Spalding v. Vilas,
Annotate this Case
161 U.S. 483 (1896)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Spalding v. Vilas, 161 U.S. 483 (1896)
Spalding v. Vilas
Argued November 21, 1895
Decided March 2, 1896
161 U.S. 483
It was the duty of the Postmaster General to cause all cheques or warrants issued under the authority of the Act of March 3, 1883, c. 119, 22 Stat. 487, and of the Act of August 4, 1886, c. 903, § 8, 24 Stat. 256, 307, 308, to be sent directly to the claimants, and it was his right to call their attention to the provisions of the act of 1883, and if the legislation to which attention was thus invited worked injury to an attorney employed by such claimants to present their claims, in that it gave his clients an opportunity to evade, for a time, the payment of what they may have agreed to allow him, it was an injury from which no cause of action could arise.
The Postmaster General was directly in the line of duty when, in order that the will of Congress as expressed in the act of 1883 might be carried out, he informed claimants that they were under no legal obligation to respect any transfer, assignment or power of attorney, which section 3477 of the Revised Statutes declared to be null and void. If the plaintiff had not taken any such transfers, assignments, or powers of attorney from his clients, he could not have been injured by the reference made by the Postmaster General to that section. If he had taken such instruments, he cannot complain that the Postmaster General called the attention of claimants to the statute on the subject and correctly interpreted it.
The act of the head of one of the departments of the government in calling the attention of any person having business with such department to a. statute relating in any way to such business cannot be made the foundation of a cause of action against such officer.
The same general considerations of public policy and convenience which demand for judges of courts of superior jurisdiction immunity from civil suits for damages arising from acts done by them in the course of the performance of their judicial functions apply to a large extent to official communications made by heads of Executive Departments when engaged in the discharge of duties imposed upon them by law.
The case is stated in the opinion.