Potter v. United States,
107 U.S. 126 (1883)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Potter v. United States, 107 U.S. 126 (1883)

Potter v. United States

Decided January 15, 1883

107 U.S. 126


1. The local land officers are not required to meet and jointly consider the proof of settlement and cultivation offered by claimants under the preemption laws.

2. In his accounts with the government, a receiver of public moneys in a land district charged himself with money which he, or, during his absence, his authorized agents, had received as the purchase price of public lands entered pursuant to the preemption laws. The United States, on his failure to pay over the money, brought suit on his official bond. Held that neither he nor his sureties can defeat a recovery by setting up irregularities in the proceedings by which the entry of the lands was allowed.

This was an action brought against George F. Potter and his sureties on his official bond as receiver of public moneys in the Pembina Land District in the Territory of Dakota. The bond bears date Aug. 3, 1870, and its condition is that he shall "truly and faithfully execute and discharge all the duties of his said office according to law." The declaration alleges that he was appointed such receiver for four years beginning June 7, 1870; that after the execution and delivery of the bond and prior to June 30, 1874, there legally came into his hands as such receiver the sum of $8,564.77, which he refused and neglected to account for, or to pay over to the United States.

Page 107 U. S. 127

Only the sureties on the bond answered. The defense set up in their answer and relied on was as follows:

"That from and after said September 30, 1873, there never was any register at the land office at Pembina; that there were no legal sales of land or receipts of moneys at said land office for any purpose during all the time from said 30th of September, 1873, to the end of the time that said Potter held the office of receiver of said land office."

The parties waived a jury and submitted the issues of fact as well as of law to the court. Upon the trial of the case, as shown by the bill of exceptions, the United States offered in evidence certified copies of the accounts rendered by Potter for four quarters, to-wit, the quarters ending respectively September 30 and December 31, 1873, and March 31 and June 30, 1874, which showed a balance against him of $8,564.77, which he had not accounted for or paid over.

By way of defense, testimony was offered which, as stated by the bill of exceptions, "proved" that one Brashear, from the summer of 1871 until the expiration of the term of office of Potter, was register of the land office at Pembina; that from and after September 23, 1873, Brashear was not present at said land office, but on the day last named "left Pembina and said land office and never returned, but continued to hold said office of register during Potter's term of office," which expired in June, 1874;

"that before leaving the office, he signed a large number of printed blanks, covering all the various business of the register of said land office, and left them with one William R. Goodfellow, who was a clerk in the custom house in said Pembina, and had nothing to do with said land office except that he was authorized by said Brashear to act for him in his absence, and that all the business of said land office, so far as the said register was concerned, was done by said Goodfellow with the blanks so signed by said register as aforesaid."

The bill of exceptions further showed that testimony was offered which proved

"that the said receiver, George F. Potter, left said Pembina and said land office on the 8th or 9th of April, 1874, and did not return until the last of June or the beginning of July, 1874, and that no one was in charge of said land office while said receiver was gone except said Goodfellow; that on the return of said Potter, he received no money from said Goodfellow on account of said office, and that he did

Page 107 U. S. 128

receive from his son the sum of two or three hundred dollars, and no more; that Goodfellow took in, during the absence of said Potter, some $1,400 of money belonging to said land office, and paid the same over to said son of said Potter, from whom it was all stolen, except the two or three hundred dollars which was paid over by him to said Potter."

Upon this evidence, the counsel for the sureties on the bond of Potter contended that "they were not liable for any moneys received at said land office for any business done therein in the absence of either the register or receiver."

he court decided against the contention of the defendants, and rendered judgment against them for the sum of $6,406.30, which included moneys received by Potter after as well as before September 23, 1873. To this ruling and judgment of the court the defendant excepted. The purpose of the writ of error is to obtain a review in this Court of the question raised by this exception.

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