United States v. Dumas
This was an action brought by the United States to recover from Anna M. Dumas and the sureties on her official bond money alleged to have been illegally retained by her while postmaster at Covington, St. Tammany parish, La.
It appears from the record that Anna M. Dumas was postmaster at the above-named place from January 1, 1881, to August 3, 1885, and that on October 1, 1883, a bond, in lieu of a former one, was executed. This bond was in the usual form, and was given to insure the faithful performance of her duties as postmaster. The accounts rendered by her as postmaster at the end of each quarter were examined September 1, 1886, by the auditor of the treasury for the post-office department. This examination resulted in a claim that she had made false returns of the business done at the post office at Covington, whereby she is alleged to have illegally retained from the government the sum of $709.89 in excess of her commissions for the period from October 1, 1883, to August 3, 1885, the time covered by the conditions of the bond last executed. A statement of accounts, certified to by the auditor, to which is appended copies of papers pertaining to the accounts, is made a part of the record. A demand was made on June 8, 1887, upon her and the sureties on her bond to make good the deficit. Payment was not made, and the postmaster general issued the following order:
'Order No. 161.
'Office of the Postmaster General.
'Washington, D. C., August 11th, 1888.
'Being satisfied that A. M. Dumas, late P. M., Covington, St. Tammany Co., La., has made false returns of business at the post office at said place during the period from Jan. 1, 1881, to Aug. 3, 1885, thereby increasing her compensation beyond the amount [s]he would justly have been entitled to have by law: Now, in the exercise of the discretion conferred by the act of congress entitled 'An act making appropriations for the service of the post-office department for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1879, and for other purposes,' approved June 17, 1878, (section 1, chapter 259, Supplement to Revised Statutes,) I hereby withhold commissions on the returns aforesaid, and allow as compensation, (in place of such commissions and in addition to box rents,) deemed by me, under the circumstances, to be reasonable during the period aforesaid, the rate of $72.50 per quarter from Jan. 1, 1881, to March 31, 1883, and $95 per quarter from April 1, 1883, to August 3, 1885, and the auditor is requested to adjust her accounts accordingly.
[Signed] 'Wm. F. Vilas,
'Postmaster General.' At the trial of the cause in the court below the issue before the jury was whether Anna M. Dumas, as postmaster, did collect and receive in her official capacity from October 1, 1883, to August 3, 1885, in excess of the compensation fixed and allowed her in the order of the postmaster general, and above all proper expenditures, the sum of $709.89. On this issue the plaintiffs in error requested the court to give the following instruction to the jury:
'If the jury are satisfied that plaintiffs have proven that the postmaster general of the United States, being satisfied that Anna M. Dumas, late postmaster at Covington, Louisiana, had made false returns of business in said post office, withheld the commissions of said Anna M. Dumas as such postmaster, and allowed her such compensation, in lieu of said commission, as he, the said postmaster general, deemed reasonable; and if the jury further find that the amount sued for by plaintiffs in the cause is arrived at by reason of such withholding of said commissions and by the allowance to her of such compensation by said postmaster general,-then the jury must find for the United States.'
This instruction the court refused to give, and charged the jury in regard to the order (No. 161) of the postmaster general as follows: 'This order was in its nature provisional. The adjustment is only prima facie evidence that the account is as stated therein.'
The jury found a verdict for the defendants, and judgment was entered accordingly. The bill of exceptions does not show the character of the evidence admitted or refused to be admitted. The plaintiffs sued out a writ of error, and assign as errors that the court below erred in refusing to instruct the jury as requested by the attorney of the United States, and in charging the jury as to the force and effect of the order of the postmaster general, and the accounts of the postmaster as certified by the auditor.
Asst. Atty. Gen. Maury, for the United States.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 281-282 intentionally omitted]
Mr. Justice JACKSON delivered the opinion of the court.