United States Commissioners of Sinking Fund of City of Louisville/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

169 U.S. 249

United States Commissioners of Sinking Fund of City of Louisville


The claim here made is that the officers of the government committed an error in auditing and allowing the amount paid in 1891 for taxes on surplus, as those taxes, it is said, were not referred to in the act of 1890, and should not have been reported to congress or ordered paid by it, and that the power to review this action (if not previously existing) was created by the act of 1893, above set forth.

We think the judgment of the court of claims is right. By the payment under the act of 1891 the questions involved were ended. It was not only an auditing and allowance by the proper officers of the treasury of a claim over which they had jurisdiction, but the amount was paid under the direct commandment of an act of congress specifically appropriating the particular sum reported to it as due to the city of Louisville and for the payment of which the authority of congress was needed.

Laying for a moment the act of 1893 out of view, it seems clear to us that there was no power on the part of the officers of the treasury to re-examine the correctness of the claim paid by virtue of the act of 1891, or to reverse that action on the ground that a mistake of law had been made in the decision reported to congress upon which it passed the act last named. The officers who acted under the statute of 1890 (the secretary of the treasury and the commissioner of internal revenue) performed their duties in examining, auditing, and allowing the claim as they thought the facts and the law required. It was not the case of an allowance of an ordinary claim against the government by an ordinary accounting officer, any more than was the case of U.S. v. Kaufman, 96 U.S. 567-570, or that of U.S. v. Savings Bank, 104 U.S. 728. When the decision of these officials was by the secretary of the treasury reported to congress, and an appropriation made by that body in 1891 of the specific sum mentioned in the report, with directions to pay the amount thus appropriated to the city of Louisville, the time for examination had passed, and it was the duty of the proper officers of the government to pay the money as directed by the statute.

We also think the subsequent statute of 1893 gave no right to the treasury officers to interfere with or in any manner to review the action of the government under the statutes of 1890 and 1891. It may be true that a small portion of the claim made by the city under the act of 1893 had theretofore been made under the act of 1890, but that portion had then been rejected, and, of course, never audited, allowed, or paid. Because a small sum which had once been rejected was included in the principal claim made by the city in 1893, no sort of foundation was thereby laid for the assertion of a right on the part of the government to review, and, in substance, reverse, the prior action of the treasury department in allowing a claim which had been thereafter affirmed by congress with a substantial direction to pay the amount thereof, and which had been paid accordingly.

The authority given by the act of 1893 required the officers therein named to audit and adjust the claims of the city of Louisville for internal revenue taxes to the extent that such taxes were deducted from any dividends or interest due and payable to the city, and which had not been theretofore refunded, a d for this purpose the statute of limitations was repealed, and certain sections of the Revised Statutes were made applicable, and the amounts, when ascertained and not theretofore refunded, were directed to be paid out of the permanent annual appropriation provided for similar claims allowed within the present fiscal year (1893). We think this provision gave no jurisdiction to interfere with or to review the action of the treasury officials under the act of 1890, or the action of congress in enacting the statute of 1891.

The act of 1891 was in the nature of a judgment, final in its character, and subject to no appeal, and the duties of the officers of the government thereafter charged with the payment of the moneys appropriated by that act were not discretionary, and were limited to the clerical functions of making payment, as directed by the act. U.S. v. Jordan, 113 U.S. 418, 5 Sup. Ct. 585. It cannot be possible that congress had the least intention, when making provision for the payment of other and further claims of the same character, to in any wise open the transactions which had been closed by the payment of the moneys directed by the act of 1891. We have no doubt whatever that if congress had any such intention it would have made it clear by the use of far different language from that which is contained in the act of 1893. It would have said, in so many words, that, in proceeding under the statute of 1893, the officers named therein should examine into the correctness of the decisions arrived at in 1890 and 1891.

The judgment of the court of claims was right, and it should therefore be 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).