De Arnaud v. United States,
151 U.S. 483 (1894)

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U.S. Supreme Court

De Arnaud v. United States, 151 U.S. 483 (1894)

De Arnaud v. United States

No. 550

Submitted January 8, 1894

Decided January 29, 1894

151 U.S. 483


A receipt signed by a claimant against the United States for a sum less than he had claimed, paid him by the disbursing agent of a department "in full for the above account," is, in the absence of allegation and evidence that it was given in ignorance of its purport, or in circumstances constituting duress, an acquittance in bar of any further demand.

A claim against the United States whose prosecution in the Court of Claims was barred by the statute of limitations was presented to the Treasury for adjustment and payment. The Secretary of the Treasury transmitted it to the Court of Claims under the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 1063. Held that it was barred by the statute of limitations.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the Court of Claims dismissing the petition of Charles De Arnaud, in which he sought for a judgment in his favor against the United States for the sum of $100,000, for services the petitioner alleged he had rendered as a "military expert," employed for "special and important duties" by General Fremont for and on behalf of the United States.

The facts of the case, as found by the court below, are as follows:

Page 151 U. S. 484

The claimant is a native subject of Russia, residing in the United States. The following is a translation of the provisions of the law of Russia according to citizens of the United States the right to prosecute claims against such government in its courts:

"SEC. 1292. The decision of the court is announced to both parties according to general rules, but independently thereof a copy of the decision is forwarded to the local government institution spoken of in section 2084."

"SEC. 1296. In the execution of a judgment against a government institution, the claimant presents a certified abstract of the decision to the institution, which is bound to execute the judgment accordingly."

"SEC. 1519. Aliens residing in Russia are subject to Russian laws, as well personally as in regard to property, and enjoy the common defense of safeguards and protection thereof."

"SEC. 1288. Claims of private persons against the government institutions are governed by general rules, and are brought according to the location of the property or according to the place where the loss was sustained by the private person, or according to the place where the government institution or where the government officer is situated or resides who represents the government in court."

The claimant came to this country about the year 1860, and was, prior to that time, an officer in the Russian army, where he served in the Crimean War as lieutenant of engineers, and was serving as such when the armistice was concluded between Russia and the contending allies.

In the year 1861, John C. Fremont was a major general in the United States Army in command of the Western Department of Missouri. In the month of August, 1861, he entered into an agreement with the claimant by which the claimant was employed by him to go within the Confederate lines, make observations of the country in the States of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, to observe the position of the rebel forces, the strategic positions occupied by them, and advise him (General Fremont) of the movements necessary to be made by the Union forces to counteract the movements of the enemy,

Page 151 U. S. 485

and to facilitate the advance of our troops and aid them in attacking and repulsing the Confederate forces.

In consequence of that arrangement, he did go within the Confederate lines, and, agreeably to what he was instructed to do, brought back to General Fremont full information of the kind desired, maps of the country, of various roads, the number of troops, their stations, condition, and, as far as he could judge and find out, their projected movements.

He was absent on that business a number of days, came back, and reported in St. Louis about the 12th of August, 1861, to General Fremont, who was so satisfied with the information that he brought, with the intelligence and sagacity he displayed in collecting it, and the usefulness of his information, that he (Fremont) then made an arrangement for him to continue in the service of the department. About the 12th of the month of August, 1861, he again left for the country occupied by the Confederate forces to collect information. The most important part of the services rendered by him was in the beginning of the next month (September), when, with the information that he had collected, he was returning to report to General Fremont a movement of the Confederate forces upon Paducah. On reaching Cairo. he found that he had only time to report to Fremont by telegraph, and reported forthwith personally to General Grant, informing him that troops were advancing upon Paducah, and that it was necessary to move immediately in order to occupy the place. General Grant did move instantly, and took possession of Paducah, Kentucky, solely on information given by the claimant, and to the effect that the rebels were moving upon that city with a large force.

The claimant was paid $600 on the following orders and receipts:

"Headquarters Western Department"

"Camp Near Jefferson City, Oct. 6, 1861"

"Major Phinney, U.S.A. Paymaster, etc.:"

"Will pay to Charles De Arnaud the sum of three hundred dollars ($300) for secret service."

"J. C. Fremont"

"Major General"

Page 151 U. S. 486

"Received, Jefferson City, October 6, 1861, from Major Jas. H. Phinney, Paymaster, U.S.A., three hundred ($300) 'for account secret service rendered to the U. States' by special order of Major-Gen'l Fremont, dated near Warsaw, Mo., Oct. 23, 1861."

