State v. Staub

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation61 Conn. 553,23 A. 924
PartiesSTATE v. STAUB, Comptroller.
Decision Date17 March 1892

Case reserved from superior court, Hartford county.

Application for a writ of mandate to Nicholas Staub, comptroller, to compel him to distribute among the several towns of the state the income of the school fund, as provided by Gen. St. § 2228. An alternative writ of mandate was issued, and respondent moved to quash. The motion was denied, and case reserved. Affirmed.

W. Hamersley, in support of the motion.

A. F. Eggleston, State's Atty.

ANDREWS, C. J. The respondent is the comptroller of public accounts. Upon application of the state attorney the superior court for Hartford county issued an alternative writ of mandamus commanding him forthwith to distribute among the several towns of the state the money which, by section 2228 of the General Statutes, it is provided the comptroller shall distribute; viz., $1.50 for every person within such town of school age, as ascertained from returns required; and to transmit the amount distributed to each town to its treasurer, etc.

The respondent appeared in the superior court, and moved to quash the said alternative writ, because (1) the official action which said writ requires him to perform is included, and is the exercise of the powers and duties vested in and imposed upon him as an independent officer of the executive department of the constitution, and the exercise of such powers and the performance of such duties cannot lawfully be enforced by writ of mandamus; (2) the statutes mentioned in said writ and the law of the state do not require him to perform official acts enjoined by said writ. If the matter alleged in the second ground is sufficient, an examination of the first ground will be unnecessary. It will be convenient, therefore, to consider that one first.

Section 2228 of the General Statutes is as follows: "The income of the school fund which, after deducting all expenses attending its management, shall remain in the treasury on the 28th of February in each year, and also $1.50 for every person between 4 and 16 years of age belonging to any school-district, as ascertained from the last returns of the school visitors, shall annually, as soon as may be after said day, be divided and distributed by the comptroller among the several towns in proportion to the number of persons in each between the ages of 4 and 16 years, as ascertained from said returns, and he shall transmit the amount distributed to each town to its treasurer on the application of its school visitors, or of its school committee, if such town constitute but one school district; but no money shall be transmitted to any towns until the comptroller shall have received from its school visitors or committee a certificate signed by them or their chairman and secretary, and substantially in the following form: * * *." This section has been in force, in very nearly the words in which it now appears, since the year 1854; and there is no dispute but that the respondent has received from the several towns of the state the returns and certificates required thereby. In 1877 the legislature passed an act (chapter 120, Acts 1877) providing for specific appropriations for all purposes authorized by law. This act is now sections 377 and 378 of the General Statutes of 1888, which are as follows: Sections 377 is: "The general assembly, in behalf of the state; the representatives of the towns, and the senators resident in the several counties, in behalf of their respective counties; every city, by its common council, when so authorized by its charter, or by the freemen in legal meeting assembled; and every town, borough, or school-district, by legal meeting of its qualified voters, — may make appropriations of specific sums of money for any purpose authorized bylaw, and by the warnings of the meetings by which the appropriations are made." Section 378: "Whenever any specific appropriation of money may have been made by the general assembly, by the representatives and senators of any county, or by the community or corporation named in the preceding section, every agent, commissioner, or executive officer of the state, or of any county, city, borough, town, or school-district, who shall willfully authorize or contract for the expenditure of any money or the creation of any debt for any purpose in excess of the amount specifically appropriated for such purpose by the general assembly, the county representatives and senators, or the community or corporation of which he is the agent, commissioner, or executive officer, unless such expenditure shall be made or debt contracted for the necessary repair of the roads or bridges, or the necessary support of schools or paupers in cases arising after the proper appropriation has been exhausted, shall be fined not exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisoned in the county jail not exceeding one year, or both." The plan of specific appropriations for state expenditures was greatly enlarged in the year 1884, (chapter 108, Acts. 1884,) and a method of procedure for making estimates and passing appropriation bills was carefully elaborated. Most of the provisions of this later act appear now in the General Statutes of 1888, §§ 379-384, inclusive, and §§ 403-410, inclusive. Section 407 is as follows: "No department of the state government, no officer of the same, and no officer of any public institution, shall expend in any fiscal year or years any sum in excess of appropriations made by the general assembly for such year or years, or involve the state in any contract for the future payment of money in excess of any such appropriation. Nor shall any accounting or disbursing officer of any department of the government, or with any special or other commission, until special appropriation shall have been made by law, pay such accounts and charges, or after the special appropriation has been exhausted; and no money appropriated for contingent, incidental, or miscellaneous purposes shall be expended or paid for official or clerical compensation." The general assembly, at its session in January, 1889, made specific appropriations for the purposes mentioned in the said section 2228, for two years ending June 30, 1891. But the general assembly of 1891 has made no appropriation for the said expenses, or for any other expenses of the state.

