Whiteside Et Al v. United States

Decision Date01 October 1876
Citation93 U.S. 247,23 L.Ed. 882
PartiesWHITESIDE ET AL. v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

APPEAL from the Court of Claims.

This was a suit brought Dec. 21, 1871, against the United States, to recover $17,356, expended by claimants in hauling, baling, and ginning cotton in Arkansas, in 1865, under a contract with A. B. Miller, assistant special agent of the treasury, made at Camden, Ark., dated Nov. 10, 1865, by which they agreed to proceed to La Fayette County, procure evidence of the right of the United States to cotton there, put the same into shipping order, and transport it to Camden, for a half-interest in all cotton condemned. In all cases of a release after a seizure, upon sufficient evidence, they were to be repaid 'all expenses of transportation, repairing,' &c. In November and December, 1865, they delivered to Miller three lots of cotton, aggregating five hundred and twenty-two bales. Two of these lots, comprising four hundred and fifty-one bales, were, Jan. 9, 1866, taken from the warehouse at Camden, by General May, commanding the district, and turned over to one Harvey, the alleged owner of them. The claimants had hauled the cotton nearly eighty miles, rebaled it, &c., and ginned a part, for which they were never paid. Two undated vouchers, certified by Miller and approved by O. H. Burbridge, supervising special agent of the treasury, were given the claimants, showing the total amount by them thus expended to be $17,356. Neither was presented to the Treasury Department for payment. On the 28th of March, 1866, Burbridge made the following indorsement on the contract: 'Subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, the within contract is approved, so far as it conforms to the regulations of the Treasury Department for paying one-fourth of the cotton condemned, and it is recommended that one-half be allowed.' The defendant pleaded the general denial and the Statute of Limitations. The Court of Claims, upon the facts found, ruled as matter of law,——

'1. That the contract relied on by the claimant, not being approved by the supervising special agent of the treasury, was incomplete, and, no benefit having resulted to the government from its alleged fulfilment, there is no legal or equitable ground for recovery.

'2. That, if the contract was valid, the loss to the claimants was caused by the illegal seizure of General May, and for that the government is not liable.'

The petition of the claimants was dismissed, and they brought the case here.

Argued by Mr. Joseph Casey for the appellants, who cited Salomon v. United States, 19 Wall. 17; United States v. Gill, 20 id. 517; Reeside v. United States, 8 id. 38.

Mr. Assistant Attorney-General Smith, contra.

MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of the court.

Discretionary authority was vested in the Secretary of the Treasury to appoint special agents to receive and collect abandoned or captured property in any State or Territory designated as in insurrection by the proclamation of the President issued for that purpose, subject to the condition that the power 'shall not include property which has been used or intended to be used' to aid the rebellion. 12 Stat. 820.

Pursuant to that provision, the petitioners, as they allege, entered into a contract with an assistant special agent, that they should proceed to La Fayette County, in the State of Arkansas, and there procure evidence sufficient to establish the right of the United States to certain lots of cotton there situate, and put the same in shipping order, and transport the cotton to Camden, in that State, there to be delivered to the said assistant special agent. In consideration whereof, it was then and there stipulated in behalf of the United States, as the petitioners allege, that they should have and be entitled to one-half interest in all such cotton so procured, when the same should be condemned; that, in all such cases where the cotton should be released by competent authority subsequent to the seizure, the stipulation was, that they should be paid for all expenses in procuring evidence to warrant the seizure, in putting the cotton in order for shipping, and in transporting the same to the place of delivery; and they aver that they proceeded to the place named, that they procured evidence to warrant the seizure of four hundred and fifty-one bales of cotton, and that they put the same in order for shipping, and transported the same to the place of delivery named in the contract.

Condemnation did not follow the seizure; but the petitioners aver that the cotton was subsequently released by competent authority, and delivered over to the former owners, and that they expended $17,356 in procuring evidence to warrant the seizure of the same, in putting it in order for shipping, and in transporting it to the place named in the contract.

Seasonable appearance was entered by the Attorney-General; and he filed an answer in due form, in which he denied each and every allegation of the petition, and alleged that the United States are not indebted to the petitioners in the sum claimed, or any part thereof. He also set up the following special defences: 1. That the petitioners have not always borne true faith and allegiance to the United States. 2. That they did not file their petition and transmit the same to the court within six years from the time the claim accrued.

Sufficient appears to show that the two lots of cotton mentioned in the petition, amounting to four hundred and fifty-one bales, were collected by the petitioners as abandoned or captured property; that expenses to the amount claimed were incurred by them in transporting, rebaling, and ginning the same, under the alleged contract, the terms of which correspond with those set forth in the petition; and that the same was subsequently released by the military officer commanding in that district before the cotton was condemned, as shown by the finding of the court.

Assistant special agents had no power to make such a contract, and the record fails to show that the contract under which the petitioners claim to have acted was ever approved by the supervising special agent. Express power to make such rules and regulations as were necessary to carry out the provisions of the act enacted for that purpose, was, by the eleventh section of the act of July 2, 1864, vested in the Secretary of the Treasury, with the approval of the President. 13 Stat. 378.

Regulations to effect the object were ordained by the secretary under the prior act, the twelfth article of which provided that 'supervising special agents may contract in behalf of the United States, for the collection and delivery to them of such property in their respective agencies, on the best possible terms, not exceeding twenty-five per cent of the proceeds of the property,' the condition being, that such 'percentage must be in full compensation for all expenses, of whatever character, incurred in collecting, preparing, and delivering such property at the points designated.' Prior to any such contract being made, the party proposing must submit in writing a statement of the kind and amount of property proposed to be collected, the locality whence to be obtained, and all the facts and circumstances connected with it.

Contracts of the kind were required to be in writing, and to be restricted to the collection of particular lots at named localities, except in special cases, where it might extend to the general collection and delivery of all abandoned property in limited districts, not greater than one parish or county. Supervising special agents could recommend an allowance greater than twenty-five per cent of the proceeds, but no greater allowance could be made until it was approved by the Secretary of the Treasury.

Art. 13 of the same regulations provided, 'nor shall any liability be incurred or assumed, or contract be made, on the part of the United States, by such agents, except as authorized by these regulations.' New regulations were issued on the 29th of July, 1864, by which those previously promulgated were superseded; and it was the regulations last named which were in force at the time the contract in this case was executed.

Such contracts for the collection and delivery of abandoned or captured property might still be made by the supervising special agents, when the property was liable to be lost or destroyed in consequence of its location being unknown to the special agents, or from other causes. Parties under such circumstances might propose, for compensation, to collect and deliver it into the hands of such agents, at points designated by them; and the supervising special agents might contract in behalf of the United States for the collection and delivery to them of such property in their respective agencies, on the best possible terms, not exceeding twenty-five per cent of the proceeds of the property, the condition being, as in the prior regulations, that the percentage allowed must be in full compensation for all expenses, of whatever character, incurred in collecting, preparing, and delivering such property at the points designated.

Three other conditions are also annexed to the exercise of the power therein granted, as follows: 1. That the party proposing, prior to any such contract being made, must submit, in writing, a statement of the kind and amount of property proposed to be collected, the locality whence to be obtained, and all the facts and circumstances connected with it, particularly as to its ownership. 2. That any contract made in pursuance of the regulation must be in writing, and must be restricted to the collection and delivery of particular lots at named localities, except in special cases, where the contract may extend to the general...

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