United States ex Rel. Siegel v. Thoman
156 U.S. 353 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States ex Rel. Siegel v. Thoman, 156 U.S. 353 (1895)

United States ex Rel. Siegel v. Thoman

No. 125

Submitted December 18, 1894

Decided March 4, 1895

156 U.S. 353

Syllabus

The provision in Act No. 30 of the Louisiana Statutes of 1877 that the surplus of the revenues of parishes and municipal corporations for any year may be applied to the payment of the indebtedness of former years is not mandatory, but only permissive, and creates no contract right in a holder of such indebtedness of former years which can be enforced by mandamus.

The Legislature of the State of Louisiana in 1877 passed an act which may be epitomized as follows: that no police jury of any parish or municipal corporation in the state should make appropriations or expenditures of money in any year which should, separately or together with any appropriations or expenditures of the same year, be in actual excess of the actual revenue of the parish or municipality for that year, and that all the revenues of the parishes and municipalities of each year should be devoted to the expenditures of that year, provided "that any surplus of said revenues may be applied

Page 156 U. S. 354

to the payment of the indebtedness of former years." Extra Session Acts 1877, p. 47.

In 1879 (Act No. 38 of that year), it was provided that it should be the duty of the Board of Administrators of the Common Council of the City of New Orleans, in December of each year, to propose a detailed statement exhibiting the amount of revenues for the ensuing year expected to be derived by the city from taxes and licenses, and that, along with this estimate of receipts, it should be likewise the duty of the city to prepare a detailed statement of the estimated expenditures, exhibiting the items of liability and expenses for the year, including the requisite amount for contingent expenses during that time. The act provided that the estimate of liabilities and expenses should not exceed four-fifths of the estimated amount of revenue. It made it the duty of the city to adopt a budget of revenues and liabilities, and to levy the taxes and collect the licenses provided in the estimate, in order to pay the same. It directed that the detailed estimate of receipts and expenses should be considered as an appropriation of the amounts therein stated to the purposes therein set forth, and forbade the diversion of any of the receipts from the particular purposes to which they were then appropriated.

In 1882, in an act reincorporating the City of New Orleans, the foregoing provision as to the annual estimate and budget was practically reenacted, with the direction that the budget be published in the official journal. This law, in addition, provided as follows:

"The council in fixing the budget of revenue and expenses as herein provided shall not consider and adopt as a revenue miscellaneous or contingent resources and affix thereto either an arbitrary or nominal value or amount; but whenever such resources are considered and adopted, they shall be estimated on a real and substantial basis, giving the source whence to be derived, the specific sum to be received from each item thereof, and no more. The council is hereby prohibited from estimating for expenditures to be derived from any uncertain or indefinite source, cause or circumstance; but the council shall, by the proper ordinances provide for the receipt

Page 156 U. S. 355

and disbursement of any sums of money, interest, rights or credits that may accrue to the corporation by bequest, grant or any cause whatever, and all such sums, rights, interests or credits so received shall be, and are hereby, appropriated for the purposes of public works and improvements, the manner and details of such appropriations to be ordered by the council."

"The council shall not under any pretext whatever appropriate any funds for the government of the corporation to the full extent of the estimated revenues, but shall reserve twenty-five percent of said estimated revenues, which reserve and all sums, rights, interests and credits received from miscellaneous or contingent sources shall be appropriated by the council for the purposes of public improvements as herein provided for."

Sections 64, 65, and 66 of Act No. 20, Acts of 1882, pp. 14, 35.

In 1886, the act just quoted was amended by providing that the council

"shall not under any pretext whatever appropriate any funds for the government of the corporation to the full extent of the revenues, but shall reserve twenty percent of said revenues, which reserve and all sums, rights, interests and credits received from miscellaneous or contingent sources shall be appropriated by the council for the purposes of permanent public improvements, as herein provided for."

