Filor v. United States
APPEAL from the Court of Claims. The material facts of this case, as found by the court, were thus:
In 1861 one Asa F. Tift, a citizen of Florida, was the owner in fee of certain real property, situated in Key West, in that State, known as Tift's wharf. In January of that year he was a member of the convention which passed the ordinance of secession, purporting to dissolve the connection of the State with the National Union, and signed the ordinance. In May following, with the intention of joining the Confederates against the United States, he left Key West and removed to the State of Georgia, where he resided during the continuance of the rebellion. Before leaving Key West he executed a power of attorney to one Charles Tift, authorizing him to sell and convey all his property, or any part of it, situated on that island. In December, 1861, through his attorney, he sold and conveyed the premises to the petitioners, as tenants in common, for the consideration of eighteen thousand dollars, for which sum they gave their several promissory notes, according to their respective proportions, of which three, each for one thousand dollars, were payable on demand, and the residue were payable from one to five years, with annual interest at six per cent. These notes were retained by the attorney under an agreement between him and the makers until after Asa S. Tift had received from the President a full pardon for offences committed by participation in the rebellion, which was granted in July, 1865. They were then delivered to him.
After the purchase made by the petitioners the officers of the quartermaster's department at Key West desired possession of the wharf, and its appurtenances, for the use of the United States, but the petitioners refused to lease the property. Thereupon the commanding officer at Key West, 'for the purpose of effecting a lease of it' (such is the language of the finding), issued an order for its seizure 'for the use of the quartermaster's department of the United States army.' Under the pressure of this order an agreement was concluded between Filor, one of the petitioners, acting for all of them, and Lieutenant Gibbs, of the United States army, at the time assistant quartermaster, who assumed to act on behalf of the United States, which agreement purported to lease the property, and various pieces of machinery, and other articles connected with it, to the United States for one year from January 1st, 1862, and as much longer as might be required by the quartermaster's department, at an annual rent of six thousand dollars, payable quarterly. This agreement was approved by the commanding officer at Key West, but was not approved by the quartermaster-general, nor was it disapproved by him until February 8th, 1866. Under the agreement the officers of the quartermaster's department at Key West entered upon and took possession of the premises, and used them in the service of the United States until the 1st of January, 1867.
No rent was ever paid to the petitioners under the agreement, or for the use and occupation of the premises, and to recover the full amount stipulated for the five years, the present suit was brought.
When the agreement was made, and possession was taken of the premises, the officers of the quartermaster's department at Key West had full knowledge of the fact that Asa F. Tift had adhered to Florida in her attempted secession from the Union, and had joined the Confederates in Georgia, and was, with them, in open war against the United States at the time the deed was executed to the petitioners.
The Court of Claims held that the deed was void, as a contract between enemies, and that the officers of the quartermaster's department at Key West were not authorized to hire for the United States the premises, the title to which was invalid, from the circumstances stated, which were known to them at the time.
Mr. Thomas Wilson, for the appellant. Mr. Talbot, contra, for the United States, was stopped by the court.
Mr. Justice FIELD, after stating the facts of the case, delivered the opinion of the court, as follows: