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Bryan v. United States (66 U.S. 140)/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

66 U.S. 140

Bryan  v.  United States


This is a writ of error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Columbia.

The suit was brought by the United States upon the official bond of Samuel D. King, Surveyor General of the public lands of the State of California, against Joseph Bryan, one of his sureties, for moneys received by the principal in the course of the execution of the duties of his office, and which he has not accounted for. The bond was executed on the 29th of March, 1851.

The plaintiff gave in evidence several Treasury transcripts, by which it appeared that, on 30th June, 1853, when King's term of office expired, which was the end of the second quarter of that year, there was a balance due him to an amount exceeding three thousand dollars, although at the end of the first quarter there was a balance against him of some $14,000. But there appeared, also, on the debit side, charged to him, three Treasury warrants, each dated July 9, 1853-one of $10,000, another of $6,500, and the third $3,500, making an aggregate of $20,000, and which sum, if properly chargeable against the sureties, would leave a balance due the plaintiff of $10,531 43. As these warrants bore date on their face, after the expiration of the term of office, which was, on the 30th June, 1853, unexplained, they were of course not so chargeable.

The plaintiff assumed the burden of this explanation, and for that purpose gave in evidence a requisition by King upon the Commissioner of the Land Office, dated San Francisco, May 30, 1853, giving, in the communication, a general estimate of the sums of money that would be required to meet his disbursements for moneys due in the first quarter of the year 1853, and to become due in the second quarter. These estimates correspond with the sums for which the three Treasury warrants of the 9th July were drawn. A letter also accompanied the estimates and requisition, explaining somewhat at large the grounds of the estimates, and the necessity for the amount required. They were received by the Commissioner in this city on the 25th June following. The requisition of King contained a request that the drafts of the Treasurer for the advance of the moneys called for should be made in favor of Charles D. Meigs, cashier of the American Exchange Bank in the city of New York.

It was in pursuance of this requisition, and letter accompanying the same, that the three Treasury warrants of the 9th July were drawn for the $20,000; and on the 11th of the month the Treasurer drew at sight upon the Assistant Treasurer in the city of New York three bills in favor of Charles D. Meigs, corresponding in amount with the Treasury warrants.

The plaintiff also proved that the Commissioner of the Land Office, on the 30th June, had given notice to Meigs that he had on that day made a requisition in his favor at the request of King for the $20,000. This referred to the requisition of the Commissioner on the Treasury Department for the advance of the money, and in pursuance of which, doubtless, the Treasury warrants and drafts in favor of Meigs, already referred to, were afterwards drawn. It will be observed, that the Treasury warrants were made out nine days, and the drafts drawn in favor of Meigs eleven, after the office of King had expired.

Upon this state of facts, the court below instructed the jury, if they should find from the evidence that King, the Surveyor General, prior to the 30th June, 1853, paid certain amounts due to himself and other creditors of the Government upon the accounts and salaries, office rents and contingencies, given in evidence, out of moneys raised by him upon orders or drafts drawn upon the Government, and by him made known to the Government to have been drawn for the amounts to which the said payments were in fact applied, and that said drafts were paid and said amounts reimbursed to him by the Government after the 30th June, 1853, then it is not competent for the defendant to apply the amount of those accounts, thus by him paid and extinguished, as a set-off against the amount due by him to the Government upon the survey account prior to June 30, 1853, as given in evidence.

In order to understand these instructions, it is necessary to refer to some facts already stated, namely, that, according to the Treasury transcripts given in evidence by the plaintiff containing a statement of the accounts between King and the Government, debit and credit, down to the 30th June, 1853, when his office ceased, a balance appeared in his favor of some $3,000; but a requisition had been made by him on the 31st May, 1853, during his term of office, on the Commissioner, for the $20,000, and in pursuance of which the three Treasury warrants were made, and drafts drawn in favor of Meigs, of New York, after the office had expired, and that, at the end of the first quarter, the balance was against King.

Now, in view of these facts, the instructions are, if the jury find that King, prior to the 30th June, 1853, (the period when his office expired,) paid the money for which credits were given in the Treasury transcripts, out of money raised by him upon orders of drafts drawn upon the Government, and which were made known by him to the Government to have been so drawn, and that these drafts were paid and the money disbursed by the Government after the 30th of June, 1853-that is, after his office expired then it was not competent for the defendant, the surety, to apply the moneys thus paid by King as a set-off against his indebtedness to the Government on the survey account prior to the 30th June, 1853, referring, doubtless, to the balance due by him at the end of the first quarter.

In other and shorter words, if King drew on the Government during his term of office, and notified the Government of the fact, and raised money upon these drafts, by which he obtained the credits in the Treasury transcripts, and the Government paid the drafts even after King went out of office, then the surety could not claim these credits, and would be liable for all moneys in his hands at the expiration of his term not thus applied.

The first observation we have to make upon these instructions is, that they were given to the jury upon a purely hypothetical case, unsupported by any evidence to which it could be applied.

There is no evidence in the case to show out of what particular moneys King paid the expenses of his office during the period referred to, and obtained the credits, or that he raised any money for this purpose by means of drafts on the Government, or that the Government paid any drafts drawn by him before or after the expiration of his term of office. The only evidence relating to this subject is the requisition of King upon the Commissioner of the Land Office, already referred to, dated the 31st May, 1853, and received the 25th June by the Commissioner, five days before his office expired, and the Treasury warrants of the 9th July, and drafts in favor of Meigs of the 11th for the $20,000. These furnish all the evidence of any drafts upon, or disbursements by, the Government in the case.

The next observation we have to make is, that there is no evidence in the case that the Government has advanced any portion of the $20,000 to King, either during his term of office or since. It is true, the Treasury warrants were made out and charged to him, and drafts drawn in favor of Meigs by the Treasurer upon the Assistant Treasurer in the city of New York for this amount on the 9th and 11th of July, 1853. But there is no evidence that these drafts ever came to the hands of Meigs, or that the Assistant Treasurer was ever called on to pay, or ever paid them. For aught that appears, the money may still be in the Treasury. These are facts which, if material to charge the surety, should have been proved, and not left to presumption or conjecture; and even if we were to presume all this, and believe, without proof, that the Government transmitted the drafts to Meigs, and that he received the moneys from the Assistant Treasurer, there is no evidence that the money came to the hands of King. We are not prepared to admit that the transfer of moneys by the Government to the agent of the officer is equivalent to a transfer to the office himself, so far as the liability of the surety is concerned. The fidelity or responsibility of the agent through whom the Government may see fit to thus transfer the public money, is not within the obligation assumed by the surety in the official bond. He is responsible only for all moneys which came into the hands of the officer while in office, and which he subsequently fails to account for and pay over. 12 Wh., 505.

The questions, therefore, put to the jury as to drafts drawn by King upon the Government, and of moneys having been raised upon them during his term of office, out of which he had obtained the credits given in the Treasury transcripts, and of the subsequent payment of the drafts by the Government, were entirely hypothetical, unsupported by the evidence in the case, and, of course, whichever way found, laid no foundation for the inference stated in the instructions, that the surety could not claim these credits, and would be liable for all moneys in the hands of the officer at the expiration of his office not thus applied.

As the case has been very imperfectly tried, and must be sent down for another trial, we shall make no observations concerning it in anticipation of the facts that may be proved on the part of the Government, except to say, that in order to charge the surety for the default of the officer, it must appear from the evidence that the public moneys in question came into his hands, either in point of fact or in judgment of law, previous to the time when the term of office expired.

Judgment reversed, venire de novo.

NotesEdit

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).