In March, 1883, the City of New Orleans sanctioned the issue of transferable certificates of ownership for unpaid appropriations, which certificates entitled the creditor to receive a cash warrant for the claim in the order of the promulgation of the ordinance by which the claim was authorized. The ordinance provided that the certificates thus issued should bear no interest.

Prior to May 21, 1890, the relator herein brought three suits against the City of New Orleans in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Louisiana upon transferable certificates of 1882, issued under the ordinance aforesaid. In one suit, No. 1,900 on the docket, judgment was rendered in his favor on May 21, 1890, for $4,960.40 and costs, but without interest. Its language is:

"It is therefore

Page 156 U. S. 356

ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the plaintiff, Henry Siegel, do have and recover of and from the defendant, the City of New Orleans, the sum or $4,960.40 and costs, but without interest. The said judgment to be paid exclusively out of such revenues of the City of New Orleans for the year 1882 as may be collected by said city from revenues set apart by the amended budget of the said city for the year 1882, . . . legally and properly payable, and for which appropriation was made by said amended budget, provided that the surplus of revenue of any subsequent year may be applied to the payment of the debts of the year 1882, according to section 3 of Act No. 30, 1877."

A like judgment was rendered in the two other cases, the only difference between them being in the amounts which they covered, both amounts, separately, however, being below $5,000. At about that time or subsequently thereto, the defendant also filed against the City of New Orleans fourteen suits, numbered on the docket, respectively, from 11,914 to 11,928, omitting 11,922. These suits covered certificates of the City of New Orleans, like those already referred to, for various amounts, and against the appropriations of the years 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1882. These seventeen cases were heard together before the district and circuit judge, resulting in separate judgments, entered on June 19, 1890, in each case, as follows:

"It is therefore ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the plaintiff . . . do have and recover of and from the defendant, the City of New Orleans, the sum of _____, payable out of the revenues of the year ___, with full benefit of the provisions of section 3 of Act No. 30, 1877."

The proper blanks left above contained, in the entry of each judgment, a statement of the amount and the year against which the claim had been created. The sum of these seventeen judgments payable out of the revenues of the respective years was as follows: 1879, $21,008.36; 1880, $3,391.87; 1881, $12,311.78; 1882, $35,366.17.

Shortly after the entering of the judgments, proceedings by mandamus were commenced in all of the suits to compel the Comptroller of the City of New Orleans to pay the amounts, upon the ground that there was a surplus of revenue for the

Page 156 U. S. 357

years 1888 and 1889 in the city treasury largely in excess of the judgments, and that the relator was entitled by contract to have them paid out of the surplus revenues of any year subsequent to that in which the indebtedness which he held was created. The seventeen mandamus proceedings were ordered consolidated into one cause, to be entitled Henry Siegel v. The City of New Orleans, under the number "11,500, consolidated." The Comptroller, in this consolidated suit, made return denying that there was any surplus of revenues for the year 1888 and averring, on the contrary,

"that the budget for the City of New Orleans for the year 1888 was $1,474,093.10 for the alimony of the city and the sum of $88,752.04 for the reserve fund, making the total budget for all purposes against the revenues for that year the sum of $1,562,855.14; that the total collection out of the revenues for that year, to date of return, was the sum of $1,550,502.32; that out of said amount, the sum of $1,474,093.10 has been paid on account of the alimony of the city, and $47,343.05 has gone to pay claims out of the reserve fund; that $29,066.17 was in cash to the credit of the reserve fund for that year, and is retained to pay claims payable out of the same; that if the said $29,066.17 were paid to the creditors holding claims against the reserve fund . . . there would still remain unpaid claims against the said reserve fund to the extent of $12,342.82; that until said amount was collected there could not be a payment of all the claims charged against the reserve fund,"

and hence no surplus existed. Facts substantially similar, the figures varying in amount, were stated in regard to the funds of 1889. The return denied the existence of any special contract right in favor of the judgment creditor as against the reserve fund of the respective years. A jury having been waived, the case was submitted to the court, and resulted in a decree refusing the mandamus, and the case was brought by error here.

Page 156 U. S. 358

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