Baird v. United States/Opinion of the Court
It is, no doubt, true that the payment by a debtor of a part of his liquidated debt is not a satisfaction of the whole, unless made and accepted upon some new consideration; but it is equally true, that, where the debt is unliquidated and the amount is uncertain, this rule does not apply. In such cases the question is, whether the payment was in fact made and accepted in satisfaction.
It is clear that, in September, 1864, when this account was first presented to the government, the amount due was uncertain, because more was then demanded than is now claimed. The counsel for the appellant say, in their argument, that this reduction has been made in the light of the testimony taken in the suit for indemnity. Under such circumstances, it was the duty of the auditing officers of the government to state the account themselves before making payment. This they did, and reported to the claimant the amount found due, with the principles upon which the adjustment had been made. In effect, this was an offer to pay the balance stated in satisfaction of the claim. The acceptance of the money afterwards, without objection, was equivalent to an acceptance of the payment in satisfaction.
But there is another objection to the recovery which is equally good. It is well settled that, where a party brings an action for a part only of an entire indivisible demand, and recovers judgment, he cannot subsequently maintain an action for another part of the same demand. Warren v. Comings, 6 Cush. (Mass.) 103. Thus, if there are several sums due under one contract, and a suit is brought for a part only, a judgment in that suit will be a bar to another action for the recovery of the residue. Here was a contract by which the government was bound to pay for the engines in accordance with terms agreed upon. The entire price to be paid was not fixed. A part was contingent, and the amount made to depend upon a variety of circumstances. When the former action was commenced in the Court of Claims, the whole was due. Although different elements entered into the account, they all depended upon and were embraced in one contract. The judgment, therefore, for the part then sued upon is a bar to this action for the 'residue.'