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Brown v. United States (50 U.S. 487)

United States Supreme Court

50 U.S. 487

Brown  v.  United States

THESE two cases were merely branches of a single case which was tried in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, holden in and for the County of Washington.

The suit was instituted by the United States against Obadiah B. Brown, upon an account, two items only of which were disputed. Upon one of these items the instruction of the court to the jury was unfavorable to Brown, and he took a bill of exceptions to it. This constituted the first case. Upon the second item, the instruction was unfavorable to the United States, and they excepted.

The account upon which the suit was brought was as follows, viz.:--Obadiah B. Brown, late Treasurer Post-Office Department, in account with the United States.


1835. 1845.

Jan. 27. To cash, $2,500.00 Mar. 31. By amount of his bill, dated 14

Feb. 18. " cash,802.59 February, 1835, No. 460, paid

" 19. " cash, 2,088.61 sundry persons for services

April 10. " cash, 1,452.00 in Post-Office Department, $ 802.59

June 26. By amount paid sundry persons

for services in Post-

Office Department, as

per bill on file, 1,452.00


6,843.20 6,843.20

To balance, 4,588.61

The two items in dispute were the charges of $2,500 and $2,088.61. The first of these, viz. that of $2,500, is not the first taken up in the bill of exceptions, or in the opinion of the court. In both, the latter item of $2,088.61 is treated and disposed of in the first instance.

The whole of the facts in the case are set forth in the two bills of exceptions, which are recited in the opinion of the court. It is therefore unnecessary to repeat them here.

The cause was argued in this court by the Attorney-General (Mr. Johnson), for the United States, and by Mr. Bradley and Mr. Coxe, for Mr. Brown.

Mr. Johnson referred to the Post-Office Act of 3d March, 1825 (4 Stat. at Large, 102), and made the following points.

1. That the fact being known to Mr. Barry, the Postmaster-General, that the Bank of Maryland had failed, and that the Union Bank held the certificates given to the former by the Post-Office Department, and that the certificate to Brown given by the Bank of Maryland was for his private account, he had no lawful authority to assume and pay the same to Brown.

2. That if he had, in the absence of all improper intent, there was evidence from which the jury might infer mistake of fact, collusion, or misconduct in the Postmaster-General in making such payment.

3. That there was no evidence from which the jury could infer that there was any agreement to allow the defendant the commissions claimed by him, or from which it could be allowed. Gratiot v. The United States, 4 How. 110.

The counsel for Mr. Brown contended that, with respect to the item of $2,088.61, the charge of the Circuit Court was correct, and fell within the ruling of this court in the case of The United States v. The Bank of the Metropolis, 15 Peters, 377, 400, 401; and with respect to the item of $2,500, they contended,

1. The services rendered by Mr. Brown, and for which he claimed this compensation, were not such as were ordinarily attached to the duties of the office held by him.

2. They were rendered at the instance of the government, and he was obliged, under the circumstances, to perform the labor, and assume the responsibility necessary to execute that service.

3. The was entitled to an equitable allowance for such extra service, to be graduated by the amount paid for like services under similar circumstances.

4. The Department had paid for like services, under similar circumstances, more than was demanded by him.

And to sustain these propositions they relied on The United States v. Macdaniel, 7 Peters, 1; The United States v. Ripley, 7 Peters, 25, 26; The United States v. Fillebrown, 7 Peters, 44.

Mr. Justice DANIEL delivered the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).