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decided: March 2, 1891.




Author: Bradley

[ 138 U.S. Page 597]

 MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.

This is the case which was before us in October term, 1888, and the decision in which will be found reported in 131 U.S. 191, under the name of New Orleans v. Gaines's Administrator. The suit was commenced in August, 1879, and was brought against the city of New Orleans to recover the rents, fruits, revenues and profits of 135 arpents of land, situated in the city, from the year 1837 to the time of the accounting sought. This land had been purchased by the city from one Evariste Blanc in 1834, and afterwards disposed of to various parties, except four or five blocks reserved for city purposes, which are not now in question. The city, however, is sought to be charged with all the rents, fruits and revenues of the land, whether in its own possession or in the possession of its grantees. In two previous suits brought by Mrs. Gaines against the parties in possession, one against P. H. Monsseaux and

[ 138 U.S. Page 598]

     others, and the other against P. F. Agnelly and others, (said suits being in the nature of ejectments,) decrees were obtained for the recovery of the lands held by the defendants respectively, and references were made to a master to ascertain the amounts of rents and revenues due. The total of these rents and revenues found and reported by the master in the two suits was $517,049.34, which, with interest, calculated up to January 10, 1881, amounted to the sum of $576,707.92. The bill in this case sought a recovery from the city of New Orleans not only of the said last-mentioned sum, but also of a large amount, exceeding $1,300,000, for the rents and revenues of unimproved property whilst in the possession and ownership of the city. A decree was rendered in the court below for both of these amounts, but for the reasons expressed in the opinion of this court, reported in 131 U.S., the latter amount was disallowed, and the decree was reversed. We held that the city was concluded by the proceedings against the tenants in possession in the two former suits referred to, and must respond for the amounts decreed against the tenants in those suits, subject to a reduction, however, in any of the individual cases in which compromises had been effected for a less amount than the sum adjudged. It was contended, indeed, by the complainant, that the city, by virtue of claiming title to the property, and conveying it to purchasers with a guarantee, was primarily liable for all rents and revenues to Mrs. Gaines and her representatives (the real owners of the property) without reference to the grantees, and that no settlement with the latter could affect such primary liability. We did not concur in that view, however, as will be seen by reference to the opinion before referred to. We held that the city was only liable to Mrs. Gaines, the true owner, in consequence of its engagements as vendor and warrantor to the persons to whom it had sold the property, through the equity which those persons and their grantees had to be protected from loss and damage by reason of defective title; and that Mrs. Gaines and her representatives could not hold the city liable beyond that. We held further that as between the city and its grantees, the city was the principal debtor, and was bound to protect them.

[ 138 U.S. Page 599]

     The primary obligations of the parties are based upon two articles of the Civil Code of Louisiana:

"Art. 502. The products of the thing do not belong to the simple possessor, and must be returned with the thing to the owner who claims the same, unless the possessor held it bona fide."

It having been decided that the holders of Mrs. Gaines's property under the sales of Relf and Chew (which is the case here) are possessors in bad faith, the above article makes them responsible to her for the products, or, in other words, the fruits or revenues.

"Art. 2506.When there is a promise of warranty, or when no stipulation was made on that subject, if the buyer be evicted, he has a right to claim against the seller:

"1. The restitution of the price.

"2. That of the fruits or revenues, when he is obliged to return them to the owner who evicts him.

"3. All the costs occasioned, either by the suit in warranty on the part of the buyer, or by that brought by the original plaintiff.

"4. The damages, when he has suffered any, besides the price that he has paid."

