175 U.S. 423 (1899), 29, La Abra Silver Mining Company v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 29
Citation:175 U.S. 423, 20 S.Ct. 168, 44 L.Ed. 223
Party Name:La Abra Silver Mining Company v. United States
Case Date:December 11, 1899
Court:United States Supreme Court

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175 U.S. 423 (1899)

20 S.Ct. 168, 44 L.Ed. 223

La Abra Silver Mining Company


United States

No. 29

United States Supreme Court

December 11, 1899

Argued February 20-21, 23, 1899



The Commissioners appointed under the Treaty between the United States and Mexico concluded July 4, 1868, and proclaimed February 1, 1869, (15 Stat. 679), having differed in opinion as to the allowance of the claim of the La Abra Silver Mining Company, a New York corporation, against Mexico, the Umpire decided for that company and allowed its claim, amounting, principal and interest, to the sum of $683,041.32. Mexico met some of the installments of the award and then laid before the United States certain newly discovered evidence which, it contended, showed that the entire claim of the La Abra Company was fictitious and fraudulent. The Secretary of State thereafter withheld the remaining installments paid by Mexico, and upon examining the new evidence, reported to the President that, in his judgment, the honor of the United States was concerned to inquire whether, in submitting the La Abra claim to the Commission, its confidence had not been seriously abused, and recommended that Congress exert its plenary authority in respect

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of the disposition of the balance of the funds received from Mexico and remaining in the hands of the United States. Finally, Congress passed the Act of December 28, 1892 (27 Stat. 409, c. 14), by which the Attorney General was directed to bring suit in the name of the United States in the Court of Claims against the La Abra Company and all persons asserting any interest in the award of the Commission to determine whether that award was obtained, as to the whole sum included therein or as to any part thereof, by fraud effectuated by means of false swearing or other false and fraudulent practices on the part of the company or its agents, attorneys or assigns, and if so determined, to bar and foreclose all claim in law or equity on the part of the company, its legal representatives or assigns to the money or any such part thereof received from the Republic of Mexico for or on account of the award. By that act, full jurisdiction was conferred on the Court of Claims, with right of appeal to this Court, to determine such suit, to make all proper interlocutory and final decrees therein, and to enforce the same by injunction or other final process. The act further authorized the return to Mexico of any moneys paid by it on the award and remaining in the custody of the United States if the issue of fraud was determined adversely to the company. If the decision was favorable to the company, it was made the duty of the Secretary of State to proceed with the distribution of the funds in his bands. The act of 1892 was presented to the President on December 20. Two days thereafter, Congress took a recess until January 4, 1893. The President signed the bill on December 28, 1892.


(1) That the act of 1892 was not invalid by reason of its having been signed during a recess of Congress. Whether the President can sign a bill after the final adjournment of Congress for the session was not decided.

(2) The suit brought by the Attorney General involved rights capable of judicial determination and was a "case" within the meaning of the clause of the Constitution extending the judicial power of the United States to all cases in law and equity arising under that instrument, the laws of the United States, and the treaties made by it or under its authority. The act did not in any wise trench upon the constitutional functions of the President. Nor was it simply ancillary or advisory to him. Whatever decree was rendered by the Court of Claims was, unless reversed, binding and conclusive upon the United States and the defendants.

(3) The act was not liable to the objection that it was inconsistent with the principles underlying international arbitration. On the contrary, such legislation is an assurance in the most solemn and binding form that the government of this country will exert all the power it possesses to enforce good faith upon the part of citizens who, asserting that they have been wronged by the authorities of another country, seek the intervention of their government to obtain redress.

(4) This Court was entitled to look at all the evidence in the cause on

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the issue as to fraud, because the act did not contemplate a special finding by the Court of Claims of the ultimate facts established by the evidence.

(5) The question stated in the act of 1892 -- whether the award in question

was obtained as to the whole sum included therein, or as to any part thereof, by fraud effectuated by means of false swearing or other false and fraudulent practices on the part of the said La Abra Silver Mining Company, or its agents, attorneys or assigns

is answered in the affirmative as to the whole sum included in the award.

The questions involved in this case arise from a claim made by the La Abra Silver Mining Company, a New York corporation, for damages alleged to have been sustained in consequence of certain acts and omissions of duty upon the part of official representatives of the Republic of Mexico.

The claim was originally the subject of investigation by a commission organized pursuant to a convention between the United States of America and the Republic of Mexico concluded July 4, 1868, and proclaimed February 1, 1869. 15 Stat. 679.

An award was made by the Commission in relation to this claim, but it has been executed only in part -- its full execution having been suspended by legislation in conformity with which the present suit was instituted to ascertain whether the award had been obtained by fraud effectuated by means of false swearing or other false and fraudulent practices on the part of the La Abra Company, its agents, attorneys, or assigns. 27 Stat. 409, c. 14.

It will conduce to a clear understanding of the questions to be determined if we state fully the circumstances that led to the organization of the commission, and show how it came about that a court established by this government took cognizance of a moneyed demand made by an American corporation against a foreign government.

By the above convention of July 4, 1868, it was provided that all claims on the part of corporations, companies, or private individuals, citizens of the United States or of the Republic of Mexico, arising from injuries to their persons or property committed by the authorities of the respective governments

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and presented to either government for its interposition with the other since the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of February 2, 1848, and which remained unsettled or did not arise out of any transaction prior to that date, as well as any other claims presented within the time prescribed in the convention, should be referred to two commissioners -- one to be appointed by the President of the United States by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and the other by the president of the Mexican Republic.

The commissioners were conjointly to investigate and decide the claims presented to their notice in such order and manner as they thought proper, but "upon such evidence or information only" as should "be furnished by or on behalf of their respective governments." Where they failed to agree in opinion upon any individual claim, they were to call to their assistance an Umpire, who was to decide upon it finally and without appeal. It was competent for each government to name one person to attend the commissioners as its agent, to present and support claims on its behalf, and to represent it generally in all matters connected with the investigation.

When every case presented had been decided by the commissioners or the Umpire, the total amount awarded in favor of the citizens of one government was to be deducted from that awarded to the citizens of the other government, and the balance, to the amount of $300,000, was to be paid to the government in favor of whose citizens the greater sum had been awarded, without interest or any other deduction than that specified in the convention. The residue was to be paid in annual installments not to exceed $300,000 in any one year, until the whole amount had been paid.

The contracting parties agreed to consider the result of the proceedings of the commission as a full, perfect, and final settlement of every claim upon either government, arising out of any transaction of a date prior to ratification of the convention, and to give full effect to the decision of the commission or the Umpire without objection, evasion, or delay, and they further engaged that every such claim, whether or not

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presented to the notice of, made, preferred, or laid before the commission, should from and after the conclusion of its proceedings be considered and treated as finally settled, barred, and thereafter inadmissible.

The commission was organized in the City of Washington, and held its first meeting on [20 S.Ct. 170] the 31st day of July, 1869, Mr. William H. Wadsworth and Senor Don Miguel Maria de Zamacona being the commissioners respectively, and Mr. J. Hubley Ashton and Mr. Caleb Cushing, the agents respectively, on behalf of the United States and Mexico. Dr. Francis Lieber, the first Umpire, having died, he was succeeded by Sir Edward Thornton, who at that time was the British minister accredited to the government of the United States at Washington.

On the 23d day of February, 1870, Secretary Fish issued a circular referring to the convention of 1868 and stating that the Department of State deemed it advisable to refer to the joint commission all claims of corporations and citizens of this country without special...

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