CALVERT V. BRADLEY, 57 U. S. 580 (1853)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Calvert v. Bradley, 57 U.S. 16 How. 580 580 (1853)

Calvert v. Bradley

57 U.S. (16 How.) 580




Where a lease was made by several owners of a house, reserving rent to each one in proportion to his interest, and there was a covenant on the part of the lessee that he would keep the premises in good repair and surrender them in like repair, this covenant was joint as respects the lessors, and one of them or two representing one interest cannot maintain an action for the breach of it by the lessee.

The question examined whether a mortgagee of a leasehold interest, remaining out of possession, is liable upon the covenants of the lease. The English and American cases reviewed and compared with the decisions of this Court upon kindred points. But the court abstains from an express decision, which is rendered unnecessary by the application of the principle first above mentioned to the case in hand.

This was an action of covenant brought by the Calverts against Bradley and Middleton, who were the assignees of the unexpired term and property in the house for the purpose of paying the

Page 57 U. S. 581

creditors of the lessee. The lease was of the property called the national Hotel, in Washington, owned as follows:


George H. Calvert and Charles B. Calvert, jointly . . . 205

Roger C. Weightman. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

Philip Otterback. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

William A. Bradley. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

Robert Wallach, represented by his guardian, Alexander

Hunter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2


Total shares . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 315

All of the above named persons signed the lease.

The history of the case and the manner in which it came up are set forth in the opinion of the Court.

Page 57 U. S. 590

MR. JUSTICE DANIEL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The plaintiffs brought their action of covenant, in the court above mentioned, against the defendants, to recover of them in damages the value of repairs made by the plaintiffs upon certain property in the City of Washington, known as the National Hotel, which had been on the 17th of April, 1844, leased by the plaintiffs, together with Roger C. Weightman, Philip Otterback, William A. Bradley, and Robert Wallach, to Samuel S. Coleman, for the term of five years. This property was owned by the lessors in shares varying in number as to the several owners, and by the covenant in the deed of demise, the rent was reserved and made payable to the owners severally in proportion to their respective interests, the interests of the plaintiffs only in the shares owned by them being joint. In addition to the covenant on the part of the lessee for payment to each of the lessors of his separate proportion of the rent, there is a covenant by the lessee for the payment of the taxes and assessments which might become due upon the premises during the term, and a further covenant that he would, during the same time,

"keep the said hotel with the messuages and appurtenances in like good order and condition as when he received the same, and would, at the expiration of the said term, surrender them in like good repair."

On the 1st of January, 1847, the lessee, Coleman assigned

Page 57 U. S. 591

all his interest in the lease to Cornelius W. Blackwell, who entered and took possession of the premises. On the 17th of February, 1848, Blackwell, by deed poll, conveyed to the defendants, Bradley and Middleton, all the goods, chattels, household stuffs, and furniture then upon the premises, together with the good will of the said hotel and business, and the rest and residue of the unexpired term and lease of said Blackwell in the premises upon trust to permit the said Blackwell to remain in possession and enjoyment of the property until he should fail to pay and satisfy certain notes and responsibilities specified in the instrument; but upon the failure of Blackwell to pay and satisfy those notes and responsibilities, the trustees were to take possession of the property conveyed to them, and to make sale thereof at public auction for the purposes in the deed specified. Blackwell remained in possession after the execution of the deed to the defendants, until the 6th of March, 1849, when he absconded, leaving a portion of the rent of the premises in arrear. The property having been thus abandoned by the tenant, an agreement was entered into between the owners of the property and the defendants, that a distress should not be levied for the rent in arrear, but that the defendants should sell the effects of Blackwell left upon the premises, and from the proceeds thereof should pay the rent up to the 1st day of May, 1849 -- the defendants refusing to claim or accept any title to, or interest in, the unexpired portion of the lease, or to take possession of the demised premises. In this state of things the plaintiffs, being the largest shareholders in those premises, proceeded to take possession of and to occupy them, and to put upon them such repairs as by them were deemed necessary, and have continued to hold and occupy them up to the institution of this suit. The action was brought by the plaintiffs alone, and in their own names, to recover their proportion of the damages alleged by them to have been incurred by the breach of the covenant for repairs contained in the lease to Coleman, which was assigned to Blackwell, and by the latter to the defendants by the deed poll of February 17, 1848.