"Chas. De Arnaud"

"In the Field"

"Headquarters Western Department, Oct. 23, 1861"

"Major Phinney will pay to the bearer, Mr. Charles De Arnaud, three hundred dollars for secret service to the United States."

"J. C. Fremont"

"Major General Comm'nd'g"

"Received, Jefferson City, October 6, 1861, from Major J. H. Phinney, three hundred dollars for secret service, as per special order of Major-Gen'l J. C. Fremont of this date. $300."

"(Signed duplicate)"

"Chas. De Arnaud"

On January 6, 1862, the claimant presented his claim to the War Department, and it was reported upon by the quartermaster as follows:

"No. 22. The United States to Charles De Arnaud, Dr."

"January 6, 1862. -- For special services rendered to the United States government in traveling through the rebel parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, etc., and procuring information concerning the enemy's movements, etc., which led to successful results (as per certificate hereunto appended), $3,600."

"Q. M. Genl.'s Office, 9th Jan'y, 1862"

"In view of the certificate of General Grant of 30th Nov., and the more general certificate of Maj.-General Fremont of 2d Jan'y, herewith, covering all of Mr. Arnaud's services, the sum of thirty-six hundred dollars appears to me to be a not unreasonable compensation. I state this at Mr. Arnaud's earnest request."

"M. C. Meigs"

"Q. M. Gen'l"

Page 151 U. S. 487

On the 13th of January, the claimant went to President Lincoln, and laid before him his claim, with the following letters:

"Cairo, Ill., January 6, 1862"

"Hon. A. Lincoln, President, U.S.A.:"

"The bearer, Charles De Arnaud, has to my knowledge rendered important services to the government. He, at the risk of his life, gave information which led to our capture of Paducah, Kentucky, in advance of the rebels. Thereby he saved the country thousands of lives and millions of dollars. I fully endorse his certificate of Maj. General J. C. Fremont. He is entitled to the largest remuneration the government pays for such services."

"Respectfully, etc.,"

"A. H. Foote"

"Flag Officer"

"Headquarters District Southeast Missouri"

"Cairo, November 31, 1861"

"Chas. De Arnaud:"

"Sir: In reply to your request, and the note from Major General Halleck presented me by yourself, I can state I took possession of Paducah, Kentucky, solely on information given by yourself, and to the effect that the rebels were marching upon that city with a large force. This information I afterwards had reason to believe was fully verified, first, because, as we approached the city, secession flags were flying, and the citizens seemed much disappointed that southern troops expected by them were not in advance of us. It was understood that they would arrive that day. I also understood afterwards that a force of some four thousand Confederate troops were actually on their way for Paducah when taken possession of by my order. A point through which many valuable supplies were obtained for the southern army was cut off by this move, and a large quantity of provisions, leather, etc., supposed to be for the use of the southern army, captured. For the value and use to which these were put I refer you to

Page 151 U. S. 488

General Paine, whom I left in command. Only remaining in Paducah a few hours, and being busily engaged with other matters during that time, I can make no estimate of the cash value of the stores captured."

"Yours, etc.,"

"U.S. Grant, Brig. Gen."

"Astor House, New York, January 2, 1862"

"This is to certify that Mr. Charles De Arnaud was employed by me from about the first of August in traveling throughout the rebel parts of Tennessee and Kentucky with the object of ascertaining the strength, condition, and probable movements of the rebel forces. He made, under my directions, many such journeys, reporting fully and in detail upon the force of the various encampments and the condition and strength of garrisons and various works in Tennessee and along the Mississippi River. He obtained this information at much personal risk and with singular intelligence, and performed the duties entrusted to him entirely to my satisfaction. He continued on this duty until the termination of my command in the western department. His services were valuable to the government, and I consider entitled to the largest consideration that the government allows in such cases or to such agents."

"J. C. Fremont"

"Maj. Genl. U.S.A."

President Lincoln folded the letters together, and wrote on the back of General Grant's letter the following:

"I have no time to investigate this claim, but I desire the accounting officers to investigate it, and if it be found just and equitable, to pay it, notwithstanding any want of technical legality or form."

"Jan. 13, 1862."

"A. Lincoln"

Thereafter, on the next day, January 14th, the Secretary of War made the following endorsement on said claim:

"I have considered this claim, and cannot bring my mind to the conclusion that the sum charged is not exorbitant. I

Page 151 U. S. 489

am willing to allow $2,000 in full of the claim, and the dis. clerk, War Dep't, is authorized to pay Charles De Arnaud that sum."

