Earle v. Myers
207 U.S. 244 (1907)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Earle v. Myers, 207 U.S. 244 (1907)

Earle v. Myers

No. 12, 388

Argued October 15, 1907

Decided December 2, 1907

207 U.S. 244

Syllabus

In an accounting for attorneys' fees for collection of claims against the government, this Court followed the general rule of affirming a finding of fact made and confirmed by both the courts below unless the same is clearly erroneous, and held that certain services were of the character generally designated as lobbying services and could not be allowed.

Where an administrator of an attorney performs services and incurs expenses in completing the business in which his intestate and another attorney were interested, he should be allowed therefor, and those services and expenses as well as those rendered and incurred by the intestate can be settled in one suit where the account has been treated by both parties as one account.

Where one interested in attorney fees for collection of government claims can expect nothing until the amount adjudged has been appropriated, laches will not be charged against him if he bring the suit for an accounting within a reasonable period after the passage of the appropriation act. In this case, two years was not unreasonable.

A decree of the court of appeals of the District of Columbia reversing the Supreme Court of the District as to some of the findings of fact and conclusions of law and directing a new decree to be entered in accordance with the opinion is not a final decree, and an appeal will not lie therefrom to this Court.

The appeals in the above numbers involve the judgment of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia (25 App.D.C. 582, sub nom. Waggaman v. Earle), which modified the decree of the Supreme Court, confirming the report of an auditor. The action was brought by the appellees against the administrator of Earle's estate for an accounting, and after issue joined it was referred to an auditor to state the account upon the pleadings and proof placed before him. The auditor reported in favor of allowing the complainant, as due the Causten estate, the sum of $7,462.20. After the report had been confirmed by

Page 207 U. S. 245

the Supreme Court, each side took an appeal and the Court of Appeals reversed some of the findings and conclusions of law of the court below, and directed a new decree to be entered in accordance with the opinion of the court. The defendants appealed from that order to this Court, and that appeal is the above number 12.

Fearing that there might be some doubt as to the finality of this decree for the purpose of an appeal to this Court, the parties, pursuant to the decree of the Court of Appeals, took the case down to the trial court, which referred it to the auditor, who restated the account in accordance with the direction of the Court of Appeals, to which exceptions were filed by the defendant, which were overruled, the auditor's report confirmed and another decree entered, from which an appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals and there affirmed, and from the decree of affirmance an appeal has been taken to this Court and allowed, which is number 388.

The material facts which appear in the record are the following: for many years, a series of attempts had been made to secure legislation from Congress looking to the payment of claims made by American citizens for damages arising from illegal seizure of their vessels by the government of France, which the United States had by treaty undertaken to pay. Such attempts had been unsuccessful, until at length an act was passed by Congress, chapter 25 of the Laws of 1885 (23 Stat. 283), which provided for the ascertaining of claims of American citizens for spoliation prior to the thirty-first of July, 1801.

During quite a number of years preceding the act of 1885, one James H. Causten, a resident of the District of Columbia, had accumulated papers which were regarded as of considerable value in facilitating proofs of these claims. Mr. Causten died before the passage of the act of Congress, leaving these papers in the hands of Mr. William E. Earle, who was also interested in the prosecution of said claims, and therefore desired the benefit of the use of these papers, and, after the act of Congress, Mr. Earle and Mr. Waggaman, the administrator of the estate

Page 207 U. S. 246

of Mr. Causten, entered into a contract as of the date of June 12, 1885, by which Mr. Earle was to be allowed to continue in the possession and exclusive use of these papers in the prosecution of the spoliation claims, for which possession and exclusive use he was to pay to the administrator (Waggaman) twenty-five percent of all fees which he should receive on account of these claims,

"after deducting from all such fees received, or which shall hereafter be received by him, the proper expenses incurred by him, since the passage of the act of Congress, referring said cases to the Court of Claims in the prosecution of said French spoliation claims, such as clerk hire, printing, advertising, office rent, and the compensation of other attorneys necessarily associated with him, and in whose compensation said Earle does not share. And settlements between said Earle and said Waggaman, administrator as aforesaid, or his successor in office, shall be made every six months, and the proportionate part of said fees due said administrator shall be paid over to said administrator or his successor in office at such settlement."

Earle agreed to keep true books of account of all fees and retainers received by him, and also of all expenses attending the prosecution of the claims in which he should be engaged as counsel or otherwise, the books of account to be open at all times for the inspection of the administrator, or his successor in office.

Thereafter proceedings were taken by Earle in the Court of Claims towards proving the claims of his clients, and the action of that court recognizing such claims among others, to a certain extent, was certified to Congress, as provided in the act of 1885.

On March 3, 1891 (26 Stat. 897), Congress made an appropriation in payment of a portion of all claims so certified, and out of this appropriation Mr. Earle received as fees up to July, 1893, the sum of about $38,000, while his books showed an expenditure of over $57,000, leaving Mr. Earle some $18,000 behind. Future legislation was expected, which would turn

Page 207 U. S. 247

this deficit into a profit. It was hoped that a further appropriation would be made in 1893, but that hope was not realized. Mr. Earle died in August, 1893, and an administrator was thereafter appointed. No further appropriation was made until March 3, 1899 (30 Stat. 1161, 1191). Under this appropriation, the estate of Earle received some $50,000 in fees.

Negotiations for the settlement of the accounts between the administrator of Earle's estate and the administrator of Causten's estate were proceeded with, but proved unsuccessful, when this suit was instituted by the Causten administrator for an accounting. Pleadings were had in due form, and the case was referred to an auditor of the court for a statement of the account, who, after considerable testimony had been adduced, filed his report and found the sum of $7,462.20 to be due from the defendant to the complainant. Exceptions were filed by both parties, which were overruled by the Supreme Court, and the auditor's report was confirmed.

The Court of Appeals modified the decree entered by the Supreme Court, as already stated.

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