In this condition of things, is the respondent forbidden to distribute the money according to the command of the alternative writ? In other words, in the absence of any specific appropriation by general assembly, is the prohibition contained in the act operative or inoperative? Upon this part of the case the eminent counsel for the respondent have furnished us with an argument so clear and decisive that we have felt Impelled to use portions of it, making only slight changes. "If the latter of these provisions [i. e., of the special appropriation act] is binding under existing circumstances, then the law is the equivalent of a law providing that for an indefinite period the officers charged with the maintenance of the state government shall not perform the duties imposed on them by law; courts shall not be held; persons charged with crime shall be refused a trial; prisoners in the stute-prison shall be released or starved; the property of the state shall be abandoned, uncared for, and unprotected. Such a law is obnoxious to certain plain provisions of the constitution, as well as to a fundamental principle underlying all government. It would seem to be beyond the power of the legislature to pass. But can it be that the legislature can do indirectly what it is forbidden to do directly? Is the default of the general assembly more potent than its action? The last section of the act of 1884, incorporated into section 384 of the General Statutes, seems intended to prevent such an anomaly. "Nothing contained in this act shall be construed to affect or impair the duties now imposed by law upon the comptroller and treasurer in auditing and paying accounts made or presented against the state, except so far as herein mentioned." The act, on its face, is not applicable to a condition of affairs where no special appropriations whatever are or can be made. Certainly no mention is made in the act affecting, under such circumstances, the duties imposed by law on the treasurer and comptroller. It must be remembered that under our system, unlike that of many states, no special appropriations are required. The authorizing an expenditure is in itself an appropriation of money. For that purpose of authorizing the application of state funds to the payment of authorized expenditures, a special appropriation is a work of supererogation. In the absence of a special appropriation, the existence of a law requiring an expenditure to be incurred is an appropriation of money for that purpose, and the law imposes on the comptroller the duty of settling and adjusting demands against the state for such expenses. It may therefore fairly be urged that this section was intended to and does provide that nothing in the special appropriation act shall be construed as impairing or affecting the duties imposed by law...

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  • Pellegrino v. O'Neill
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • October 9, 1984
    ...the law imposes on the comptroller the duty of settling and adjusting demands against the state for such expenses." State v. Staub, 61 Conn. 553, 563, 23 A. 924 (1892). A fortiori, the constitutional obligations to provide justice without undue delay and to afford due process of law must be......
  • Farmers State Bank of Riverton v. Riverton Const. Co.
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    ...the intention of the parties. Auzerais v. Naglee, 15 P. 371; Jackson v. Ely, (Ohio) 49 N.E. 792; Backster v. State, 9 Wis. 38; State v. Staub, (Conn.) 23 A. 924; Tooms Stockwell, (Mich.) 92 N.W. 288. It was the duty of Petry to account for all funds of the corporation and if he claimed cred......
  • Caldwell v. Meskill
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    ...a stated sum of money. The defendants, however, press an argument that relies heavily on a line of cases beginning with State v. Staub, 61 Conn. 553, 23 A. 924, in which this court has recognized the duty of state officials to act pursuant to legislative mandates, regardless of specific app......
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