Error to the District Court of the United States for the District of Wisconsin. The facts are fully stated in the opinion of the Court. It was argued by Mr. Doolittle, of Wisconsin, for Plaintiff in Error.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Miller.
Mr. Lynde, of Wisconsin, contra.
This was an action of ejectment in the District Court of the United States for the District of Wisconsin, in which the defendants in error obtained a judgment against the plaintiff in error, for the possession of block 70, of the School Section of the City of Racine.
The legal title to this block was in David L. Barton, on the 24th April, 1851, and on that day he made a mortgage deed conveying said block to Floyd P. Baker, to secure the payment of a note for $1,400, due one year after date, and on the next day, the 24th of the same month, he conveyed it in fee to Clifford A. Baker.
The plaintiffs on the trial exhibited a regular chain of title from Clifford A. Baker to themselves, and the defendant proved himself to be the owner and holder of the note and mortgage above recited, and being in possession of the block sued for, claimed the right to hold it until the debt was paid. It appears further by the bill of exceptions, that plaintiffs traced their title through one Charles R. Dean, and testimony was given tending to show that Charles R. Dean was a fictitious person, who never had any real existence. The only other fact shown by the bill of exceptions, necessary to an understanding of the case, is the statement of Thomas S. Baker, that from the summer of 1853, until the spring of 1856, he held possession of the property under a lease from plaintiffs, and the surrendered it to the defendant, without the knowledge or consent of plaintiffs.
The defendant on the trial excepted to the three propositions following, contained in the charge of the Court to the jury:
1. 'If the defendant procured the possession and occupies it in pursuance of an arrangement, in the spring of 1856, with T. S. Baker, without the consent of the mortgagor, or of these plaintiffs, then he is not lawfully in possession.'
2. 'If the testimony of Clifford A. Baker is believed, the deed' (to Charles R. Dean) 'passed the title from him.'
3. 'The legal title, in the opinion of the Court, on the face of the deeds, is in the plaintiffs.'
In examining the questions arising on these exceptions, it will be convenient to take up first, the one last mentioned. It is the province of the Court in trials by jury to construe instruments of writing and determine their legal effect, and if it was apparent that on the face of the deeds,–the legal title was in plaintiffs, it was not only the right of the Court, but its duty to so instruct the jury. Is it true, then, that the deeds read in evidence showed the title in plaintiffs?
The plaintiff in error maintains, that by the mortgage deed of D. L. Barton, of July 23d, 1851, the legal title passed to Floyd P. Baker, and that by the deed made July 24th, to Clifford A. Baker, nothing passed but the equity of redemption; and if he is correct in this the instruction was error.
Numerous authorities from English and American decisions are cited by counsel on both sides in reference to this point, but in the view which we take of the matter they become of little value, except those of the Wisconsin Court. These deeds were both made in Wisconsin, in reference to land lying in that State, and in their construction, must be governed by its laws. The Revised Statutes of Wisconsin, chap. 141, sec. 28, enact, that 'no action of ejectment shall hereafter be brought by a mortgagee, or his assigns, or representatives, for the recovery of the possession of the mortgage premises, until the equity of redemption shall have expired.' Chap. 154, sec. 11, provides, that 'in every case the mortgagor may retain full possession in trust for the mortgagee or purchaser, of all premises mortgaged by him, until the title shall absolutely vest in the purchaser of such mortgaged premises, according to the provisions of this chapter.'
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin, in the case of Wood and Moon vs. Trask, (7 Wis. R., 512), speaking of these provisions, and perhaps others in pari materia, says: 'Our statute has essentially changed the rule of the common law, in relation to the position of the fee of the mortgaged premises, after condition broken. The fee does not vest upon default of the mortgagor, in the mortgagee, or his assignee. The fee only vests upon sale and foreclosure.' In Tallman vs. Ely, (6 Wis. R., 257), the same Court says: 'Our statute provides that the mortgagee shall not bring his action of ejectment before foreclosing the equity of redemption; sec. 53, chap. 106, or in other words he must complete his title, before he shall be permitted to recover at law upon the strength of it.'
These expositions of the statutes of Wisconsin are to be followed by the Federal Courts as rules of construction, and from them it results that the legal title did not pass to Floyd P. Baker by the mortgage deed of July 23d, but did ...