U.S. Supreme Court
White's Bank v. Smith, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 646 646 (1868)
White's Bank v. Smith
74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 646
1. Under the act of Congress of July 29th, 1850, enacting
"That no bill of sale, mortgage, hypothecation, or conveyance of any vessel, or part of any vessel, of the United States shall be valid against any person other than the grantor or mortgagor, his heirs and devisees, and persons having actual notice thereof unless such bill of sale, Mortgage, hypothecation, or conveyance be recorded in the office of the collector of the customs where such vessel is registered or enrolled,"
a recording of a mortgage in the office of the collector of the home port of the vessel has the effect, by its own force and irrespective of any formalities required by a state statute to give effect to chattel mortgages, to give the mortgagee a preference over a subsequent purchaser or mortgagee.
2. The home port of the vessel is the port in the office oŁ whose collector the bill of sale, mortgage &c., should be recorded, not the port of last registry or enrollment when not such home port.
3. The act is constitutional.
An act of Congress, "providing for the recording of conveyances chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
of vessels and for other purposes," and passed July 29, 1850, [Footnote 1] thus enacts:
"No bill of sale, mortgage, hypothecation, or conveyance of any vessel or part of any vessel of the United States shall be valid against any person other than the grantor or mortgagor, his heirs and devisees, and persons having actual notice thereof unless such bill of sale, mortgage, hypothecation, or conveyance be recorded in the office of the collector of customs where such vessel is registered or enrolled."
And a statute of the State of New York thus enacts:
"Every mortgage of chattels which shall not be accompanied &c., shall be absolutely void as against the creditors of the mortgagor, and as against subsequent purchasers and mortgagees in good faith unless the mortgage or a true copy thereof shall be filed as directed in the succeeding section of this act."
The "succeeding section" above referred to directs where the mortgage shall be filed. And a third section proceeds:
"Every mortgage filed in pursuance of this act, shall cease to be valid as against the creditors of the person making the same or against subsequent mortgagees in good faith after the expiration of one year from the filing thereof unless within &c., a true copy of such mortgage shall be again filed in the office of the clerk or register aforesaid of the town or city where the mortgagor shall then reside."
With these two acts, one of the United States and the other of the State of New York, in force, one Hoyt, then a resident of Buffalo, Erie County, New York, executed, on the 22d May, 1863, a mortgage to White's Bank, of Buffalo, upon the schooner Emmett, of which he was owner. This mortgage was recorded on the 12th of the June following, in the collector's office at Buffalo, where the Emmett was duly enrolled, and where, as just said, Hoyt, her owner, resided. The mortgage was filed also in the office of the Clerk of the County of Erie on the 5th June, 1863, according to the requirement chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
of the above-quoted law of New York, but it was not refiled at the end of a year.
Subsequently to the date of this mortgage of Hoyt to White's Bank, the vessel became the property of one Zahn, residing at Sandusky, Ohio, and on the 2d June, 1865, he mortgaged her to one Smith. The mortgage to Smith was recorded in the collector's office at the port of Sandusky, Ohio, on the 17th of June, 1865, where the Emmett was duly enrolled, and at which place, as above stated, the then owner, Zahn, resided. The vessel having been sold subsequently to the date of both the mortgages under a paramount lien for seamen's wages, and a remnant of the proceeds of sale after payment of such wages remaining but being insufficient to pay either mortgage, the question was to which of the mortgages it should be applied -- to the first mortgage, that of the bank, or to the subsequent one, Smith's? Smith set up that the lien of the mortgage to White's Bank was lost on account of the omission to refile it in the Clerk's Office of Erie County at the end of the year, and this position it was which raised the material question in the case -- the question, namely, whether or not the recording of the mortgage in the collector's office at Buffalo had the effect, by its own force, and irrespective of the filing in the clerk's office, to give a preference to it over any subsequent purchaser or mortgagee?
The court below decreed that the fund should be appropriated to Smith's mortgage, and White's Bank appealed. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary