In Rochester Distilling Co. v. Rasey (142 N.Y. 570) there was a controversy between the plaintiff who claimed title to chattels under a sale by the creditor on execution, and the defendant, who claimed title to the same chattels under a chattel mortgage, which, in terms, covered the grass growing upon the premises at the time of the execution of the mortgage, and also the products of the farm thereafter to be produced.Summary of this case from N.Y. Security Co. v. Saratoga G. El. L. Co.
Argued May 4, 1894
Decided June 5, 1894
De Merville Page for appellant. George D. Reed for respondent.
I think this case does not, in principle, differ from any other case, where a chattel mortgage has been given upon property in expectancy and which has no potential existence at the time of its execution. The fact that the subject of the mortgage is a crop to be planted and raised in the future upon land does not affect the determination of this question upon established principles. It may be that precisely such a case, in its facts, has not been passed upon in this court; but there are expressions of opinion, in several cases of a kindred nature, in the reports of this court and of other courts in this state, which leave us in no doubt as to the doctrine which should govern. The proposition that a mortgage upon chattels having no actual, nor potential, existence, can operate to charge them with a lien, when they come into existence, as against an attaching, or an execution creditor, has frequently been discountenanced and repudiated. Grantham v. Hawley (Hobart, 133) is the general source of authority for the proposition that one may grant what he has only potentially, and there is no good reason for doubting that that which has a potential, or possible existence, like the spontaneous product of the earth, or the increase of that which is in existence, may properly be the subject of sale, or of mortgage. The right to it, when it comes into existence, is regarded as a present vested right. That which is, however, the annual product of labor and of the cultivation of the earth cannot be said to have either an actual, or a potential existence before a planting.
This action being one at law, the inquiry is limited to ascertaining the strictly legal rights of two contending creditors to the property of their debtor, Powell, in the crops which he had raised. It is unlike some of the cases, which have arisen between the lessor of land and his lessee. In such a case, a different principle might operate to create and support the lien of the landlord upon the crops, as they come into existence upon the land. The title to the land being in him, an agreement between him and the lessee for a lien upon the crops to be raised, to secure the payment of the rent, would operate and be given legal effect, as a reservation, at the time, of the title to the product of the land. That was the case of Andrew v. Newcomb ( 32 N.Y. 417), where the owner of land agreed with another that he might cultivate it at a certain rent; the crop to remain the property of the landlord, until the tenant should give him security for the rent. Judge DENIO repudiated the idea that the arrangement could be called a conditional sale of the flax; because the subject was not in existence. He held that the idea of a pledge or of a sale had no application and that the effect of the contract was to give to the landlord the original title to the crop. His remarks upon the subsequent vesting of the title to crops, when they come into being, have reference to such an arrangement between landlord and tenant and not to the case of a mortgage, or conditional sale to some third person of crops yet to be planted. Mr. Thomas, in his work on Chattel Mortgages, upon the subject of mortgaging a crop not yet planted, says (§ 149) "the weight of authority inclines to the view that the lien is an equitable one and differs, in some respects, from the charge created by a mortgage of property in existence at the date of the agreement;" and, again, he says "the authorities are mainly to the effect that such a mortgage conveys no title or interest as against attaching, or judgment creditors of the mortgagor." About this question of mortgaging personal property, to be subsequently acquired, much has been written in the books, which I deem unnecessary to resume here at any great length. It results from a review of the authorities that a mortgage cannot be given future effect as a lien upon personal property, which, at the time of its delivery, was not in existence, actually or potentially, when the rights of creditors have intervened. At law such a mortgage must be conceded to be void. The mortgage could have no positive operation to transfer in præsenti property not in esse. At furthest, it might operate by way of a present contract between the parties that the creditor should have a lien upon the property to be subsequently acquired by his debtor; which equity would enforce as against the latter.
In Bank of Lansingburgh v. Crary (1 Barb. 542) PAIGE J. observed: "I strongly incline to the opinion that a chattel mortgage can only operate on property in actual existence at the time of its execution; that it cannot be given on the future products of real estate; and that if given one day, or one week, before the product of the land comes into existence, it is as inoperative as if the chattel mortgage had been given on a crop of grass or grain, one, two, or three years previous to its production."
