United States v. Ewing
184 U.S. 140 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Ewing, 184 U.S. 140 (1902)

United States v. Ewing

No. 226

Argued November 12-13, 1901

Decided February 21, 1902

184 U.S. 140

Syllabus

Construing the Act of March 3, 1883, c. 119, 22 Stat. 487, and the Act of June 12, 1886, 14 Stat. 69, both relating to the salaries of postmasters, as their terms require, the judgment of the Court of Claims in this case is erroneous; but the charges of misconduct, maladministration, and fraud against the officers of the Post Office Department, so freely scattered through the briefs of counsel for appellee, are entirely unwarranted by anything contained in the record.

The government appeals from a judgment of the Court of Claims awarding to the petitioner the sum of $1,264.83 upon a readjustment of salary for his services as postmaster at Gadsden, in the State of Alabama, between July 1, 1866, and June 30, 1874. The original petition was filed in October, 1888, in consequence of the passage of the Act of March 3, 1883, c. 119, 22 Stat. 487, which reads as follows:

"That the Postmaster General be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to readjust the salaries of all postmasters and late postmasters of the third, fourth, and fifth classes, under the

Page 184 U. S. 141

classification provided for in the Act of July 1, eighteen hundred and sixty-four, whose salaries have not heretofore been readjusted under the terms of section eight of the Act of June 12, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, who made sworn returns of receipts and business for readjustment of salary to the Postmaster General, the First Assistant Postmaster General, or the Third Assistant Postmaster General, or who made quarterly returns in conformity to the then existing laws and regulations, showing that the salary allowed was ten percentum less than it would have been upon the basis of commissions under the act of eighteen hundred and fifty-four; such readjustments to be made in accordance with the mode presented in section eight of the Act of June 12, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, and to date from the beginning of the quarter succeeding that in which such sworn returns of receipts and business, or quarterly returns were made: Provided, That every readjustment of salary under this act shall be upon a written application signed by the postmaster or late postmaster or legal representative entitled to said readjustment, and that each payment made shall be by warrant or check on the Treasurer or some assistant treasurer of the United States, made payable to the order of said applicant, and forwarded by mail to him at the post office within whose delivery he resides, and which address shall be set forth in the application above provided for."

The petitioner claimed that, by a readjustment of his salary under that act he was entitled to be paid a difference of $1,264.83 between the salary actually paid him and the amount to which he was entitled by reason of such act.

By the Act of June 22, 1854, 10 Stat. 298, Congress provided for the compensation of postmasters by allowing them commissions on one postage collected at their respective offices in each quarter of the year, and in due proportion for any period less than a quarter. The compensation awarded was as follows:

On any sum not exceeding $100, 60 percent;

On any sum over and above $100, and not exceeding $400, 50 percent;

On any sum over and above $400, and not exceeding $2,400, 40 percent;

Page 184 U. S. 142

On all sums over $2,400, 15 percent

This method of compensation was changed by Congress by the passage of the Act of July 1, 1864, 13 Stat. 335. By that act, it was provided that the annual compensation of postmasters should be at a fixed salary in lieu of commissions, the postmasters to be divided into five classes, with compensation respectively as follows:

First class to receive not more than $4,000, nor less than $3,000;

Second class to receive less than $3,000, and not less than $2,000;

Third class to receive less than $2,000, and not less than $1,000;

Fourth class to receive less than $1,000, and not less than $100;

Fifth class to receive less than $100.

The first section of the act then proceeds as follows:

"Whenever the compensation of postmasters of the several offices (except the office of New York) for the two consecutive years next preceding the first day of July, 1864, shall have amounted to an average annual sum not less than $3,000, such offices shall be assigned to the first class; whenever it shall have amounted to less than $3,000, but not less than $2,000, such offices shall be assigned to the second class; whenever it shall have amounted to less than $2,000, but not less than $1,000, such offices shall be assigned to the third class; whenever it shall have amounted to less than $1,000, but not less than $100, such offices shall be assigned to the fourth class, and whenever it shall have amounted to less than $100, such offices shall be assigned to the fifth class. To offices of the first, second, and third classes shall be severally assigned salaries, in even hundreds of dollars, as nearly as practicable in amount the same as, but not exceeding, the average compensation of the postmasters thereof for the two years next preceding, and to offices of the fourth class shall be assigned severally salaries, in even tens of dollars, as nearly as practicable in amount the same as, but not exceeding, such average compensation for the two years next preceding, and to offices of the fifth class shall be severally assigned

