Smythe v. United States

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Smythe v. United States
by John Marshall Harlan
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

188 U.S. 156

Smythe  v.  United States

 Argued: November 12, 1902. --- Decided: January 26, 1903

This was an action upon the official bond of Andrew W. Smythe as superintendent of the Mint of the United States at New Orleans to recover the sum of $25,000 with 6 per cent interest from April 1st, 1893, until paid,-that being the amount found due to the United States at the date of the examination, adjustment, and statement of his accounts by the proper officers of the Treasury. The sureties on the bond were Edward Conery and David Chambers McCan.

The bond was conditioned that the superintendent should 'faithfully and diligently perform, execute, and discharge, all and singular, the duties of said office according to the laws of the United States, then this obligation to be void and of no effect, otherwise to remain in full force and value.'

When this bond was executed it was provided by § 3500 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 2339) that every officer of the Mint, before entering upon the duties of his office, should take an oath faithfully and diligently to perform the duties thereof; by § 3501 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 2339), that the superintendent, before entering upon his office, should become bound to the United States, with one or more sureties, in a named sum, 'with condition for the faithful and diligent performance of the duties of his office;' by § 3503 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 2340), that the superintendent of each Mint 'shall have the control thereof, the superintendence of the officers and persons employed therein, and the supervision of the business thereof, subject to the approval of the director of the Mint;' by § 3504 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 2340), that 'he shall keep and render quarter-yearly to the director of the Mint, for the purpose of adjustment according to such forms as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, regular and faithful accounts of the transactions with the other officers of the Mint and the depositors;' and by § 3506 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 2341), that 'the superintendent, of each Mint shall receive and safely keep, until legally withdrawn, all moneys or bullion which shall be for the use or the expenses of the Mint.'

It appeared in the evidence that the defendant Smythe, as superintendent of the Mint, received various sums of money in United States Treasury notes, and that upon a statement of his accounts by the proper officers of the Treasury there was a deficit of $25,000.

The defense was that the $25,000 of Treasury notes was placed by the superintendent in a tin box in the steel vault provided by the government for the safe keeping of public funds in his custody, and that the notes while in that box were charred, burnt, and destroyed by fire that occurred in the vault, without any negligence on the part of the superintendent, or his agents or employees.

The government insisted at the trial that, even if the Treasury notes were destroyed, in the manner and to the amount claimed, without negligence on the part of the superintendent, nevertheless he was liable on his bond,-its contention being that he was under the obligations, practically, of an insurer in respect of all public funds coming to his hands, and could not be relieved, unless the loss occurred by the act of God or the public enemy. This view was approved by the circuit court, which, at the conclusion of the evidence, directed a verdict against the defendants, and judgment was accordingly rendered for the full amount claimed by the United States. The court added the following words to its memorandum of reasons for that direction: 'In this cause there has been no charge or intimation that Dr. Smythe was personally at fault or blameable in any way. Such fault or negligence as may have been shown in the cause is attributable to his subordinates, and in no manner to him.'

The circuit court of appeals approved the view taken by the circuit court, and affirmed the judgment. The opinion of the former court is reported in 46 C. C. A. 354, 107 Fed. 376.

Messrs. W. A. Maury, Walker Brainerd Spencer, William Grant, J. D. Rouse, B. McCloskey, and E. Howard McCaleb for plaintiffs in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 158-161 intentionally omitted]

Assistant Attorney General Beck and Mr. Charles H. Robb for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 161-163 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Justice Harlan delivered the opinion of the court:


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).