Hart v. United States (95 U.S. 316)/Opinion of the Court

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United States Supreme Court

95 U.S. 316

Hart  v.  United States


The second defence relied upon in this case is disposed of by Osborne v. United States, 19 Wall. 577, which we are not inclined to reconsider.

The third defence is equally bad. Under the law as it stood when this suit was commenced, no distilled spirits could be removed from a distillery warehouse before payment of the tax, 15 Stat. 130, sect. 15, without subjecting all those engaged in such a removal to heavy penalties, id. 140, sect. 36. An officer of the United States had no authority to dispense with this requirement of the law. If in violation of his duty he permitted such a removal, he subjected himself to punishment, but did not bind the government by his acts. The government is not responsible for the laches or the wrongful acts of its officers. Gibbons v. United States, 8 Wall. 269; United States v. Kirkpatrick, 9 Wheat. 720; United States v. Vanzandt, 11 id. 184; United States v. Nicholl, 12 id. 505; Jones et al. v. United States, 18 Wall. 662. Every surety upon an official bond to the government is presumed to enter into his contract with a full knowledge of this principle of law, and to consent to be dealt with accordingly. The government enters into no contract with him that its officers shall perform their duties. A government may be a loser by the negligence of its officers, but it never becomes bound to others for the consequences of such neglect, unless it be by express agreement to that effect. Here the surety was aware of the lien which the law gave as security for the payment of the tax. He also knew that, in order to retain this lien, the government must rely upon the diligence and honesty of its agents. If they performed their duties and preserved the security, it inured to his benefit as well as that of the government; but if by neglect or misconduct they lost it, the government did not come under obligations to make good the loss to him, or, what is the same thing, release him pro tanto from the obligation of his bond. As between himself and the government, he took the risk of the effect of official negligence upon the security which the law provided for his protection against loss by reason of the liability he assumed.

There was no error in striking out that portion of the first defence which was objected to. It was not responsive to any allegation in the petition.

Judgment affirmed.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).