Stewart v. United States
58 U.S. 116 (1854)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Stewart v. United States, 58 U.S. 17 How. 116 116 (1854)

Stewart v. United States

8 U.S. (17 How.) 116

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

Congress have directed by law that in certain cases the duties of collectors of the revenue should be united with those of naval officer or surveyor of the port, but never with those of inspector of the customs.

Therefore, where a person held the two offices of collector of the revenue and inspector of the customs, and charged a salary for each office separately, it was irregular.

In May, 1822, Congress passed an act, 3 Stat. 693, directing that

"No collector, surveyor, or naval officer, shall ever receive more than $400 annually, exclusive of his compensation as collector, surveyor, or naval officer, and the fines and forfeitures allowed by law for any services he may perform for the United States in any other office or capacity."

This act was intended to provide compensation to the collector &c., for extraordinary services incident to their respective offices, and to them only; but did not include the union of the two offices of collector and inspector of the customs. A different mode and rate of compensation for inspectors was provided by law.

There was an agreed statement of facts in the record, which is transcribed in the opinion of the Court, and therefore it is unnecessary to recite it here.

Stewart was sued in 1835, and voluntarily appeared. From

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that time to 1850, the cause was regularly continued upon the docket. Under the instructions of the court, the jury found a verdict for the plaintiffs, for $638.81, with interest from the 13th of January, 1833.

Stewart brought the case up to this Court by writ of error.

Page 58 U. S. 124

Mr. Justice DANIEL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case comes before us upon a writ of error to a judgment of the Circuit Court of the United States for Washington County, in the District of Columbia, in favor of the defendants in error against the plaintiff as collector of the revenue for the District of Michilimackinac. The jury, upon the trial in the circuit

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court, rendered a verdict for the defendants in error for the sum of $638.81, with interest thereon from the 13th day of January, 1833, and for this amount the court, at its October term, 1852, gave judgment.

The questions of law passed upon and reserved by a bill of exceptions in the court below, and which this Court are now called on to review, arise upon the following agreed statement of facts, namely:

That on or about the 12th March, 1818, the defendant was appointed by the President of the United States collector for the District of Michilimackinac, and inspector of the revenue for the port thereof, which offices he continued to hold, by successive reappointments, and to receive the emoluments of, till the 15th day of January, 1833.

"That on or about the 1st April, 1819, the defendant was appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury inspector of the customs for the port of Michilimackinac, which office he continued to hold under his original appointment until January 15, 1833. The defendant's is the only case found on record of a collector holding at the same time the office of inspector of the customs. His allowance, in this capacity, was fixed by the Secretary at forty dollars a month, and so continued until the second quarter of the year 1820, when it was increased by the Secretary to three dollars per day, the maximum allowance permitted by law to a regular inspector of the customs. The defendant continued to be paid, as inspector of the customs, at this rate, till the 1st July, 1822, when the Act of Congress of the 7th May, 1822, went into effect, entitled, 'An act further to establish the compensation of officers of the customs, and to alter certain collection districts, and for other purposes.' 3 Stat. 693. The 18th section of this act is as follows:"

" No collector, surveyor, or naval officer shall ever receive more than $400 annually, exclusive of his compensation as collector, surveyor, or naval officer, and the fines and forfeitures allowed by law, for any services he may perform for the United States in any other office or capacity."

"A copy of the foregoing law was duly transmitted by the Treasury Department to the defendant. In his accounts for the 3d and 4th quarters of the year 1822, the defendant charged compensation at the rate of $3 a day as inspector of customs, which charge was disallowed at the Treasury, and in his accounts for the first three quarters of the year 1823, he charged compensation at the rate of $40 a month as inspector of the customs, which latter charge was also disallowed at the Treasury. The defendant rendered several other accounts, containing no charge as inspector of the customs, till the end of the year 1824. In a Treasury settlement, made at that date, the defendant is

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credited with $1,000,"

"the amount of an allowance made by the Secretary of the Treasury, to the collector, for services as inspector, from 1st July, 1822, to 31st of December, 1824, at $400 per annum."

"In his account rendered for the 1st quarter of the year 1825, the defendant charged himself with the balance found due from him on the next preceding settlement, in which he had been allowed but $400 per annum, as inspector of the customs, and in his several successive settlements from that time to 31st December, 1831, continued to charge only $400 per annum, as inspector of the customs."

