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06/04/59 Mary W. Royall, v. Louis Yudelevit and

June 4, 1959




Before Mr. Justice BURTON, retired,* and PRETTYMAN, Chief Judge, and WILBUR K. MILLER, Circuit Judge.




Mrs. Mary W. Royall brought this suit against Louis Yudelevit and William H. Simons to recover damages for wrongful foreclosure. *fn1 The evidence at the trial tended to show that for many years Mrs. Royall had owned valuable real estate at 18th and Que Streets in the District of Columbia. In 1955, when the property was subject to a first trust of approximately $100,000, she was elderly and, due to illness and the recent death of her husband, mentally incompetent to realize the value of her property or to understand financial transactions. Being in need of funds, she employed an attorney to obtain an additional loan on her realty. He discussed the matter with Yudelevit, who said he would pay $8,500 for a 90-day note for $10,000 secured by a second deed of trust on the real property. The attorney then had Mrs. Royall execute a note for $10,000 and a second deed of trust securing its payment to one William Bogen, a straw party. Bogen endorsed the note and deed of trust to Yudelevit who delivered the agreed sum of $8,500. Of this amount Mrs. Royall had to pay $50 to Bogen for his services and $700 to her attorney for arranging the loan. From this evidence the jury would have been justified in inferring that Yudelevit was the real lender. *fn2

Yudelevit immediately sold the note to William H. Simons for $9,000. Upon default at maturity, Simons caused the trustees under the second deed of trust to sell the realty at public auction. The sale produced only about enough to pay the first and second trusts, so the result was that Mrs. Royall's alleged equity of from $90,000 to $100,000 was eliminated.

Mrs. Royall alleged that Yudelevit and Simons were both engaged in lending money at usurious rates without having obtained a license to do so under § 26-601, D.C.Code (1951). Her theory was that, because Yudelevit and Simons were unlicensed when the former made the loan, the note and the deed of trust securing it were unlawful and void; that therefore the foreclosure was illegal, and that she suffered damages as a result thereof.

Yudelevit and Simons claimed to be innocent purchasers of the note for value before maturity, without notice of any infirmity in it or defense to it. They also alleged that when Weitzman, a purchaser after the foreclosure sale, resold the property, Mrs. Royall joined in the conveyance and received a part of the sale price; this, they said, estopped her to assert a claim against them.

The trial judge limited Mrs. Royall's evidence to prima facie proof of a usurious transaction and thus would not permit her to show the appellees should have been but were not licensed under the statute. He said the question of damages would be taken up later if necessary. At the conclusion of her evidence the judge held in effect that a borrower who has paid usury may not recover from the lender the damages he claims to have sustained from the transaction, even though the loan contract was unlawful and unenforceable because the lender was subject to § 26-601 and had not obtained a license thereunder.He held that the illegality of the contract may be used by the borrower as a shield against its enforcement but not as a sword to recover damages against the lender.

Being of the view therefore that, even if a usurious loan contract were established by the evidence and even if Yudelevit and Simons were shown to have been violating the statute and interposed no defense to the action, Mrs. Royall could not recover damages alleged to have been caused by the foreclosure, the trial judge directed a verdict in favor of Yudelevit and Simons. Mrs. Royall appeals.

The first question is whether Mrs. Royall should have been permitted to introduce evidence to show that the appellees were doing business in violation of the statute, which is colloquially known as the Loan Shark Law of the District of Columbia, § 26-601, and which makes it "unlawful and illegal to engage in the District of Columbia in the business of loaning money upon which a rate of interest greater than six per centum per annum is charged on any security of any kind, direct or collateral, tangible or intangible, without procuring license . . .."

In Hartman v. Lubar, 1942, 77 U.S.App.D.C. 95, 133 F.2d 44, 45, Hartman and another borrowed approximately $900 from Orleans and gave in return a promissory note for $1,000 secured by a chattel deed of trust. Orleans endorsed the note to the District Finance Corporation. Thereafter Lubar, as trustee under the deed of trust, sued in replevin to recover the pledged chattels. During the trial Hartman offered to prove that Orleans was the principal stockholder and president of the District Finance Corporation, and that the loan was actually made by the corporation, which was engaging in the business of lending money in the District of Columbia at an interest rate greater than six per cent without having procured the license required by the statute. The trial court excluded the offered evidence and directed a verdict for the defendants.

In the course of our opinion reversing this action, we said:

". . . The general rule is that an illegal contract, made in violation of a statutory prohibition designed for police or regulatory purposes, is void and confers no right upon the wrongdoer. The present case comes under no exception to the general rule. Every consideration of public policy suggests that a contract made in violation of the Loan Shark Law should be unenforceable."

Later in the Hartman opinion we said: "The evidence offered was competent, therefore, to show the illegality of the transaction and the resulting absence of title in the trustee, upon which appellee ...

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