To the declaration of the plaintiffs the defendants pleaded four separate pleas. To the 3d and 4th of these pleas the defendants demurred, and as it was upon the questions of law raised by the demurrer to these pleas, that the judgment of the court was given, we deem it unnecessary to take notice of those on which issues of fact were taken. The 3d and 4th pleas present substantially the averments that the deed from Blackwell to the defendants was simply and properly a deed of trust made for the security of certain debts and liabilities of Blackwell, therein enumerated; and giving power to the defendants in the

Page 57 U. S. 592

event of the failure on the part of Blackwell to pay and satisfy those responsibilities, to take possession of the subjects of the trust and dispose of them for the purposes of the deed. That this deed was not in law a full assignment of the term of Blackwell in the demised premises, and never was accepted as such, but on the contrary was always refused by the defendants as such; and that the plaintiffs, by their own acts, would have rendered an acceptance and occupation by the defendants, as assignees of the term, impracticable, if such had been their wish and intention, inasmuch as the plaintiffs themselves had, upon the absconding of Blackwell, the assignee of Coleman, entered upon and occupied the demised premises, and held and occupied the same up to the institution of this action, and had, during that occupancy, and of their own will, made such repairs upon the premises as to the plaintiffs has seemed proper or convenient.

Upon the pleadings in this cause two questions are presented for consideration, and comprising, as they do, the entire law of the case, its decision depends necessarily upon the answer to be given to those questions.

The first is whether the plaintiffs in error, as parties to the deed of covenant on which they have declared, can maintain their action without joining with them as co-plaintiffs the other covenantees?

The second is whether the defendants in error, in virtue of the legal effect and operation of the deed to them from Blackwell, the assignee of Coleman, and without having entered upon the premises in that deed mentioned, except in the mode and for the purposes in the 3d and 4th pleas of the defendants set forth, and admitted by the demurrer, were bound for the fulfillment of all the covenants in the lease to Coleman, as regular assignees would have been?

The affirmative of both these questions is insisted upon by the plaintiffs.

The converse as to both is asserted by the defendants, who contend as to the first, that the covenants for repairs declared on and of which profert is made, is essentially a joint contract, by and with all the covenantees, and could not be sued upon by them severally; and that the demurrer to the 3d and 4th pleas, reaching back to and affecting the first vice in the pleadings, shows upon the face of the declaration, and of the instrument set out in haec verba, a restriction upon the plaintiffs to a joint interest, or a joint cause of action only with all their associates in the lease.

2. That the deed from Blackwell to the defendants, being a conveyance of a leasehold interest in the nature of a trust for the security of a debt, by the terms of which conveyance the

Page 57 U. S. 593

grantor was to remain in possession till default of payment, and the grantees not having entered into possession of the demised premises, which were entered upon and held by the plaintiffs themselves, the defendants could not be bound, under the covenant for repairs, to the premises never in their possession, and over which they exercised no control.

The second of the questions above mentioned, as presented by the pleadings, will be first adverted to. This question involves the much controverted and variously decided doctrine as to the responsibility of the mortgagee of leasehold property, pledged as security for a debt, but of which the mortgagee has never had possession, for the performance of all the covenants to the fulfillment whereof a regular assignee of the lease would be bound.

With regard to the law of England as now settled, there seems to be no room for doubt that the assignee of a term although by way of mortgage or as a security for the payment of money, would be liable under all the covenants of the original lessee. In the case of Eaton v. Jacques, reported in the 2d vol. of Douglas 456, this subject was treated by Lord Mansfield with his characteristic clearness and force, and with the strong support of Justices Willes, Ashurst, and Buller, he decided that the assignee of a lease by way of mortgage or as a mere security for money, and who had not possession, is not bound for or by the covenants of the lessee. The language of his lordship in this case is exceedingly clear. "In leases," said he,

"the lessee, being a party to the original contract, continues always liable notwithstanding any assignment; the assignee is only liable in respect of his possession of the thing. He bears the burden while he enjoys the benefit, and no longer, and if the whole is not passed, if a day only is reserved, he is not liable. To do justice, it is necessary to understand things as they really are and construe instruments according to the intent of the parties. What is the effect of this instrument between the parties? The lessor is a stranger to it. He shall not be injured, but he is not entitled to any benefit under it. Can we shut our eyes and say it is an absolute conveyance? It was a mere security, and it was not, nor ever is meant that possession shall be taken until the default of payment and the money has been demanded. The legal forfeiture has only accrued six months, and if the mortgagee had wanted possession, he could not have entered via facti. He must have brought an ejectment. This was the understanding of the parties, and is not contrary to any rule of law."