Page 184 U. S. 143

salaries, in even dollars, as nearly as practicable in amount the same as, but not exceeding, such average compensation for the two years next preceding. Wherever returns showing the average of annual compensation of postmasters for the two years next preceding the first day of July, 1864, shall not have been received at the Post Office Department at the time of adjustment, the same may be estimated by the Postmaster General for the purpose of adjusting the salaries of postmasters herein provided for. And it shall be the duty of the Auditor of the Treasury for the Post Office Department to obtain from postmasters their quarterly accounts with the vouchers necessary to a correct adjustment thereof, and to report to the Postmaster General all failures of postmasters to render such returns within a proper period after the close of each quarter."

"SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That the Postmaster General shall review once in two years, and in special cases, upon satisfactory representation, as much oftener as he may deem expedient, and readjust, on the basis of the preceding section, the salary assigned by him to any office; but any change made in such salary shall not take effect until the first day of the quarter next following such order, and all orders made assigning or changing salaries shall be made in writing and recorded in his journal, and notified to the Auditor for the Post Office Department."

Subsequently, by section 8 of the Act of June 12, 1866, 14 Stat. 59, 60, section 2 of the act of 1864 was amended by adding the following:

"Provided, That when the quarterly returns of any postmaster of the third, fourth, or the fifth class show that the salary allowed is ten percentum less than it would be on the basis of commissions under the act of 1854, fixing compensation, then the Postmaster General shall review and readjust under the provisions of said section."

The Court of Claims finds that the petitioner was, as postmaster of Gadsden, Alabama, paid:

For his services between July 1, 1866, and June 30,

1868, $73 per year, or for two years . . . . . . . . $ 146.00

Page 184 U. S. 144

For his services between July 1, 1868, and June 30,

1870 at $220 per year, or for two years. . . . . . . 440.00

For his services between July 1, 1870, and June 30,

1872 at $460 per year, or for two years. . . . . . . 920.00

For his services between July 1,1872, and June 30,

1874 at $540 per year, or for two years. . . . . . . 1,080.00

In addition thereto since said service for the two

years between July 1, 1868, and June 30, 1870,

$45.95 per year, amounting for the two years to. . . 91.90

And for the two years between July 1, 1870, and

June 30, 1872, $47.50 per year, amounting for

the two years to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95.00

---------

Amounting in all to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $2,772.90

"During his first biennial term his adjusted salary was less than $100."

"During his second, third, and fourth biennial terms his adjusted salary was more than $100 and less than $1,000 per annum."

"III. He made application in writing to the Postmaster General for readjustment and payment of salary (under chapter 119 of the Laws of 1883) for service as postmaster, in accordance with chapter 61 of the Laws of 1854 and section 8 of chapter 114 of the Laws of 1866. This he did prior to January 1, 1887. The Postmaster General thereupon stated plaintiff's account, as shown later in these findings. This statement shows that (if plaintiff be correct in his contention as to the law) his salary for the four biennial terms between July 1, 1866, and June 30, 1874, should have been $4,037.73, whereas he has been paid in all for said terms but $2,772.90; so (if he be correct) there is still due him as readjusted salary $1,264.83."

The court also sets out certain correspondence between its clerk (under its direction) and the Postmaster General in regard

Page 184 U. S. 145

to papers in the Post Office Department, showing or tending to show what action, if any, had been taken by the department on request of petitioner for readjustment of salary under the act of 1883. It does not clearly appear therefrom that Postmaster General Wanamaker, to whom the clerk addressed his communication, had readjusted the salary, but subsequently to the correspondence the Court of Claims finds, in its fifth finding, that, on November 19, 1897, Postmaster General Gary certified and returned to the Court of Claims a readjustment of the petitioner's salary and documents relating to the action of the Post Office Department in this and similar cases, and the court in such fifth finding concludes thus:

"If the foregoing readjustment of Postmaster General Wanamaker is the readjustment prescribed and intended by the statutes therein referred to, there is no balance of salary remaining due the plaintiff. If the readjustment hereinafter set forth of Postmaster General Gary is the readjustment prescribed and intended by the said statutes, there remains due to the plaintiff the sum of $1,264.83."

But the court, by its conclusion of law, finds that no legal readjustment of salary was made by Postmaster General Wanamaker, and that the readjustment made by Postmaster General Gary was valid under the statute, and therefore ordered judgment for $1,264.83.

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