Dox v. Postmaster General
26 U.S. 318 (1828)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Dox v. Postmaster General, 26 U.S. 1 Pet. 318 318 (1828)

Dox v. Postmaster General

26 U.S. (1 Pet.) 318

Syllabus

The act of Congress for regulating the Post Office Department does not in terms discharge the obligors in the official bond of a deputy postmaster from the direct claim of the United States upon them on the failure of the Postmaster General to commence a suit against the defaulting postmaster within the time prescribed by law. Their liability therefore continues. They remain the debtors of the United States. The responsibility of the Postmaster General is superadded to, not substituted for, that of the obligors.

The claim of the United States upon an official bond and upon all parties thereto is not released by the laches of the officer to whom the assertion of this claim is entrusted by law. Such laches have no effect whatsoever on the rights of the United States as well against the sureties as the principal in the bond.

The cause was commenced in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of New York, and removed by writ of error to the circuit court.

The following were the points of disagreement:

1st. Whether the district court had jurisdiction of the cause.

2d. Whether, by the facts appearing on the record and admitted by the pleadings or found by the jury, the sureties are exonerated or discharged from their liability upon the bond set forth in the record.

3d. Whether the said bond, from the facts so found or admitted by the pleadings or appearing on the record, can, in judgment of law, be considered as paid and satisfied, or otherwise discharged.

The original suit was commenced in the district court in August, 1823, and the plaintiff declared in debt on a bond in the penal sum of $6,000, executed on 1 January, 1816, by Gerrit L. Dox, Peter Dox, Gerrit La Grange, and Isaiah Townsend, conditioned for the faithful performance of the duties of postmaster at Albany by Gerrit L. Dox.

The declaration alleged two breaches of the condition of the bond:

1. That said Gerrit L. Dox did not, at any time between

Page 26 U. S. 319

1 January, 1816, and 1 January, 1817 (he being, during the whole of that time, Postmaster as aforesaid), render any accounts of his receipts and expenditures according to the condition of said bond, but utterly neglected so to do.

2. That after the date of said bond, and more than three months previous to the commencement of the suit, there came to the hands of said Gerrit L. Dox, as such postmaster as aforesaid, the sum of $6,000 for postages, over and above commissions, &c., which he had not paid over to the Postmaster General, but had refused so to do, although often requested, &c.

Gerrit L. Dox, the principal obligor, pleaded separately three pleas:

1. Non est factum, and tendered an issue.

2. To the first breach, that he did render true accounts of his receipts and expenditures as such postmaster, &c., and tendered an issue.

3. To the second breach, that he had paid to the Postmaster General all the moneys he had received, over and above his commissions, &c., and tendered an issue.

Issues were joined on these pleas as tendered.

The defendants, Peter Dox, Gerrit La Grange, and Isaiah Townsend, the sureties of said Gerrit L. Dox, pleaded six pleas:

1. Non est factum, and tendered an issue.

2. To the first breach, that Gerrit L. Dox did render true accounts of his receipts and expenditures, &c., and tendered an issue.

3. To the second breach, that the said Gerrit L. Dox had paid to the Postmaster General all the moneys he had received over and above his commissions, &c., and tendered an issue.

4. To the second breach, that they executed the bond as sureties; that Gerrit L. Dox was removed from office on the first day of July, A.D. 1816; that the Postmaster General, knowing there were sureties, did not open an account against Gerrit L. Dox, and make any claim and demand on him for the moneys received by him as Postmaster, until the first day of July, A.D. 1821, at which time the Postmaster General did open an account against and claim and demand of said Gerrit L. Dox, the sum of $3,041.35; that Gerrit L. Dox, at the time of his removal from office, was solvent and able to pay his debts, and continued so for three years, and until 1 July, 1819, and that after 1 July, 1819, and before the 1 July, 1821, to-wit, on 1 January, A.D. 1820, he became insolvent, and still continues to be insolvent. This plea concluded with a verification.

Page 26 U. S. 320

5. To the second breach, that they executed said bond as sureties for said Gerrit L. Dox, that said Gerrit L. Dox was removed from office on the first day of July, A.D. 1816; that the Postmaster General, well knowing that they were sureties for Gerrit L. Dox, and that Gerrit L. Dox had neglected and refused to pay over to the Postmaster General, the balance due from him at the end of every quarter while he was such postmaster, did not commence a suit against said Gerrit L. Dox for his neglect and refusal to pay, until August in the year 1821, at which time a suit was commenced against him and his sureties, on the bond in question; that Gerrit L. Dox was solvent at the time of his removal from office, viz., on 1 July, 1816, and continued so for three years, and until 1 July, A.D. 1819, and that after 1 July, 1819, and before 1 July, 1821, viz., on 1 January, A.D. 1820, he became insolvent, and still continues to be insolvent. This plea also concluded with a verification.

The plaintiff took issues on the first, second, and third pleas of the sureties as they were tendered, and to the fourth, fifth, and sixth pleas, respectively, he replied that said Gerrit L. Dox was not solvent at the time of his removal from office, nor did he continue to be solvent for the space of three years thereafter, or any part of said time, nor did he on 1 January, 1820, or at any other time after 1 July, 1819, become insolvent, and thereupon issues were joined.

The issues were tried at the May session of the court in the year 1824. All the issues were found for the plaintiff except those joined on the fourth, fifth, and sixth pleas of the sureties, which were found in favor of said sureties; the breaches assigned, having been found to be true, as above stated, the damages on them were assessed at $6,000.

After the verdict and at the same session of the court, a motion was made on behalf of the said Postmaster General for judgment in his favor notwithstanding the verdict against him on said fourth, fifth, and sixth issues with the sureties, and judgment given for the said plaintiff.

Page 26 U. S. 323

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