The same doctrine was sanctioned in the case of Walker v. Reeves, to be found in a note in Douglas vol. 2, 461. But by the more recent case of Williams v. Bosanquet, it has been decided that when a

Page 57 U. S. 594

party takes an assignment of a lease by way of mortgage as a security for money lent, the whole interest passes to him and he becomes liable on the covenant for the payment of the rent, though he never occupied or became possessed in fact. This decision of Williams v. Bosanquet is founded on the interpretation put upon the language of Littleton in the fifty-ninth and sixty-sixth sections of the treatise on Tenures, in the former of which that writer remarks

"that it is to be understood that in a lease for years by deed or without deed, there needs no livery of seizin to be made to the lessee, but he may enter when he will, by force of the same lease,"

and in the latter,

"also if a man letteth land to another for term of years, albeit the lessor dieth before the lessee entereth into the tenements, yet he may enter into the same after the death of the lessor, because the lessee by force of the lease hath right presently to have the tenements according to the force of the lease."

And the reason, says Lord Coke in his commentary upon these sections is

"because the interest of the term doth pass and rest in the lessee before entry, and therefore the death of the lessor cannot divest that which was vested before."

True it is, he says, "that to many purposes he is not tenant for years until he enter, as a release to him is not good to increase his estate before entry." Co.Litt. 46b. Again, it is said by this commentator that

"a release which enures by way of enlarging an estate cannot work without possession; but by this is not to be understood that the lessee hath but a naked right, for then he could not grant it over; but seeing he hath enteresse termini before entry, he may grant it over, albeit for want of actual possession he is not capable of a release to enlarge his estate."

Whatever these positions and the qualifications accompanying them may by different minds be thought to import, it is manifest, from the reasoning and the references of the court in the case of Williams v. Bosanquet, that from them have been deduced the doctrine ruled in that case, and which must be regarded as the settled law of the English courts, with respect to the liabilities of assignees of leasehold estates. But clearly as this doctrine may have been established in England, it is very far from having received the uniform sanction of the several courts of this country, nor are we aware that it has been announced as the settled law by this Court. Professor Greenleaf, in his edition of Cruise, Title 15, Mortgage, § 15, 16, 111, inclines very decidedly to the doctrine in Eaton v. Jacques. After citing the cases of Jackson v. Willard, 4 Johns. 41; of White v. Bond, 16 Mass. 400; Waters v. Stewart, 1 Caines Cases 47; Cushing v. Hurd, 4 Pick. 253, ruling the doctrine that a mortgagee out of possession has no interest which can be sold under execution, but that the equity of

Page 57 U. S. 595

redemption remaining in the mortgagor is real estate, which may be extended or sold for his debts, and farther that the mortgagee derives no profit from the land until actual entry or other exertion of exclusive ownership, previous to which the mortgagor takes the rents and profts without liability to account, Mr. Greenleaf comes to the following conclusion, namely,

"On these grounds, it has been held here as the better opinion that the mortgagee of a term of years, who has not taken possession, has not all the legal right, title, and interest of the mortgagor, and therefore is not to be treated as a complete assignee so as to be chargeable on the real covenants of the assignor."

In the case of Astor v. Hoyt, reported in the 5th of Wendell 603, decided after the case of Williams v. Bosanquet, and in which the latter case was considered and commented upon, the supreme court of New York, upon the principle that the mortgagor is the owner of the property mortgaged against all the world, subject only to the lien of the mortgagee, declare the law to be

"that a mortgagee of a term not in possession cannot be considered as an assignee, but if he takes possession of the mortgaged premises he has the estate cum onere."