"War Dept., Jan'y 14, 1862."

"Simon Cameron, Sec. War"

The claimant was thereupon paid, under protest, by said disbursing clerk of the War Department, out of appropriation for "contingencies of the army," $2,000, and gave the following receipt:

"The United States to Charles De Arnaud, Dr."

"January 14, 1862"

"For services and expenses as special agent of the gov't, $2,000."

"Received, Washington, January 21, 1862, from John Potts, disbursing clerk for the War Department, two thousand dollars, in full, for the above account."

"Chas. De Arnaud"

At the time of giving the receipt in full, January 14, 1862, he was not in a State of dementia, and was able to comprehend the terms of the receipt; but the effects of his wounds in the head were beginning to affect him mentally, and he was in a condition of nervous apprehension, and unnaturally desirous of securing his personal safety by setting out of the country, and he accepted the money paid by the War Department in order that he might do so.

While engaged in the military service of the government, as aforesaid, he received a wound in his head in the fall of 1861, from which afterwards, in the same year, he became insane, and did not recover prior to February, 1886.

About September 4, 1886, the claimant presented his claim to the Treasury Department, without naming the specific amount claimed, but incidentally claimed $50,000, because he was told by General Fremont that during the Mexican war one McGoffin, a secret agent, had been paid that sum. The auditor reported to the Second Comptroller as follows:

Page 151 U. S. 490

"Act of July 17, 1861, appropriated $200,000 'for contingencies of the army,' (12 Stat. 263)."

"This claim was paid out of above fund."

"Accounting officers have no jurisdiction to open up a settlement made by war dept, from secret service fund, and determine unliquidated damages."

The Second Comptroller made the following endorsement thereon:

"June 29, 1888"

"The within recommendation is approved. De Arnaud seems to have rendered unmistakable valuable services as a secret agent, and there appears to have been provision made for the payment of services of that nature; but this claim must be rejected pursuant to the recommendation of the 2d Auditor, because payment in full seems to have been made and accepted years ago, and because this office has no means or jurisdiction to consider so plain a case of unliquidated damages."

"That the officer was not paid commensurately with his services, and deserves recognition at the hands of Congress, seems to be amply evidenced by President Lincoln's memorandum, and by the testimony of Generals Grant and Fremont."

"Sigourney Butler"

"2nd Comptroller"

The claimant was informed of the action of the Comptroller by the following letter:

"Washington, D.C. July 10, 1888"

"Captain Charles De Arnaud, Washington, D.C.:"

"Sir: I have the honor to inform you that your claim for compensation for services as a military expert in 1861 has been disallowed by the Second Comptroller, without prejudice, because payment in full seems to have been made and accepted years ago, and because the accounting officers have no means or jurisdiction to consider so plain a case of unliquidated damages. . . ."

"William A. Day, Auditor"

Page 151 U. S. 491

On the 20th of October, 1888, the claimant renewed his application to the Treasury Department, and asked that the case be referred to the Court of Claims. This communication was endorsed by the Second Comptroller as follows:

"January 9th, 1889"

"Respectfully referred to the second auditor."

"The application of the claimant, Charles De Arnaud, seems to have merit. This case is plainly beyond the jurisdiction of the accounting officers, but it bears upon its face distinct marks that should give it a fuller consideration than can be accorded by the accounting officers. Furthermore, there is no adequate machinery in the accounting officers for properly sifting the very extraordinary evidence in this case. This can only be done by the Court of Claims."

"With your reply, which the claimant asks be made special, stating your views on this case, please forward all the papers pertinent thereto."

"Sigourney Butler, Comptroller"

On January 12, 1889, the Second Auditor transmitted all the papers on file in his office to the Second Comptroller, stating that his views had been fully expressed in previous communications hereinbefore set out. The Comptroller made a recommendation to the Secretary of the Treasury that the case be transmitted to the Court of Claims, which was accordingly done by the following letter of transmission:

"Treasury Department, Office of the Secretary"

"Washington, D.C. January 25, 1889"

"To the Honorable the Chief Justice and Judges of the Court of Claims:"

"Under the provisions of section 1063 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, I transmit herewith to your honorable court, upon the recommendation and certificate of the Second Comptroller, the claim of Charles De Arnaud for services as military expert, now pending in the department, and involving disputed facts and controverted questions of law,

Page 151 U. S. 492

with all the vouchers, papers, and documents pertaining to said claim, for trial and adjudication by your honorable court, as provided by law."

"Respectfully yours,"

"Hugh S. Thompson,"

"Acting Secretary"

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