"By the Act of 2 March, 1831, 'to regulate the foreign and coasting trade on the northern, northwestern, and northeastern frontiers of the United States, and for other purposes,' 4 Stat. 487, the compensation of every collector, on the northern and northeastern and northwestern lakes and rivers, 'was fixed at an amount equal to the entire compensation received by such officer during the past year.' The defendant was credited in 1831 and subsequently, with the compensation allowed to him in 1830, being $835 85/100, which included $400, allowed him as inspector of the customs. In 1832, he charged his compensation under this law, but in the 4th quarter of that year he claimed the difference between $400 and 1,095 a year from the 30th of June, 1822, to the 31st of December, 1832, being $7,297 50/100, for ten years and six months. This claim was, before the commencement of this suit, presented to the accounting officers of the Treasury for their examination, and was disallowed. On the foregoing evidence, the counsel for the defendant prayed the court to instruct the jury as follows: that the 18th section of the Act of Congress, passed on the 7th of May, 1822, further to establish the compensation of the officers of the customs &c., was not intended to operate, and ought not to be construed as operating, so as to limit the salary or compensation of any district officer, which may by distinct and independent appointment be vested in the person of one holding at the same time the separate office of collector, surveyor, or naval officer, and that such limitation applies only to cases where the collector, surveyor, or naval officer is called to perform services in any other office or capacity, in virtue of, and as an incident to, his office -- not to any case where either of those officers was appointed to and executed the duties of another separate office, whilst collector, surveyor, or naval officer."

"If, therefore, the defendant was appointed to, and held and exercised, the office of inspector of customs, at the same time as that of collector of Michilimackinac, such office of inspector was not within the purview of the 18th section of the said act."

"Which instruction the court refused to give. "

Page 58 U. S. 127

In the above statement of the claim of the plaintiff in error there is an apparent confusion in terms which it may be proper here to mention, although its elucidation is not deemed essential to the decision of this case. Thus it is said that the plaintiff in error was, in March, 1818, commissioned by the President collector for the District of Michilimackinac and inspector of the revenue for the port thereof, which offices he held by successive commissions until the 15th of January, 1833. In the next place it is stated that the plaintiff in error was, on the 1st of April, 1819, appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury inspector of the customs for that port, which latter office he also continued to hold under this appointment until the 15th of January, 1833.

If by these two statements a distinction is designed between the office of inspector of the revenue and that of inspector of the customs, this Court can perceive no warrant for any such distinction, but must regard the terms used as properly applicable to those inspectors or agents who, by the 21st section of the revenue law of March 2, 1799, are authorized, together with weighers, gaugers, and measurers, to be employed by the collectors, with the approbation of the officer at the head of the Treasury Department.

Again, regarding as we do the place of inspector, alleged to have been conferred by each of the appointments spoken of by the plaintiff, to be the same in character and objects as provided in the statutes, there would be a manifest irregularity in an attempt to refer its origin and commencement to different sources of creation, and thus to cover the same duties and obligations, and for the same period of time, under the guise of distinct and separate commissions.

The foundation of the claim preferred by the plaintiff in error rests on the position that the offices of collector and surveyor are separate and different in their character and in the powers and duties allotted to each, and that under his separate commission and in the discharge of his separate and appropriate duties, each officer is entitled to his separate and appropriate compensation.

Let us examine this proposition -- nay, let it, as a general proposition, be conceded -- the inquiry will still remain how far the concession will sustain the claim of the plaintiff in the present instance.

It is undeniably true that the Act of Congress of March 2, 1799, Stat. 642, creates and enumerates separately the different offices of collector, naval officer, surveyor of the port, inspector, weigher, gauger, and measurer, and defines and prescribes the functions and duties of each respectively. And it is clear that in ports or districts in which all these offices

Page 58 U. S. 128

are called into actual existence, the functions and duties assigned to any one of them are not appropriated in terms nor by necessary implication to any of the others; on the contrary, those duties and functions, as distributed by the law, appear to be different, and in some sense incompatible with their union in the same individual, being in some instances in their nature supervisory and being designed to insure the fulfillment of a portion of those duties by others.