In the case of Walton v. Cronly's Administrator in the 14th of Wendell 63, upon the same interpretation of the rights of the mortgagor which was given in the former case, it was ruled that a mortgagee who has not taken possession of the demised premises is not liable for rent, and that the law in this respect is in New York different from what it is in England. It is contended on behalf of the plaintiff in error that the doctrine in Eaton v. Jacques, and in the several decisions from the state courts in conformity therewith, is inconsistent with that laid down by this Court in the cases of Stelle v. Carroll, 12 Pet. 201, and of Van Ness v. Hyatt, 13 Pet. 294. With regard to this position it may be remarked that the questions brought directly to the view of the Court and regularly and necessarily passed upon in these cases did not relate to the rights and responsibilities of the assignee of a term or to what it was requisite should be done for the completion of the one or the other. Giving every just latitude to these decisions, all that can be said to have been ruled by the former is that by the common law a wife is not dowable of an equity of redemption, and by the latter, that an equitable interest cannot be levied upon by an execution at law. This Court therefore cannot properly be understood as having, in the cases of Stelle v. Carroll and Van Ness v. Hyatt, established any principle which is conclusive upon the grounds of defense set up by the third and fourth pleas of the defendants. Nor do we feel called upon in the present case to settle that principle, for let it be supposed that such a principle has

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been most explicitly ruled by this Court, still that supposition leaves open the inquiry how far the establishment of such a principle can avail the plaintiffs in the relation in which they stand to the other covenantees in the deed from Coleman. In other words, whether the covenant for repairs contained in that deed was not essentially a joint covenant -- one in which the interest was joint as to all the grantees and with respect to which therefore no one of them or other portion less than the whole could maintain an action?

The doctrines upon the subjects of joint and several interests under a deed, and of the necessity or propriety for conformity with remedies for enforcing those interests to the nature of the interests themselves, have been maintained by a course of decision as unbroken and perspicuous, perhaps, as those upon which any other rule or principle can be shown to rest. They will be found to be the doctrines of reason and common sense.

Beginning with Windham's Case, 3d Reports part 5th, 6a, 6b, it is said that joint words will be taken respectively and severally, 1st., with respect to the several interests of the grantors; 2d, in respect of the several interests of the grantees; 3d, in respect to that the grant cannot take effect but at several times; 4th, in respect to the incapacity and impossibility of the grantees to take jointly; 5th, in respect of the cause of the grant or ratione subjectae materiae. The next case which we will notice is Slingsby's Case, in the same volume, 18a, 18b, decided in the Exchequer. In this case it was ruled that a covenant with several et cum qualibet and qualibet eorum is a several covenant only where there are several interests. Where the interest is joint, the words cum qualibet et qualibet eorum are void, and the covenant is joint. In the case of Eccleston v. Clipsham, the law is stated that although a covenant be joint and several in the terms of it, yet if the interest and cause of action be joint, the action must be brought by all the covenantees. And on the other hand, if the interest and cause of action be several, the action may be brought by one only. 1 Saunders 153. The learned annotator upon Sir Edmund Saunders in his note to the case of Eccleston v. Clipsham has collected a number of cases to this point and others which go to show that where there are several joint covenantees, and one of them shall sue alone without averring that the others are dead, the defendant may take advantage of the variance at the trial, and that the principle applicable to such a case is different from that which prevails where the action is brought against one of several joint covenantors or obligors who can avail themselves of the irregularity by plea in abatement only. The same rule with regard to the construction of covenants and to the legal rights and

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position of the parties thereto in courts of law may be seen in the cases of Anderson v. Martindale, 1 East 497; Withers v. Bircham, 3 Barn. & Cress. 255; James v. Emery, 5 Price 533.

