Bryan v. United States,
66 U.S. 140 (1861)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bryan v. United States, 66 U.S. 1 Black 140 140 (1861)

Bryan v. United States

66 U.S. (1 Black) 140


1. A surety in the bond of a public officer is entitled to credit for all payments made by his principal during the time he remained in office, and is chargeable only with the moneys received by him during the same time.

2. The naked facts that an officer, having public money in his hands, drew on the government while he was in office for a further sum to pay certain debts and expenses, which draft was met after he went out of office by a requisition on the Treasury in favor of the payee, and that the officer in the meantime paid the debts and expenses mentioned by him, will not authorize a charge against the surety of the sum drawn for nor deprive him of his right to a credit for the debts and expenses so paid.

3. In an action against the surety in such a case, it is necessary for the United States to prove that the money was actually paid out of the Treasury and came to the hands of the officer during his term of service, and those facts will not be inferred from the draft, the requisition, and the Treasury warrant.

4. A transfer of moneys by the government to an agent of the officer does not affect the liability of the surety as a transfer to the officer himself.

5. The fidelity or responsibility of the agent through whom the government sees fit to transfer public money is not within the obligation assumed by the surety.

6. Where the evidence shows a state of facts from which the inference is not deducible that the officer received the money sought to be charged against his surety, it is error to leave the cause to the jury upon the hypothesis that he did receive it.

The United States brought an action of debt in the circuit court against Joseph Bryan, one of the sureties in the official bond of Samuel D. King, Surveyor General of California. It appeared that King was commissioned by the President on the 29th of March, 1851, and executed his bond with Bryan and others as sureties on the same day. On the 19th of March,

Page 66 U. S. 141

1853, John C. Hays was commissioned as his successor. On the 30th of June, 1853, at San Francisco, Hays gave bond and took the oath. On the 31st of May, 1853, a month before Hays took possession of the office, King wrote to the Commissioner of the Land Office an official letter in which he admitted that the balance against him on the surveying account, on the 1st of April, was after deducting what was due him on the salary and contingent account $13,933 32. But he alleged that payments were made on it to the amount of over $11,000, and that disbursements would be made during that quarter requiring more than the amount in his hands. He stated that by the end of the quarter, there would be needed on salary account $10,000, on contingent account $6,500, and for other purposes $3,500; in all, $20,000. He then added that

"the full amounts as above being needed by the time this reaches your office, and long before a remittance could be received, I have been compelled to draw upon you at one day's sight for the said sum of $20,000 in the form enclosed, which please honor."

On the same day, he wrote again to the commissioner:

"To meet balances due me on settlement of my salary and contingent accounts of the first quarter of 1853, and expenditures under both of those heads, and other expenses during the present quarter, I have to request that, one day after sight, a warrant for the sum of $20,000, out of the undermentioned appropriations, may be issued in favor of Charles D. Meigs, cashier of the American Exchange Bank, City of New York, and charged to me as follows, per advice of this date."

Then follows a statement showing that the amount referred to is to pay the balance of the first quarter, and to pay expenditures of the second quarter, ending on the 30th of June, 1853.

On the 4th of July, 1853, in accordance with the request contained in these letters, a requisition was made by the Secretary of the Interior upon the Treasury for three warrants on account of Samuel D. King, Surveyor General, for $3,500, $6,500, and $10,000, on which requisition corresponding Treasury warrants and drafts were issued, payable to the cashier of the American Exchange Bank of New York. The accounting officers of the Treasury charged him with the whole amount of

Page 66 U. S. 142

them. Between the 31st of May and the 30th of June, he disbursed the sum of $11,295, for which he received credit in his accounts. Allowing him these credits and charging him with the $20,000 for which he drew in favor of Meigs, the balance is against him, as it also is if the credits and the charge be both stricken out. But allowing the credits without the charge, the balance would be in his favor. In the circuit court, the defendant insisted that he was not responsible as surety for the $20,000 paid on the requisition in favor of Meigs, dated the 4th of July, 1853, because that was after his principal in the bond had gone out of office, and that he was entitled to credit for all payments made previous to that time. For the United States it was claimed that King had raised the money before he went out of office by getting his drafts on the government cashed, and had applied the money, or part of it, thus raised to the payment of the debts due by the government, and it was unjust to the public that his sureties should be permitted to set off his payments out of that money against the balance previously due from him while they repudiated the charge. The court instructed the jury as follows:

"If the jury shall find from the evidence that Samuel D. King, as Surveyor General of California, prior to the 30th day of June, 1853, paid certain amounts due to himself and other creditors of the government upon the accounts and salaries, and office rents and contingencies, given in evidence in this cause, out of moneys raised by him upon orders or drafts drawn upon the government, and by him made known to the government to have been drawn for the accounts to which the said payments were in fact applied, and that said drafts were paid, and said amounts thereby reimbursed to him by the government after the 30th day of June, 1853, then it is not competent for the defendant in this action to apply the amounts of those accounts thus by him paid, and extinguished, as a set-off against the amount due by him to the government upon the survey account prior to the 30th of June, 1853, as given in evidence in this cause."

The defendants took a bill of exceptions. The verdict was in favor of the United States for $10,531 43, on which the

Page 66 U. S. 143

court gave judgment, and thereupon the defendant below took this writ of error.

Page 66 U. S. 145

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