Ball v. Halsell - 161 U.S. 72 (1896)
U.S. Supreme Court
Ball v. Halsell, 161 U.S. 72 (1896)
Ball v. Halsell
Submitted December 18, 1895
Decided March 2, 1896
161 U.S. 72
By the Act of February 26, 1853, c. 81, § 1 (Rev. Stat. § 3477), every specific assignment, in whatever form, of any claim against the United States, under a statute or treaty, whether to be presented to one of the executive
departments or to be prosecuted in the Court of Claims, is void, unless assented to by the United States.
A contract, by which the owner of a claim against the United States for Indian depredations appointed an attorney to receive and give acquittances for one-half of the money which the attorney might recover of the United States upon that claim, will not, although the attorney has obtained from the Secretary of the Interior a recommendation for the payment of a certain sum upon that claim, but for the payment of which Congress has made no appropriation, support an action by the attorney against the principal for part of a less sum recovered upon that claim from the United States in the Court of Claims under the subsequent Act of March 3, 1891, c. 358, out of which the attorney has been allowed and paid less than twenty per cent of that sum, as provided by that act.
This was an action brought August 18, 1893, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Texas, by Thomas Ball, a citizen of the State of Virginia, against Julia F. Halsell, a citizen of the State of Texas, residing in that district, and the widow, legatee, and executrix of J. G. Halsell, upon a written contract, made with the plaintiff by said Halsell, in his lifetime, in these words:
"We, the undersigned, parties of the first part, do hereby constitute and appoint Thomas Ball our lawful attorney to receive, and to make, sign, and give all necessary acquittances and receipts for, one-half of all money which may be received by him as our attorney at law for prosecuting claims against the United States government, on account of the depredations of the Comanche and Kiowa Indians on our property of horses, mules, and cattle in the State of Texas. Said one-half being the amount agreed by us to pay him of all that he may recover of said government for said depredations."
"Given under our hands this 22d day of may, A.D. 1874."
"J. G. Halsell"
The signature of the contract was admitted. The other material facts, as alleged in the petition, and found by the court (to which the parties, waiving a trial by jury, submitted the case), were as follows:
The plaintiff presented to the Department of the Interior in March, 1875, a claim of Halsell, amounting to $24,860, for such depredations, and prosecuted it before the department,
and the department recommended payment of the sum of $19,625 to Halsell for such depredations. No appropriation was made by Congress to pay the sum so awarded. On March 6, 1891, after the passage by Congress of Act March 3, 1891, c. 538, entitled "An act to provide for the adjudication and payment of claims arising from Indian depredations," Ball, acting under his power of attorney, brought a suit in behalf of Halsell, under the provisions of that act, in the Court of Claims, to recover the sum so awarded by the Department of the Interior, and after the death of Halsell, and the substitution of his executrix as claimant in his stead, judgment was rendered for the sum of $17,720 in her favor, and against the United States and the Kiowa and Comanche tribes of Indians, and by the terms of that judgment the sum of $1,500 was awarded to Ball as the claimant's attorney. Soon afterwards the United States paid this sum to him, and paid the amount of the Judgment for $17,720, less this sum, to the executrix.
In the present suit, Ball claimed to be entitled to recover, under the contract aforesaid, one-half of said amount of $17,720, less the sum of $1,500 paid him.
The defendant, in her answer, alleged that
"the contract described in the plaintiff's petition, if any such was ever made, was declared void by the ninth section of the Act of March 3, 1891, of the Congress of the United States, entitled 'An act to provide for the adjudication and payment of claims arising from Indian depredations,' and, by the authority and directions of the same section, an allowance, and all that said act permitted to be paid the plaintiff under his said employment, was made to the plaintiff in the judgment rendered by said Court of Claims in favor of this defendant, and was paid to him out of the Treasury of the United States."
Upon the facts above stated, the circuit court made the following conclusion of law:
"The court being of opinion that said contract is rendered nugatory, and the provision therein made for compensation for said attorney, Thomas Ball, is superseded by the ninth section of the Act of March 3, 1891, and being of opinion that said contract is not enforceable,
and that said statute above referred to fixes and provides for the payment of all the compensation which attorneys prosecuting the claim under said act are entitled to receive, judgment is rendered for the defendant."
The plaintiff sued out this writ of error.