But whilst this is the case, there cannot be denied to Congress the power, under circumstances satisfactory to themselves, to blend in the same person or office functions or duties which, under another aspect of facts, they have thought it proper to divide and distribute. This is clearly a question of legislative discretion bearing upon views of public necessity or policy, and accordingly we find that, in view of such policy or necessity, Congress has, by the very same Act of March 2, 1799, materially modified and to a certain extent contravened the previous organization prescribed for the collection of the revenue, adapting such modification to the facts or necessities as they should really exist.

Notwithstanding, however, the power must be conceded to Congress to combine in the same officer duties and powers in their nature seemingly incompatible, that power can be conceded to the legislative authority alone and expressly declared, and cannot be implied upon any sound principle of legal interpretation or of public policy. Congress have, it is true, ordained in certain conjunctures the union of the duties of collector, naval officer, and surveyor of the port, but under no circumstances have they transferred to either of the officers just enumerated the duties of inspector of the customs. This last-named agent, it is said by the statute, may, with the approbation of the officer at the head of the Treasury Department, be employed by the collector. Under this provision of the statute, the question arises whether the collector qua collector can, under any circumstances, apart from express legislative direction, become inspector of the customs, or under the authority to employ such an agent can contract with himself to employ himself as such an agent? We are very sure that such a proceeding on the part of the collector is not authorized by the language of the statute, and we think it not warranted by any sound principle of policy, which on the contrary would inculcate a course tending rather to prevent than to invite to fraud and collusion. The collector therefore is not the inspector virtute officii, nor warranted in employing himself as inspector, nor in assuming the functions, nor in claiming the compensation, allowable to the latter officer.

In the case under consideration, the plaintiff in error has, by

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the accounting officers of the government, been allowed for compensation, as inspector the sum of $40 per month until sometime in the year 1820, and from the period last mentioned he was, for similar services, allowed the compensation of $3 per diem until the 1st of July, 1822, from which last period the compensation of the collector was limited by the government, for all extra services, to the sum of $400 per annum, under the 18th section of the Act of May 7, 1822, which declares

"That no collector, surveyor, or naval officer, shall ever receive more than $400 annually, exclusive of his compensation as collector, surveyor, or naval officer, and the fines and forfeitures allowed by law for any services he may perform for the United States in any other office or capacity."

The several allowances made by the government to the plaintiff in error, as inspector of the customs and received by him in that character and acquiesced in by both parties may be regarded as no longer presenting subjects of controversy, but the facts of such allowances and the acceptance of them cannot be permitted to control the construction of a public law, nor to influence a claim now asserted under the provisions of that law; much less can they be regarded as affecting the power of Congress to regulate prospectively the duties and emoluments of agents created by its authority. When, therefore, the plaintiff in error advances a claim in the character of inspector, he must establish a legal and competent appointment to the office of inspector and an appropriation to him of the duties and emoluments incident thereto. For these he has appealed to the revenue law of March 2, 1799; but neither in that nor in any other revenue law do we perceive as appertaining to him as collector the authority and functions of inspector, nor any right to compensation for the services of the latter officer.

With regard to the allowance of $400 per annum, although accorded to him in settlement as inspector of the customs, it is plain from the language of the statute of May 7, 1822, § 18, that this was intended to provide compensation to the collector, naval officer, and surveyor of the port for extraordinary services incident to their respective offices, and to them only, and did not embrace the subordinate position of inspector, as to which a different mode and rate of compensation -- that is, one graduated by the month or by the day -- had been provided. To entitle himself to this latter compensation, the claimant must show himself regularly and exactly in the situation to which the law has allotted it. Upon a consideration of the case, we regard the question properly before us to be this: whether the collector, as such and in virtue of his office, can claim compensation for services not required by the language of the statute by which

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his duties are prescribed, nor inherently nor regularly appropriate to his office -- services which the law has, upon obvious principles of policy, imposed on another and a different agent, subordinate to the collector, the performance of which services it is made the duty of the collector to supervise and enforce. We are of the opinion that the collector could have no such claim, and therefore decide that the judgment of the circuit court be

Affirmed.

Order

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, holden in and for the County of Washington, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof it is now here ordered and adjudged by this Court that the judgment of the said circuit court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed.

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