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HOOKER v. BURR

May 16, 1904

HOOKER
v.
BURR



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: PECKHAM

[ 194 U.S. Page 418]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the above statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

The plaintiff in error contends that the several alterations of the law as it existed at the time when this mortgage was executed, regarding the time of redemption and the amount of interest payable to the purchaser at the foreclosure sale in order to redeem the land sold, impair the obligation of a contract as to all mortgages in existence before the alterations were made.

The first inquiry is, Whose contract was impaired by the alteration of the law? It is seen that the amount due on the mortgage in question at the time of the sale upon foreclosure was $6,782.49, and that the property sold for $9,500. That amount was paid by the purchaser to the sheriff and it resulted in the payment of the mortgage debt, principal and interest, and the release of the land from the lien of the mortgage. Subsequently to that payment the mortgagee had no interest in further proceedings. Neither the mortgagee nor his assignee was the purchaser at the sale, and neither was in any manner injured by the alterations of the law in the respects mentioned. If, therefore, there was by this legislation an impairment of the obligation of a contract between the mortgagor and the mortgagee, which the latter could have taken advantage of if injured thereby, it is perfectly clear that he is not in the least injured when, by the sale under his mortgage, he realizes the full amount of his debt, principal, interest and costs. What

[ 194 U.S. Page 419]

     can he complain of under such circumstances, even conceding an abstract impairment of the obligation of his contract? Having realized and been paid in full the entire amount of money called for by his mortgage, he surely cannot be heard to complain that nevertheless the obligation of his contract was impaired. If not injured to the extent of a penny thereby, his abstract rights are unimportant.

We have lately held (therein following a long line of authorities) that a party insisting upon the invalidity of a statute, as violating any constitutional provision, must show that he may be injured by the unconstitutional law before the courts will listen to his complaint. Tyler v. Judges &c., 179 U.S. 405; Turpin v. Lemon, 187 U.S. 51, 60. If, instead of showing any injury, the plaintiff shows that he cannot possibly be injured, he cannot of course ask the interference of the court. Therefore, if the mortgagee, or his assignee, were himself the plaintiff, and complaining that the obligation of his contract had been impaired by subsequent legislation, it is plain his complaint would be dismissed when it appeared that, notwithstanding the alleged subsequent illegal legislation, he suffered no injury, because he had proceeded with the foreclosure of his mortgage and had been paid the full amount of his contract debt, interest and costs. Under such circumstances the question becomes a moot one, and courts do not sit to decide that character of question. American Book Company v. Kansas, 193 U.S. 49; Jones v. Montague, ante, p. 147, decided April 25, 1904.

The question of the impairment of the mortgage contract, therefore, is not before us, as between mortgagor and mortgagee.

We are of opinion that, as to the plaintiff in error, an independent purchaser at the foreclosure sale, having no connection whatever with the original contract between the mortgagor and mortgagee, his rights are to be determined by the law as it existed at the time he became a purchaser, unless upon action taken by the mortgagee the property had been sold

[ 194 U.S. Page 420]

     under a decree providing that it should be sold without regard to the subsequent legislation which impaired his contract. The purchaser bought at the time when the law as altered was in operation, and, so far as he was concerned, it was a valid law; his contract was made under that law, and it is no business of his whether the original contract between the mortgagor and mortgagee was impaired or not by the subsequent legislation. He cannot be heard to contend that the original law applies to him, because a subsequent statute might be void as to some one else. The some one else might waive its illegality or consent to its enforcement, or the question might have no importance, because the property sold for enough to pay the debt, even though there was an abstract impairment of the obligation of his contract.

The purchaser must found his rights upon the law as it existed when he purchased. An alteration after he has purchased, to his prejudice, would be a different thing. Cooley on Const. Limitations (4th ed.), 356. We agree that the law existing when a mortgage is made enters into and becomes a part of the contract, but that contract has nothing to do, so far as this question is concerned, with the contract of a purchaser at a foreclosure sale having no other connection with the ...


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