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eleventh of June, 1900, and the net avails of the sale, amounting to $922.08, have been paid over by the officer who made the sale, to the defendant.
This suit is brought by the trustee to recover from the defendant those net avails on the theory that the action of the defendant in taking possession and making the sale of the property was unlawful under the provisions of the bankrupt act.
The defendant had assisted the bankrupt in the purchase of the property and had endorsed notes for him in order to enable him to carry on the business of conducting a livery stable. This mortgage, to secure him for these payments and liabilities, was given some seven years before the passage of the bankrupt act, and at the time it was given it was agreed by the parties to it that the bankrupt might sell or exchange any of the livery stock covered by it as he might desire, and should by purchase or exchange keep the stock good, so that the defendant's security should not be impaired, and it was also agreed that all after-acquired livery property should be covered by the mortgage as security for the debts specified therein.
Under this agreement the bankrupt made sales, purchases and exchanges of livery stock to such an extent that on May 16, 1900, there remained but two horses of the property originally on hand. The stock as it existed on the above date was all acquired by exchange of the original stock, or with the avails of the old stock sold, or the money derived from the business. There is no pretense of any actual fraud being committed or contemplated by either party to the mortgage. Instead of taking possession at the time of the execution of the mortgage, the defendant had it recorded in the proper clerk's office, and the record stood as notice to all the world of the existence of the lien as it stood when the mortgage was executed, and that the defendant would have the right to take possession of property subsequently acquired as provided for in the mortgage. The bankrupt was, therefore, not holding himself out
Opinion of the Court.
196 U. S.
as unconditional owner of the property, and there was no securing of credit by reason of his apparent unconditional ownership. The record gave notice that he was not such unconditional owner. There was no secret lien, and if defendant cannot secure the benefit of this mortgage, which he obtained in 1891, as a lien upon the after-acquired property, yet prior to the title of the trustee for the benefit of creditors, it must be because of some provision of the bankruptcy law, which we think the court ought not to construe or endeavor to enforce beyond its fair meaning.
In Vermont it is held that a mortgage, such as the one in question, is good. The Supreme Court of that State has so held in this case, and the authorities to that effect are also cited in the opinion of that court. And it is also there held that when the mortgagee takes possession of after-acquired property, as provided for in this mortgage, the lien is good and valid as against every one but attaching or judgment creditors prior to the taking of such possession.
At the time when the defendant took possession of this after-acquired property, covered by the mortgage, there had been a breach of the condition specified therein, and the title to the property was thereby vested in the mortgagee, subject to the mortgagor's right in equity to redeem. This has been held to be the law in Vermont (aside from any question as to the effect of the bankrupt law), both in this case and in the cases also cited in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Vermont. The taking of possession of the after-acquired property, under a mortgage such as this, is held good, and to relate back to the date of the mortgage, even as. against an assignee in insolvency. Peabody v. Landon, 61 Vermont, 318, and other cases cited in the opinion of the Supreme Court.
Whether and to what extent a mortgage of this kind is valid, is a local question, and the decisions of the state court will be followed by this court in such case. Dooley v. Pease, 180 U. S. 126.
The question that remains is, whether the taking of posses
sion after condition broken, of these mortgaged chattels before, and within four months of filing the petition in bankruptcy, was a violation of any of the provisions of the bankrupt act?
The trustee insists that such taking possession of the afteracquired property, under the mortgage of 1891, constituted a preference under that act. He contends that the defendant did not have a valid lien against creditors, under that act; that his lien might under other circumstances have been consummated by the taking of possession, but as that was done within four months of the filing of the petition in bankruptcy, the lien was not valid.
Did this taking of possession constitute a preference within the meaning of the act?