It remains now to be ascertained how far the parties to the case before us come within the influence of principles so clearly defined, and so uniformly maintained in the construction of covenants and in settling the legal consequences flowing from that interpretation. The instrument on which the plaintiffs instituted their suit was a lease from the plaintiffs and various other persons interested in different proportions in the property demised, and by the terms of which lease rent was reserved and made payable to the several owners of the premises in the proportion of their respective interests. So far as the reservation and payment of rent to the covenantees, according to their several interests, made a part of the lease, the contract was several, and each of the covenantees could sue separately for his portion of the rent expressly reserved to him. But in this same lease there is a covenant between the proprietors and the lessee, that the latter shall keep the premises in good and tenantable repair, and shall return the same to those proprietors in the like condition, and it is upon this covenant or for the breach thereof that the action of the plaintiffs has been brought. Is this a joint or several covenant? It has been contended that it is not joint, because its stipulations are with the several covenantees jointly and severally. But the answer to this position is this: are not all the covenantees interested in the preservation of the property demised, and is anyone or a greater portion of them exclusively and separately interested in its preservation? And would not the dilapidation or destruction of that property inevitably affect and impair the interests of all, however it might and necessarily would so affect them in unequal amounts?

It would seem difficult to imagine a condition of parties from which an instance of joint interests could stand out in more prominent relief. This conclusion, so obvious upon the authority of reason, is sustained by express adjudications upon covenants essentially the same with that on which the plaintiffs in this case have sued.

The case of Foley v. Addenbrooke, 4 Adolph & Ell. 197. The declaration in covenant stated that Foley and Whitby had demised to Addenbrooke lands and iron mines of one undivided moiety, of which Foley was seised in fee, Addenbrooke covenanting with Foley and Whitby and their heirs to erect and work furnaces and to repair the premises and work the mines; that Foley was dead, and plaintiff, Foley's heir, and breaches were assigned as committed since the death of Foley; that

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Addenbrooke, and since his death his executors, had not worked the mines effectually, nor repaired the premises, nor left them in repair. To this declaration it was pleaded that Whitby, one of the tenants in common and one of the covenantees, who was not joined in the action, still survived. This plea was sustained upon special demurrer, and Lord Denman, in delivering the opinion of the court, said:

"In the present case, the covenants for breach of which the action is brought are such as to give to the covenantees a joint interest in the performance of them, and the terms of the indenture are such that it seems clear that the covenantees might have maintained a joint action for the breach of any of them. Upon this point the case of Kitchen v. Buckley, 1 Lev. 109, is a clear authority, and the case of Petrie v. Bury, 3 Barn. & Cress. 353, shows that if the covenantees could sue jointly, they are bound to do so."

The case of Bradburne v. Botfield, in the Exchequer, reported in the 14th of Meeson & Welsby, was an action of covenant upon a lease by seven different lessors jointly, according to their several rights and interests in certain coal mines, to the defendant, yielding and paying certain rents to the lessors respectively, and to their respective heirs and assigns, according to their several and respective estates, rights, and interests in the premises, and the defendant covenanted with all the above parties and with each and every of them, their and each and every of their heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns to repair the premises and to surrender them in good repair to the lessors, their heirs and assigns respectively at the end of the term. The declaration then deduced to the plaintiff a title to the moiety of one of the lessors, and alleged as breaches the nonrepair of the premises and the improper working of the mines. To this declaration it was pleaded that one of the original lessors, who had survived all the other covenantees, was still living. It was held upon demurrer that the covenants for repairs and for working the mines were in their nature joint and not several, and that the surviving covenantee ought to have brought the action. Baron Parke, who delivered the opinion of the court, thus speaks:

"We have looked since the argument into the lease now set out on oyer, and into all the authorities cited for the plaintiff, and are still of opinion that he cannot recover upon the covenants stated in the declaration. It is impossible to strike out the name of any covenantee, and all the covenantees must therefore necessarily sue upon some covenant, and there appear to us to be no covenants in the lease which are of a joint nature, if those declared upon are not, or which would be in gross, if the persons entitled to the legal estate had alone demised, for all relate to and affect the quality of the subject of the demise or to the mode of enjoying of it. "

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We regard the cases just cited as directly in point and as conclusive against the claim of the plaintiffs to maintain an action upon the covenant for repairs in the lease to Coleman, apart from and independently of the other covenantees in that lease jointly and inseparably interested in that covenant with the plaintiffs. We therefore approve the judgment of the circuit court that the plaintiffs take nothing by their writ and declaration, but that the defendants recover against them their costs about their defense sustained, as by the said court was adjudged, and we order the said judgment of the circuit court to be



This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Columbia holden in and for the County of Washington, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof it is now here ordered and adjudged by this Court that the judgment of the said circuit court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed with costs.

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