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U.S. Supreme Court

Hefner v. Northwestern Life Ins. Co., 123 U.S. 747 (1887)

Hefner v. Northwestern Life Insurance Company

Argued November 7,8, 1887

Decided December 19, 1887

123 U.S. 747


Multifariousness as to subjects or parties within the jurisdiction of a court of equity does not render a decree void so that it can be treated as a nullity in a collateral action.

A court of equity, in a suit to foreclose a mortgage, may permit a person, to whom the land has been sold and conveyed for nonpayment of taxes assessed after the date of the mortgage to be made a party, and may determine the validity of his title.

A bill in equity by A against B and C to foreclose a mortgage from B to A alleged that C claimed some interest in the premises, the exact nature of which the plaintiff was unable to set out, and prayed for a decree of foreclosure, and that the right, title, and interest of each defendant be forever barred and foreclosed, and for a sale of the premises, and for further relief. In the decree, C's default was recited and confirmed, and it was adjudged that the mortgage was a lien prior and paramount to the lien of each defendant, and that the right, title, and equity of redemption of each defendant be by a sale under the decree forever barred and foreclosed, and that the purchaser at such sale should take the premises by title absolute, relating back to the data of the mortgage. Under that decree the land was sold to A. Held, that the decree was a conclusive adjudication that C Mad no valid title or lien, and estopped him to set up, in defense to an action of ejectment by A, a tax title subsequent to the mortgage and prior to the suit for foreclosure. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 123 U. S. 748

This was an action at law in the nature of ejectment to recover possession of a tract of land, brought on July 5, 1883, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Iowa against Hefner and wife and Babcock and wife by the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, stating its title, in substance, as follows:

On October 31, 1876, it filed a bill on the equity side of that court against Bates, Callanan, and others, to foreclose a mortgage of the same and other lands, executed to the plaintiff on August 23, 1870, by Bates, then the owner, containing the usual allegations of such a bill; also alleging that Callanan "claims some interest in and to a portion of the mortgaged premises, the exact nature of which your orator is unable to set out," and praying that each and all of said defendants be made parties to the bill, and for a writ of subpoena against all of them and for judgment against Bates for the sums due on the mortgage, and for

"a decree of foreclosure against the premises hereinbefore described against all of the before-named defendants, and that the right, title, and interest of each and every of the said defendants be by decree of this Court forever barred and foreclosed, and that the master in chancery of this court be authorized to make sale of said premises, or sufficient thereof to satisfy the said several sums of money, with interest thereon, and the costs of this suit, and all and singular such relief as your orator is equitably entitled to receive."

Upon that bill, a writ of subpoena was issued against and served upon all the defendants named therein, including Callanan.

On May 21, 1877, a final decree was entered in that suit reciting a hearing of the plaintiff and of Bates and a default of the other defendants, confirming that default, ascertaining the sums due on the mortgage, and adjudging that the mortgage "is a lien upon the mortgaged premises, prior and paramount to the lien of each and every of the said defendants;" that Bates pay those sums, with interest and costs, to the plaintiff on or before September 1, 1877; that, in default of such payment, a sale and conveyance of the mortgaged premises, chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 123 U. S. 749

or of so much thereof as might be necessary to satisfy those sums, be made by a master;

"and that the right, title, and equity of redemption of each and every of the defendants in this suit be, by a sale of the said mortgaged premises hereunder, forever barred and foreclosed, and the purchaser at such sale shall take the premises sold by title absolute, and such title shall relate back to the date of the execution of the mortgage to the complainant, to-wit, the 23d day of August, 1870."

On October 5, 1877, pursuant to that decree, the master sold the mortgaged premises by auction for less than those sums to the plaintiff and executed a deed thereof accordingly.

In the present action, the plaintiff further alleged that the defendants, Hefner and others, were in actual possession, claiming a right acquired from Callanan since the beginning of the suit for foreclosure, and had no right to possession against the plaintiff, and that Callanan claimed some interest in the premises under and by virtue of a pretended tax deed. The defendants filed an answer to this action alleging that, the land in question being subject to taxes lawfully assessed thereon for 1870 and remaining due and unpaid, the county treasurer at a tax sale on November 15, 1871, in conformity with law, sold the land to Callanan, and, there being no redemption from the sale, executed to Callanan on December 1, 1874, a tax deed thereof, which was duly recorded two days after, and a copy of which was annexed to the answer, and that the right and title created by the tax sale and deed, and no other, was owned by Callanan at the time of the proceedings for foreclosure and of the decree therein, and had since been conveyed by him to the defendants. A demurrer to this answer was sustained and judgment rendered for the plaintiff, and the defendants sued out this writ of error.

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