The Law School Authority

Harms v. Sprague Case Brief

Summary of Harms v. Sprague, Supreme Court of IL (1984)

Parties:  DF Sprague is the executor of the estate of John Harms; PL William Harms is the brother of decedent John.

Cause of action/remedy sought: Original action sought was for a declaratory judgment to quiet title in land.  Counterclaim brought to quiet title in executor’s interest as tenant in common.

Procedural History: Trial court held the mortgage given by John Harms severed the joint tenancy, and that the mortgage survived the death of John Harms as a lien against the undivided one-half interest in the property which passed to Sprague by and through the will of the deceased.  Appellate Court reverses, holding the land was owned by PL as the surviving joint tenant, and that PL owned the property in its entirety, free from the mortgage.

DF filed a petition for leave to appeal in the above court to the Supreme Court of IL.  Judgment of Appellate Court affirmed.

Facts: PL William had taken title to certain real estate with his brother, the decedent John, a joint tenant, with full right of survivorship, specifically to land on 6/26/73.  The warranty deed recorded on 6/29/73.  Simmonses owned a lot and home in same town as Harmses.  Simsonses, entered into an agreement to purchase land from DF’s for $25, with 18K up front, and the rest on a prom note.  Because Sprague had no security for the $7K, he asked his buddy John to sign the note as co-signor on the note and to give a mortgage on his interest in the joint tenancy property.  Harms agreed and the prom note was executed 6/12/81.  Note says the interest was to be paid from proceeds of sale of joint tenancy or in no later than six months from the date the note was signed.  John Harms also executed a mortgage in favor of the Simmonses, on his undivided one-half interest in the joint tenancy property, to secure payment of the note.

John moved from his property to the Simmons property which was purchased by Sprague.  12/10/81 John Harms died.  By the terms of the will, Sprague was the devisee of his will.  The mortgage given by John Harms to the Simmonses was recorded 12/29/81.

Issue(s): Under property law, is a joint tenancy severed when less than all of the joint tenants mortgage their interest in the property?

Under property law, does such a mortgage survive the death of the mortgagor as a lien on the property?

Holding: No and No.  A mortgage is treated as an interest on the property, therefore not destroying any of the 4 unities, and therefore not losing interest in the joint tenancy, and the mortgage survives unless a conveyance or some other intent tells us otherwise.

Because a mortgage given to one joint tenant of his interest in the property does not sever the tenancy, PL’s right of survivorship, which is the right of the last survivor to take the whole of the estate, became operative upon the death of his brother.  PL now is sole owner of estate, in its entirety.

When John Harms died, so did his interest in both the land and in the mortgage.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning:  If IL law perceives a mortgage as merely a lien on the mortgagor’s interest in property rather than a conveyance of title from mortgagor to mortgagee, the execution of a mortgage by a joint tenant, on his interest in the property, would not destroy the unity of title and sever the joint tenancy.

Rule: A lien on a joint tenant’s interest in property will not effectuate (cause) a severance of the joint tenancy, absent the conveyance by deed following the expiration of a redemption period (time period during which a former owner can reclaim foreclosed real estate property).

Did court avoid issues?: N/A.

Dicta: A joint tenancy has been defined as “a present estate in all the joint tenants, each being seized of the whole….”

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