United States v. Heirs of Hawkins
IN error to the district court of the United States, from the eastern district of Louisiana.
This case was before the court at January term 1832, on a writ of error to the district court of Louisiana, prosecuted by Nathaniel Cox, Nathaniel and James Dick, plaintiffs in error, v. the United States, 6 Peters's Reports, 172. Nathaniel Cox, and John Dick, the father of Nathaniel and James Dick, were the sureties of Joseph H. Hawkins, in his official bond to the United States, as navy agent of the United States, at New Orleans. In the district court, a judgment was given in favor of the United States, and the same was reversed for an informality in entering the same.
On the former writ of error, certain questions were raised as to the admission of evidence offered in the district court, on the part of the defendants, and rejected by the court. This court sustained the decision of the district judge, 6 Peters's Rep. 200.
The judgment of the district court of Louisiana having been reversed, the cause went back to that court on the following mandate:
'Whereas lately in the district court of the United States for the eastern district of Louisiana, before you, in a cause wherein the United States of America were plaintiff, and the heirs and representatives of J. H. Hawkins, the heirs and representatives of John Dick and Nathaniel Cox, were defendants, the judgment of the said district court was in the following words, viz.
"The court having maturely considered the motion in arrest of judgment, now order that judgment be entered up as of the 15th instant, against the estate of John Dick and Nathaniel Cox, jointly and severally, for the sum of 20,000 dollars, with six per centum interest from the 2d day of January 1830, until paid, and costs of suit, and that judgment be entered up against Nathaniel Dick and James Dick, for the sum of 10,000 dollars each, with six per centum interest from the 2d day of January 1830, until paid, and the costs.' As by the inspection of the transcript of the record of the said district court, which was brought into the supreme court of the United States by virtue of a writ of error, agreeably to the act of congress in such case made and provided, fully and at large appears.
'And whereas in the present term of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two, the said cause came on to be heard before the said supreme court, on the said transcript of the record, and was argued by counsel, on consideration whereof, it is adjudged and ordered by this court, that the judgment of the said district court in this cause be, and the same is hereby, reversed; and that this cause be, and the same is hereby, remanded to the said district court, with direction to award a venire facias de novo.
'You, therefore, are hereby commanded, that such father proceedings be had in said cause, as according to right, justice, and the laws of the United States ought to be had, the said writ of error notwithstanding.'
Further proceedings took place in the cause in the district court, which are stated at large in the opinion of the court. A verdict was rendered against the United States; and exceptions being taken to the charge of the court, the United States prosecuted this writ of error.
The case was argued by Mr. Butler, attorney-general, for the United States. No counsel appeared for the defendants in error.
He stated that, on the former trial in the district court, the allegation was, that certain sums had been paid at the treasury which had not been allowed in favor of the defendant, Nathaniel Cox. These claims were not the matters of defence on the second trial; but it was alleged that balances were due to Cox, on a separate transaction with the United States, and which were the subject of a separate suit between the defendant, Cox, and the United States. The original claim on the defendant was for upwards $15,000, which was reduced by payments into the treasury to $2,870 62. It is admitted that Nathaniel Cox is entitled to a further credit of $1,320, although the same was not regularly established in the district court; and this sum may be allowed to him as an off-set to the judgment to which, on this record, the United States are entitled. To admit this sum to his credit, in the present state of the case, would reduce the claim of the United States below the amount required to sustain the jurisdiction of the court; and it is now acknowledged, that this credit shall be ultimately allowed; but in such a form as that this court can retain and decide the case.
The United States object to the items of credit claimed by Cox, the defendant in error; not only on account of the irregularity of the proceedings, but also because they are not credits to which he was in any manner entitled.
On the last trial in the district court, these credits were objected to. They had not been claimed at the treasury prior to the institution of the suit; but before the second trial they were exhibited at the treasury, and they were refused. At this trial, after the mandate, they were admitted; the district court considering the case as standing in the situation of a new suit.
These credits, now objected to, and which were improperly allowed to go to the jury, were claimed in a supplemental answer filed after the mandate on the 10th of March 1834. They were the sum of $5,840 54, paid by reason of certain checks, &c. issued by purser Wilkinson, and disallowed at the treasury: and also the sum of $1,433 12, also paid under the same circumstances. Mr. Cox had been appointed navy agent, after the death of Hawkins.
It was contended, that the objections to these claims of credit were well taken by the district attorney of Louisiana, in the bills of exceptions, on two grounds:
1. It did not appear that the documents to sustain them had been presented to the proper officers of the treasury before the commencement of this suit by petition, filed October 19, 1823.
2. That it appeared that those sums had been already allowed to purser Wilkinson.
Notwithstanding these objections, the district judge allowed them to be read in evidence, as competent testimony. The court stated to the jury, that although the credits had been allowed to purser Wilkinson, it was no reason they should not be allowed to Mr. Cox, if the jury thought they were equitably due.
Mr. Justice WAYNE delivered the opinion of the Court.