In a subsequent case, the same learned judge considered the nature of a mortgage relating to property not then in existence and its effect as to creditors of the mortgagor. In Otis v. Sill (8 Barb. 102) the plaintiff claimed under a chattel mortgage, which, after describing the property mortgaged, contained the following clause: "All scythes manufactured out of the said iron and steel and all scythes, iron, steel and coal which may be purchased in lieu of the property aforesaid." Subsequently, the property was taken under executions issued on judgments and the action was brought for its taking and detention. PAIGE, J. refers to his opinion in Bank of Lansingburgh v. Crary, that a chattel mortgage could only operate on property in actual existence at the time of its execution. He elaborately discusses the question of whether such a mortgage was a lien upon the property when acquired, as against the creditors of the mortgagor. and reviews very many authorities in England and some in this country. His conclusions were adverse to the proposition. He held that, as to subsequently acquired property, the mortgage could only be regarded as a mere contract to give a further mortgage upon such property and that no specific lien was created thereby. He says "I have come to the conclusion, as the result of all the authorities, that if the mortgage in this case did amount to a contract to execute a further mortgage on subsequently acquired property, it was good as an executory contract only and did not constitute a lien on the articles of the kind mentioned therein when subsequently purchased." In Gardner v. McEwen ( 19 N.Y. 123), the chattel mortgage to the plaintiff, upon property in the store, "or which might thereafter be purchased and put into store," was held inoperative to convey the title to the after-acquired property, as against the defendant; who purchased it at a sale under execution upon a judgment against the mortgagor. McCaffrey v. Woodin ( 65 N.Y. 459) was an action in trover. Plaintiff was lessee and defendant was agent for the lessor. The former covenanted in the lease that the latter should have "a lien as security for the payment of the rent" on all the personal property, etc., which should be put upon the premises, "and such lien to be enforced, on the non-payment of the rent, by the taking and the sale of such property in the same manner as in cases of chattel mortgages on default thereof." By virtue of this provision in the lease, the defendant took the farm produce. The decision upheld the right of the landlord to do so; holding that as the crops came into existence they vested in the landlord. It is to be noted that the court considered the case as one to be governed by equitable principles; observing that "the matter comes up solely between the parties, there being no intervening rights of creditors." Referring to Gardner v. McEwen ( supra), it was remarked that that "is a case between the mortgagee and creditors and was affected by our act concerning filing chattel mortgages." Treating the question as one for the application of equitable principles, it was held that the lessor was entitled to set up her equitable rights, as a defense to the plaintiff's (the lessee's) action of trover. In the same case, GRAY C. observed that, if the relation of mortgagor and mortgagee had been created between the parties, "it was inoperative upon any property, which at the time of its execution was not actually, or potentially, either possessed or owned by McCaffrey." In Cressey v. Sabre (17 Hun, 120), where the opinion was delivered by BOARDMAN, J., and was concurred in by Justices LEARNED and BOCKES, a chattel mortgage upon potatoes (among other articles of property), which were not yet planted, was held inoperative. The distinction was there mentioned between a case like McCaffrey v. Woodin, where the question of title was between the parties to the contract and one where it arose between the mortgagee and a third person. In Coats v. Donnell ( 94 N.Y. 168) ANDREWS, J. observed that "a contract for a lien on property not in esse may be effectual in equity to give a lien as between the parties, when the property comes into existence and where there are no intervening rights of creditors or third persons." Kribbs v. Alford ( 120 N.Y. 519) recognizes the invalidity at law of a chattel mortgage of property thereafter to be acquired; but holds that as between the parties their contract would be construed in equity as creating an equitable lien, which could be enforced.
The idea of a chattel mortgage is that of a conveyance of personal property to secure the debt of the mortgagor; which, being conditional at the time, becomes absolute if, at a fixed time, the property is not redeemed and the statute makes it valid, as against creditors of the mortgagor, only when filed as directed. The statute provides for the filing as a substitute for "an immediately delivery," or "an actual and continued change of possession of the things mortgaged." Such provisions seem to me to exclude the idea of a chattel mortgage upon non-existent things; or that such an instrument could operate to defeat the lien of an attaching, or an execution creditor upon subsequently acquired property. Regarding the chattel mortgage in question as a mere executory agreement to give a lien, when the property came into existence, some further act was necessary, in order to make it an actual and effectual lien as against creditors. But there was no further act by the parties to the instrument, to create such an actual lien and the levy of the execution upon the crops operated to transfer their possession from the owner to that of the sheriff. As against his possession the equities of the mortgagee are unavailing for any purpose. Between the two creditors it is a question of who had gained the legal right to have the crops in satisfaction of his claim and the equitable right of the mortgagee to them, as against his debtor, was defeated by the seizure at the instance of the judgment creditor. We are satisfied as to the correctness of the conclusion reached by the General Term below, that there should have been a direction of a verdict for the plaintiff for the potatoes and beans, obtained from the planting done after the execution and delivery of the mortgage.
The order appealed from should be affirmed and, under the stipulation, judgment absolute should be ordered for the plaintiff, with costs in all the courts.
All concur, except EARL, J., not voting.