Our views with regard to the obligations of the city enforceable in the present suit were expressed in the former case in the following terms:

"As between the city and its grantee, the former, by reason of its guaranty of title, is really the principal debtor, and bound to protect the grantee as a principal is bound to protect his surety. Therefore the grantee is entitled to such remedies as a surety hath; and when fixed by judgment, if not before, may file a bill against his guarantor to protect him. Lord Redesdale says: 'A court of equity will also prevent injury in some cases by interposing before any actual injury has been suffered, by a bill which has been sometimes called a bill quia timet, in analogy to proceedings at the common law, where in some cases a writ may be maintained before any molestation, distress or impleading. Thus a surety may file a bill to compel the debtor on a bond in which he has joined to

[ 138 U.S. Page 600]

     Pay the debt when due, whether the surety has been actually sued for it or not; and upon a covenant to save harmless, a bill may be filed to relieve the covenantee under similar circumstances.' [Cases cited.] In Lee v. Rook, [Mosely, 318,] the Master of the Rolls said: 'If I borrow money on a mortgage of my estate for another, I may come into equity (as every surety may against his principal) to have my estate disencumbered by him.'

"Then, if the grantees, who have been ousted, and who are condemned in judgment to pay to Mrs. Gaines the rents and revenues due to her, might have maintained a suit in equity against the city to compel it to indemnify them, why may not Mrs. Gaines be subrogated to the grantees' right and equally maintain a suit against the city? The claim is an equitable one. It is in proof that all the acts of sale of the city contained express agreements of guaranty, with right of subrogation; and an act of sale in Louisiana imports a guaranty whether it is expressed or not.

"But if the suit could not be maintained on purely equitable grounds alone, there is a principle of the civil law obtaining in Louisiana, by the aid of which there can be no doubt of its being maintainable. The Code Napoleon had an article (Art. 1166) expressly declaring that creditors may exercise all the rights and actions of their debtor, with the exception of those that are exclusively attached to the person. It is true that the Louisiana Code has no such article; but it is laid down by writers of authority that this principle prevails in French jurisprudence without the aid of any positive law. (43 Dalloz, 239, etc., title Vente, Arts. 932-935.) The decisions to the contrary seem to be greatly outweighed by other decisions and by sound doctrine. The right thus claimed for the creditor (the word creditor being used in its large sense, as in the civil law) may very properly be pursued in a suit in equity, since it could not be pursued in an action at law in the courts of the United States; and all existing rights in any State of the Union ought to be suable in some form in those courts.

"We think, therefore, that this part of the decree, amounting

[ 138 U.S. Page 601]

     to the sum of $576,707.92, with accruing interest, being for the amount of the judgments obtained in the other suits, ought to be allowed, unless subject to reduction for the cause hereafter referred to."

Our conclusion was subsequently, in the same opinion, expressed as follows:

"As to the residue of the decree, amounting to $576,707.92, founded on the judgments recovered against persons in possession of various portions of the property, claiming under sales made by the city of New Orleans, whilst those persons would have been proper parties to the suit, in order that it might appear that the sums recovered against them had not been released or compromised for less amounts than the face of the judgments, and that they might be bound by the decree, still, as the objection of want of parties was not specifically made, and as it would be a great hardship on all the parties concerned to have to begin this litigation over again, we do not think that the bill should be dismissed on that ground, but that the said sum of $576,707.92 should be allowed to the complainant, with interest thereon as provided in the decree of the Circuit Court, subject, however, to the qualification that, if the defendant can show that any of the said judgments have been compromised and settled for any less sums than the face thereof, with interest, the defendant should be entitled to the benefit of a corresponding reduction in the decree; and a reasonable time should be allowed for the purpose of showing that such compromises, if any, have been made. The result is that the decree of the Circuit Court must be reversed, and the cause remanded, with instructions to enter a decree in conformity with this opinion."

The mandate issued from this court, after reciting the former decree of the Circuit Court and reversing the same and awarding costs on the appeal, concluded as follows:

"And it is further ordered that this cause be and the same is hereby remanded to the said Circuit Court with directions to enter a decree in conformity with the opinion of this court."

In pursuance of this mandate, a decree was made and entered in the Circuit Court, by which it was referred to a master to

[ 138 U.S. Page 602]

     take testimony and report as to whether the defendant (the city of New Orleans) was entitled to any, and if so, how much, reduction in the said decree of $576,707.92, by reason of any compromises and settlements of the judgments for rents in the said Agnelly and Monsseaux cases, made and entered into by the ...

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