U.S. Supreme Court Rankin & Schatzell v. Scott, 25 U.S. 12 Wheat. 177 177 (1827)
Rankin & Schatzell v. Scott
25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 177
ERROR TO THE DISTRICT
COURT OF MISSOURI
The lien of a judgment on the lands of the debtor, created by statute and limited to a certain period of time, is unaffected by the circumstance of the plaintiff not proceeding upon it (during that period) until a subsequent lien has been obtained and carried into execution.
Universal principle that a prior lien is entitled to prior satisfaction out of the thing it binds unless the lien be intrinsically defective or is displaced by some act of the party holding it, which shall postpone him at law or in equity.
Mere delay in proceeding to execution is not such an act.
Distinction created by statute as to executions against personal chattels and reasons on which it is founded.
This was an action of ejectment brought in the court below by the defendant in error, Scott, to recover the possession of a house and lot in the Town of St. Louis. At the trial, a special verdict was found stating that in the year 1816, John Little married Marie Antoinete Labadie, who was then seized in fee of the house and lot in question. She died without issue, leaving the husband seized in fee of a moiety of the premises. He soon afterwards died without issue and intestate. In April, 1821, judgment was rendered in the circuit court of the county where the premises lay against the administrator of Little in favor of Schatzell and another for $2,747.19. In March following, another judgment was rendered against the same in favor of B. Pratte, for $1,241. Execution was immediately issued upon the latter judgment, and the premises in question sold under it to Scott, the plaintiff in ejectment; and soon afterwards another execution issued upon the first judgment, and the same premises were sold to Schatzell, one of the defendants below, and conveyed to him by the sheriff's deed. Rankin, who was tenant to Little in his lifetime, remained in possession of the premises after his death,
and attorned to Schatzell. The question raised upon these facts was whether the sale by the sheriff under the second judgment and first execution devested the lien of the first judgment? The court below determined it in the affirmative, and the cause was brought by writ of error before this Court.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court, and after stating the case, proceeded as follows:
The act of the then territorial government of Missouri, on which this question depends, is in these words:
"Judgments obtained in the general court shall be a lien on the lands and tenements of the person or persons against whom the same has been entered, situate in any part of this territory, and judgments obtained in a court of common pleas of any district shall be a lien on the lands and tenements of the person against whom the same has been entered, situate in such district."
The act contains a proviso
"That no judgment hereafter entered in any court of record within this territory shall continue a lien on the lands and tenements against whom the same has been entered during a longer term than five years from the first return day of the term of which such judgment may be entered, unless the same shall have been revived by scire facias, "
Since the Territory of Missouri was erected into a state, the general court has received the appellation of the superior court, and the court of common pleas for the district has been denominated the circuit court for the county. The execution on the first judgment was issued within a short time after it was rendered, and while the lien it created was in full force, unless it was removed by the execution and sale under the second judgment.
There is no expression in the law of Missouri which can suggest a doubt on this subject. By that law, judgments are to be a lien on all the lands of the debtor. This lien commences with the judgment and continues for five years. The principle is believed to be universal that a prior lien gives a prior claim, which is entitled to prior satisfaction, out of the subject it binds, unless the lien be intrinsically defective or be displaced by some act of the party holding it, which shall postpone him in a court of law or equity to a subsequent claimant. The single circumstance of not proceeding on it until a subsequent lien has been obtained and carried into execution, has never been considered as such an act. Take the common case of mortgages. It has never been supposed that a subsequent mortgage could, by obtaining and executing a decree for the sale of the mortgaged property, obtain precedence over a prior mortgage in which all the requisites of the law had been observed. If such a decree should be made without preserving the rights of the prior mortgagee, the property would remain subject to those rights in the hands of the purchaser. So in cases of judgment, where an elegit may be sued out against the lands of the debtor. The implied lien created by the first judgment retains the preference over the lien created by a second judgment, so long as an elegit can issue on the first. A statutory lien is as binding as a mortgage, and has the same capacity to hold the land so long as the statute preserves it in force.
The cases cited of executions against personal property do not, we think, apply. In those cases, the lien is not created by the judgment or by any matter of record. The purchaser of the goods cannot suppose that the officer has committed any impropriety in the performance of his duty
and this circumstance has induced Parliament to secure him. It is stated by Ashhurst, Justice, in 1 Term 731, that this was the sole object of that part of the statute of frauds which relates to this subject. In the case at bar, the judgment is notice to the purchaser of the prior lien, and there is no act of the legislature to protect the purchaser from that lien.
We think, then, that the deed made by the sheriff to the purchaser, under the first judgment, conveyed the legal title to the premises, and that the judgment on the special verdict ought to have been in favor of the plaintiff.