of a number of the first and second mortgage bonds of the New Orleans and Ohio Railroad Company, against that company, and one Trimble, trustee of them, to foreclose the mortgages given to secure the said bonds. These mortgages were executed in 1858 and 1860, respectively, and convered all the company's property of every kind, with a stipulation to include also all future acquired property. The trustee of the mortgages and several individual bondholders were made parties, and the bill contained proper allegations as to the impracticability of making all of them parties. After a final decree of foreclosure and sale, and whilst the execution was in the hands of the marshal, it transpired that a portion of the rolling stock, consisting of two locomotives and ten cars, had been sold to the railroad company by the United States in 1866, and that, simultaneously with the sale, the company gave to the United States a bond for the purchase-money, wherein it was stipulated that the latter should have a lien therefor upon the property sold, and that the company should not sell it or part with it until payment of the price, without the written consent of the United States. Hereupon the respective solicitors of all the parties, complainant and defendant, directed the marshal, in writing, not to sell the said locomotives and cars. The rest of the property was sold, but brought less than the amount of the mortgage bonds.

The parties, then, by their respective solicitors, filed a written statement of the facts in relation to said locomotives and cars, adding to what is above stated the further fact that the bond given for the purchase-money thereof was not recorded, and that its contents were unknown to all the bondholders of the railroad company except Mr. Trimble, the trustee of the mortgages. Upon this statement the question whether the United States had a superior equity in this property to that of the bondholders under the mortgages was submitted to the court for its decision, and the court decided that they had a superior equity, and made a decree to that effect. This was the decree appealed from.

Messrs. Carlisle and McPherson, for the appellant:

1. The court below has undertaken to adjudicate the question of property as between the United States on one part and the other bondholders on the other part, without any pleadings upon which the decree could be based, and without any such proceedings, however irregular, as would answer the purpose of proper pleadings and process, by giving the bondholders an opportunity to litigate the question. It has thus been acting in a case where it had no jurisdiction.

2. It has been settled in this court that a railroad company can mortgage not only its acquisitions in esse or presenti, but those in posse or futuro as well. A mortgage of property to be acquired, was enforced to the displacement of a vendor's lien in the recent case of Galveston Railroad Company v. Cowdrey. [*] The mortgage here was of that sort; and on the authority of that case should displace the lien of the United States.

Mr. B. H. Bristow, Solicitor-General, and Mr. C. H. Hill, Assistant Attorney-General, contra.

Mr. Justice BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.


^*  11 Wallace, 459.

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).