United States v. Ringgold - 33 U.S. 150 (1834)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Ringgold, 33 U.S. 8 Pet. 150 150 (1834)
United States v. Ringgold
33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 150
On the opening of the record for the argument of this case, it was found that the sum in controversy was less than the amount which, according to the act of Congress, authorizes a writ of error except on a special allocatur, from the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, to this Court. The provisions of the law permit writs of error to be sued out without such allocatur, when the sum in controversy amounts to one thousand dollars and upwards.
On the application of counsel stating the questions in the case were of great public importance and were required to be determined in order to the final settlement of other accounts in which the same principles were involved, the Court gave the special allocatur.
The Marshal of the District of Columbia, upon the settlement of his accounts at the Treasury, claimed an allowance and credit by the United States for the sum of $1,111.02, being the amount of his poundage fees on a capias ad satisfaciendum against John Gates at the suit of the United States, and upon which Gates was arrested by the defendant, as marshal, and committed to jail, and afterwards discharged by order of the United States.
Admitting the defendant in an execution to be liable for poundage if the plaintiff releases or discharges him and thereby deprives the marshal of all recourse to the defendant, there can be no doubt that the plaintiff would thereby make himself responsible for the poundage.
By the statutes of Maryland relative to poundage fees, in force in the County of Washington, in the District of Columbia, the marshal is entitled to poundage on an execution executed, and they fix the rate of allowance; those statutes do not designate which of the parties shall pay the poundage.
It is undoubtedly a general rule that no court can give a direct judgment against the United States for costs in a suit to which they are a party, either on behalf of any suitor or any officer of the government. But it by no means follows from this that they are not liable for their own costs. No direct suit can be maintained against the United States. But when an action is brought by the United States to recover money in the hands of a party who has a legal claim against them for costs, it would be a very rigid principle to deny to him the right of setting up such claim in a court of justice, and turn him round to an
application to Congress. If the right of the party is fixed by the existing law, there can be no necessity for an application to Congress except for the purpose of remedy. And no such necessity can exist when this right can properly be set up by way of defense to a suit by the United States.
The discharge in this case is absolute and unconditional, and the marshal had no authority to hold the defendant in custody afterwards. Admitting Gates to have been liable for these poundage fees, the marshal's power or right to compel payment from him was taken away by authority of the United States, the
plaintiff in the suit. And the right of the marshal to claim his poundage fees from them is thereby clearly established.
This was an action of assumpsit instituted by the United States in the circuit court to recover the sum of $345, money of the plaintiffs, alleged to have been received by the defendant as Marshal of the District of Columbia. The defendant pleaded nonassumpsit, and issue was joined thereon. The counsel for the plaintiffs and defendant submitted the following statement, subject to the opinion of the court on the law and facts.
This is an action of assumpsit, brought to recover the sum of $345, money of the plaintiffs which came to the hands of the defendant as marshal of the District of Columbia. Upon the settlement of the defendant's accounts as marshal with the Treasury, he claimed an allowance and credit for the sum of $1,111.02 (see account marked A), being the amount of his poundage fees on a capias ad satisfaciendum against John Gates at the suit of the United States, and upon which Gates was arrested by the defendant as marshal and committed to jail, and afterwards discharged by order of the President of the United States. (See statement marked B.) It is agreed that this claim was presented to the accounting officers of the Treasury before the institution of this suit, and disallowed.
United States, Dr. June term, 1819
To cepi ca. sa. v. John Gates; released from jail by
order of the President of the United States . . . . .50
Writ and return . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
Poundage fees on first $26.67, at 7 1/2 percent . . . 2.00
Ditto on residue, $36,946 at 3 percent. . . . . . . . 1,108.38
T. RINGGOLD, M.D.C.
"District of Columbia, County of Washington, Circuit Court, December term 1818. United States v. John Gates, Jr. January 5, 1819. Judgment for sixty-five thousand dollars,
current money, damages, to be released on payment of $63,597.73 or such other sum as may hereafter be certified by the accounting officers of the Treasury -- costs $11.82. Upon which judgment execution (ca. sa) was issued to June term, 1819, and returned by the marshal with the following endorsements thereon: "
"Certificate of second auditor of amount due"
"Treasury Department, Second Auditor's Office, 27 March 1819. I certify, that on settlement of the account of John Gates, Jr., late paymaster of the United States light artillery, on 29 October, 1818, a balance of $36,960 was found due by him to the United States, which said balance is now standing against him on the books at this office."
"WILLIAM LEE, 2d Auditor"
"Return of marshal"
"Cepi, released by order of the President of the United States, herewith returned."
"T. RINGGOLD, Marshal"
"President's order of discharge"
"To the Marshal of the District of Columbia. Whereas John Gates, Jr., of the County of Albany in the District of New York, is confined and held in custody in the prison aforesaid in pursuance of a certain judgment and execution obtained at the suit of the United States, and whereas it appears to my satisfaction that the said John Gates, Jr., is unable to pay the said debt for which he is imprisoned, now therefore, by virtue of the power and authority vested in the President of the United States by an Act of Congress passed the 3 March, 1817, entitled 'an act supplementary to an act for the relief of persons imprisoned for debts due the United States,' I, James Monroe, President of the United States, do hereby authorize you to discharge from your custody out of the prison aforesaid the body of the said John Gates, Jr.."
"Given under my hand in the City of Washington this 5 March, 1819, and forty-third year of the independence of the United States."
The circuit court gave judgment in favor of the defendant, and the United States prosecuted this writ of error.