United States v. Shoemaker

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

74 U.S. 338

United States  v.  Shoemaker

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

This suit was brought by the United States on a bond executed by Shoemaker and his sureties, the defendants, on the 19th of May, 1857, in a penalty of $20,000, conditioned that said Shoemaker, as disbursing agent for the new marine hospital and custom-house, at Detroit, Michigan, should well and truly disburse all moneys that may come into his hands from the Secretary of the Treasury for the object mentioned, and account for the same.

On the trial, the plaintiff proved that the defendant, Shoemaker, was collector of the customs at Detroit, in 1857 and 1858; that he was instructed by the Secretary of the Treasury to disburse about $200,000, appropriated by Congress, for building a custom-house and marine hospital at that port; and that, between the 1st April, 1857, and the 12th June, 1858, and subsequently, the collector made disbursements accordingly.

It was proved, also, that during all the above period he had been allowed and had received his general maximum compensation, under the act of March 2d, 1831, § 4, as collector; and also his special maximum of $400, under the act of May 7th, 1822 (which provides (§ 18), that no collector shall ever receive more than $400 annually, exclusive of his compensation as collector, for any service he may perform for the United States in any other office or capacity), and that he had been allowed one quarter of 1 per cent. upon all disbursements made after June 12th, 1858.

The plaintiff then rested; and the defendants, to maintain their defence, gave in evidence, that the balance shown in the treasury transcripts, against the collector, was composed of an excess over the $400 allowed, under the act of 1822, of 2 1/2 per cent. upon his disbursements; and that this per centum was but a reasonable compensation for the service.

The act of August 4th, 1854, [1] authorized the building of a custom-house and marine hospital, at Detroit, and made an appropriation for the same. The duty was devolved upon the Secretary of the Treasury, and a sum equal to 10 per cent. of the moneys appropriated, was also appropriated to cover the compensation of architects, superintendents, advertising, and other contingent expenses.

The act of June 12th, 1858, [2] provided that collectors of customs should thereafter be disbursing agents for the payment of all moneys appropriated for the construction of custom-houses, court-houses, &c., with a compensation not exceeding one quarter of 1 per cent. This act appropriated a small sum for fencing and grading the grounds about the hospital at Detroit. With this exception, no compensation had been allowed to the collector for the disbursement of the moneys made by him.

The court below directed the jury to find for the defendant if they believed his commission to be a reasonable one. Verdict and judgment went accordingly, and the United States brought the case here on error.

Mr. W. A. Moore, in support of the judgment, contended, that, prior to the act of June 12th, 1858, the disbursing of these moneys was no part of the official duty of the collector of customs. There was no law on the subject; and the Secretary of the Treasury had no right to require any such duty of the collector. The appointment was, therefore, in the nature of an agency of the Treasury Department. It might as well have been conferred upon any other person. And, unless restrained by some statute, Shoemaker was entitled to the same compensation that any other agent would have been.

Mr. Ashton, Assistant Attorney-General, contra.

Mr. Justice NELSON delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  11 Stat. at Large, 571, § 2, 3, 4.

^2  11 Stat. at Large. 327, § 17.

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).