It was found by the referee that when the defendant took possession of the property he knew that the mortgagor was insolvent and was considering going into bankruptcy, but that he did not intend to perpetrate any actual fraud on the other creditors, or any of them, but did intend thereby to perfect his lien on the property, and make it available for the payment of his debts before other complications, by way of attachment or bankruptcy arose. He then understood that Ryan's attachment would probably hold good against his mortgage. The question whether any conveyance, etc., was in fact made with intent to defraud creditors, when passed upon in the state court, is not one of a Federal nature. McKenna v. Simpson, 129 U. S. 506; Cramer v. Wilson, 195 U. S. 408. It can scarcely be said that the enforcement of a lien by the taking possession, with the consent of the mortgagor, of after-acquired property covered by a valid mortgage is a conveyance or transfer within the bankrupt act. There is no finding that in parting with the possession of the property the mortgagor had any purpose of hindering, delaying or defrauding his creditors, or any of them. Without a finding to the effect that there was an intent to defraud, there was no invalid transfer of the property within the provisions of sec
tion 67e of the bankruptcy law. Sabin v. Camp, 98 Fed. Rep. 974.
In the case last cited the court, upon the subject of a preference, held that though the transaction was consummated within the four months, yet it originated in October, 1897, and there was no preference under the facts of that case. "What was done was in pursuance of the preëxisting contract, to which no objection is made. Camp furnished the money out of which the property, which is the subject of the sale to him, was created. He had good right, in equity and in law, to make provision for the security of the money so advanced, and the property purchased by his money is a legitimate security, and one frequently employed. There is always a strong equity in favor of a lien by one who advances money upon the property which is the product of the money so advanced. This was what the parties intended at the time, and to this, as already stated, there is, and can be, no objection in law or in morals. And when, at a later date, but still prior to the filing of the petition in bankruptcy, Camp exercised his rights under this valid and equitable arrangement to possess himself of the property and make sale of it in pursuance of his contract, he was not guilty of securing a preference under the bankruptcy law."
The principle that the taking possession may sometimes be held to relate back to the time when the right so to do was created, is recognized in the above case. So in this case, although there was no actual existing lien upon this afteracquired property until the taking of possession, yet there was a positive agreement, as contained in the mortgage and existing of record, under which the inchoate lien might be asserted and enforced, and when enforced by the taking of possession, that possession under the facts of this case, related back to the time of the execution of the mortgage of April, 1891, as it was only by virtue of that mortgage that possession could be taken. The Supreme Court of Vermont has held that such a mortgage gives an existing lien by contract, which may
be enforced by the actual taking of possession, and such lien can only be avoided by an execution or attachment creditor, whose lien actually attaches before the taking of possession by the mortgagee. Although this after-acquired property was subject to the lien of an attaching or an execution creditor, if perfected before the mortgagee took possession under his mortgage, yet if there were no such creditor, the enforcement of the lien by taking possession would be legal, even if within the four months provided in the act. There is a distinction between the bald creation of a lien within the four months, and the enforcement of one provided for in a mortgage executed years before the passage of the act, by virtue of which mortgage and because of the condition broken, the title to the property becomes vested in the mortgagee, and the subsequent taking possession becomes valid, except as above stated. A trustee in bankruptcy does not in such circumstances occupy the same position as a creditor levying under an execution, or by attachment, and his rights, in this exceptional case, and for the reasons just indicated, are somewhat different from what they are generally stated. Mueller v. Nugent, 184 U. S. 1.
It is admitted on the part of the counsel for the plaintiff in error that the rule in Vermont, in cases of chattel mortgages of after-acquired property (where possession by the mortgagee is necessary to perfect his title as against attaching or execution creditors), is that although such possession be not taken until long after the execution of the mortgage, yet the possession, when taken (if it be before the lien of the attaching or execution creditor), brings the property under the cover and operation of the mortgage as of its date-the time when the right of possession was first acquired. It was also admitted that the Supreme Court of Vermont has held that when a chattel mortgage requiring possession of the mortgaged property, to perfect it as to third persons, was executed more than four months before the commencement of insolvency proceedings, the taking of actual possession of the mortgaged property within the four months' period brought that prop