1. The Court of Claims has jurisdiction of a suit brought
against the United States to recover back certain taxes and
penalties alleged to be of the character mentioned in secs. 3220,
3228, Rev.Stat., where payment thereof was refused to the
plaintiff, whose claim thereto had in due time been presented on
appeal to and allowed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.
United States v. Kaufman, 96 U. S.
, cited and approved.
2. Lodging the appeal with the proper collector of internal
revenue, for transmission to the Commissioner in the usual course
of business, under the requirements of the Treasury regulations, is
in effect the presentation of it to the Commissioner.
Sections 3220 and 3228 of the Revised Statutes are as
"SEC. 3220. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue, subject to
regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, is
authorized, on appeal to him made, to remit, refund, and pay back
all taxes erroneously or illegally assessed or collected, all
penalties collected without authority, and all taxes that appear to
be unjustly assessed or excessive in amount, or in any manner
wrongfully collected. . . ."
"SEC. 3228. All claims for the refunding of any internal tax
alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or
collected, or of any penalty alleged to have been collected without
authority, or of any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any
manner wrongfully collected, must be presented to the Commissioner
of Internal Revenue within two years next after the cause of action
accrued. . . ."
The material regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the
Treasury applicable to this case are these:
"Claims for the refunding of taxes erroneously assessed and
collected should be presented through the collectors of the
respective districts upon blank form No. 46. . . ."
"The collector should keep a perfect record, in a book furnished
for the purpose, of all claims presented to the Commissioner, and
must certify as to each claim, whether it has been before presented
"Where the case of an appeal involves an amount exceeding
Page 104 U. S. 729
two hundred and fifty dollars, and before it is finally decided
the Commissioner of Internal Revenue will transmit the case, with
the evidence in support of it, to the Secretary of the Treasury for
his consideration and advisement."
For some years it has been the practice of the officers of the
Treasury Department to regard appeals for refunding taxes illegally
assessed and paid, when deposited with collectors, under the rules,
in season to be forwarded to Washington within the two years'
limitation, to have been duly presented to the Commissioner
according to law.
On the 10th of July, 1878, the Real Estate Savings Bank of
Pittsburgh, Pa., paid to the collector of internal revenue for the
proper district in Pittsburg, certain internal taxes which had
before that time been assessed, and on the 9th of July, 1880, it
presented to the same collector, at his office, an appeal to the
Commissioner of Internal Revenue, made out on the blank form
prescribed by the Secretary, to refund and pay back $972.69, which,
it was alleged, had had been illegally assessed, and erroneously
paid. This appeal was delivered to the collector in time to have
reached Washington by due course of mail on the 10th of July if it
had been promptly forwarded, but it was retained until the 15th,
when it was sent to the Commissioner with an endorsement by the
collector that he had investigated the facts and found the
statements of the claimant were in all respects true. The papers
reached the Commissioner on the 17th of July, and he, on the 13th
of October following, submitted them to the Secretary of the
Treasury, as required by the regulations, for his consideration and
advice. On the 18th of October, the Secretary signified to the
Commissioner his approval of the payment of the claim, and on the
21st the Commissioner certified its allowance. On the presentation
of this certificate through the accounting officers of the Treasury
Department, payment was refused. The certificate has never been
revoked by either the Secretary or the Commissioner, but it is
still in force so far as the action of these officers is concerned.
After payment was refused, suit was brought on the certificate in
the Court of Claims, where judgment was given for the claimant.
From this judgment, the United States appealed.
Page 104 U. S. 730
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE, after stating the case, delivered the
opinion of the Court.
The objections made to the recovery are in substance 1, that the
Court of Claims had no jurisdiction of the suit, because the claim
sued for was not founded on any law of Congress or upon contract,
and 2, that the appeal to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue was
not taken within two years after the cause of action accrued, and
that consequently the allowance by the officer was without any
authority of law.
The first of these objections is, we think, disposed of by
United States v. Kaufman, 96 U. S.
. That case arose
Page 104 U. S. 733
under sec. 3426 Rev.Stat., which is as follows:
"The Commissioner of Internal Revenue may from time to time make
regulations upon proper evidence of facts for the allowance of such
of the stamps issued under the provisions of this chapter or any
internal revenue act and may have been spoiled, . . . and such
allowance shall be made either by giving other stamps in lieu of
the stamps so allowed for or by repaying the amount or value, after
deducting therefrom, in case of repayment, the sum of five per
cent, to the owner thereof. . . ."
And we held that the allowance of a claim by the Commissioner
under this section was equivalent to an account stated between
private parties, and binding on the United States, until in some
appropriate form it was impeached for fraud or mistake, and that if
not paid on proper application through the accounting officers of
the Treasury Department, an action might be maintained on it in the
Court of Claims because it raised an implied promise on the part of
the United States to pay what might actually be due the claimant,
and also because the claim therefor was founded on a law of
Congress within the meaning of that term as used in defining the
jurisdiction of the court. We cannot discover any material
difference between the powers of the Commissioner under sec. 3426,
and those which he has under sec. 3220. Under sec. 3426, he is to
"allow" the claim, which is done either by giving other stamps in
lieu of those that have been spoiled, &c., or by repaying the
amount or value. Under sec. 3220, he is to "refund" and "pay back."
His payments of money in both cases must be made through the
accounting officers of the Treasury Department, as he is not
himself a disbursing officer. Whether his allowance is conclusive
on the other officers through whose hands it must necessarily pass
before it can be paid by the Treasurer we did not then and need not
now decide. All we said then and all we say now is that if payment
is not made by reason of the refusal of any of the officers of the
department to pass or pay the claim after it has once been allowed
by the Commissioner, the allowance may be used as the basis of an
action against the United States in the Court of Claims, where it
will be prima facie
evidence of the amount that is due,
and put on the government the burden
Page 104 U. S. 734
of showing fraud or mistake. This burden is not overcome by
proving that some other officer in the subsequent progress of the
claim through the department declined to do what the law or
Treasury regulations required of him before payment could be
obtained. The fact of fraud or mistake must be established by
competent evidence the same as any other fact in issue. An
allowance by the Commissioner in this class of cases is not the
simple passing of an ordinary claim by an ordinary accounting
officer, but a statement of accounts by one having authority for
that purpose under an act of Congress. Until an appeal is taken to
the Commissioner, no suit whatever can be maintained to recover
back taxes illegally assessed or erroneously paid. If on the appeal
the claim is rejected, an action lies against the collector
(Rev.Stat., sec. 3226), and through him, on establishing the error
or illegality, a recovery can be had. If the claim is allowed and
payment for any cause refused, suit may be brought directly against
the government in the Court of Claims. This, as it seems to us, is
the logical result of the legislation of Congress upon the subject.
A rejected claim may be prosecuted against the collector, and an
allowed claim, not paid, may be sued for in the Court of Claims. To
say the least, the decision of the Commissioner on the appeal is
sufficient to determine whether one form of remedy shall be
resorted to by the claimant or the other.
Upon the other branch of the case, we are entirely satisfied
with the conclusions reached by the court below, and that the
lodging of the appeal made out in due form with the proper
collector of internal revenue for the purpose of transmission to
the Commissioner in the usual course of business, under the
requirements of the regulations of the Secretary, was in legal
effect a presentation of the appeal to the Commissioner. The effect
of the regulation was to designate the office of the collector of
internal revenue as a proper place for the presentation of the
appeal. The whole subject is so fully and satisfactorily considered
in the opinion below that we deem it unnecessary to do more than
refer to what is there said.