United States v. Farden/Opinion of the Court
Compensation of the collector of internal revenue for the district, as fixed by the Secretary of the Treasury in lieu of the salary and commissions prescribed by law, is the annual sum of $3,000. 15 Stat. 231.
Such collectors may appoint as many deputies as they may think proper, to be by them compensated for their services. Rev. Stat., sect. 3148.
Deputy collectors who, under the authority of law, perform the duties of a collector, in consequence of a vacancy in the office of collector, are entitled to receive the salary and commissions allowed by law to such collector, or the allowance fixed by the Secretary of the Treasury, as compensation to the collector, in lieu of the salary and commissions prescribed by Congress. Id., sect. 3150; 15 Stat. 252.
Charges of fraud were made against the collector of internal revenue for the district, and he was suspended from his office by the supervisor, who made due report of his action in the premises to the commissioner. Pursuant to the act of Congress, the Secretary of the Treasury, on the 26th of September, 1873, gave the plaintiff, who was the deputy collector of the district, the following instructions: 'You are hereby directed to perform the duties of the office of internal revenue collector for the district, vice Francis Widner, suspended;' which was accompanied with the statement that the order should take effect from the 23d inst., and that it would continue in force until some person should be designated or appointed to the office and duly qualified according to law.
By the finding of the court it also appears that the plaintiff as such acting collector performed the duties of collector of the district from the 23d of September, 1873, to and including nine days in the month of December following. From the 23d of September to the 15th of October he was only paid the compensation allowed to him as deputy collector, and from that time to the 30th of the succeeding month he was paid the full compensation allowed to the collector, and for the remainder of the time of his service as collector he was paid nothing.
Appended to the findings of the court is their conclusion of law, which is that the claimant is entitled to recover $163.05, in conformity with the opinion of the court as published in the transcript. Judgment was rendered in favor of the claimant for that amount, and the United States appealed to this court.
Appellants do not deny that the claimant performed the services alleged in the petition, but they allege that he is only entitled to compensation as internal-revenue collector for the period from October 15 to December 1, and that he has been fully paid for his services as such collector during that whole period, which proposition is sustained by the finding of the court below; but they assign for error that there was no vacancy in the office of collector for any other portion of the time during which the claimant performed the duties of collector.
Attempt is made in argument to support that theory by the third finding of the court, from which it appears that the suspended collector died on the 16th of October next after he was suspended from office, and that his successor was appointed on the first day of the succeeding December, which is conceded; but the same finding of the court shows that the new collector did not take possession of the office until ten days later, from which it appears that the finding of the court in respect to the first nine days of that month is correct to a demonstration.
Suppose that is so, still it is insisted in behalf of the appellants that there was no vacancy in the office of collector during the lifetime of the suspended collector, and that the judgment of the court below in allowing the claimant compensation as collector during the period from the suspension of the collector to his death is erroneous, which is the principal question in the case presented for decision. He was paid for his services during that period as deputy collector, but the court below held that he was entitled to the compensation allowed by law to a collector, and gave judgment in his favor for the difference, adding thereto a collector's compensation for the nine days which elapsed after the new collector was appointed before he took possession of the office.
Two contingencies arise when the deputy collector may perform the duties of such collector: 1. When the collector is sick, or is temporarily unable to discharge the duties of the office, the provision is that he may devolve the same upon one of his deputies, but the collector and his sureties in that case remain responsible for the official acts and defaults of the deputy. 2. In case of a vacancy in the office of the collector, when the senior deputy shall discharge all the duties of the collector, unless the Secretary of the Treasury shall direct that his duties shall be performed by some other one of the deputies, the enactment being that the deputy who performs the duty of the collector in consequence of a vacancy shall be entitled to receive the salary and commissions allowed by law to such collector. Rev. Stat., sect. 3149, 3150.
Supervisors at that period were empowered by notice in writing to suspend any collector of internal revenue from duty for fraud, or gross neglect of duty, or abuse of power, and it was made his duty immediately to report his action to the commissioner, with his reasons therefor, in writing. Id., sect. 3163. Fraud was the accusation against the collector in this case, and it was for fraud that he was suspended from the office of collector, and it appears that the supervisor made due report in writing of his action to the commissioner.
Difficulties would attend the effort to define with precision the relation which the suspended individual bore to the office of collector of internal revenue after the order of suspension went into practical effect, nor is it necessary, in the judgment of the court, to make any such attempt in the present case. Whatever the legal relation of the individual may have been in the strict technical sense, it is clear, we think, that for all practical purposes, during the continuance of the order of suspension, the office was vacant, and without any incumbent to discharge the duties which the law requires to be performed by the collector of the internal revenue. Plainly it was not a case of sickness or temporary disability, and consequently the duties were not devolved upon the deputy as in that case made and provided.
Prompt report in writing was made by the supervisor to the commissioner; and the finding of the court below shows that he immediately despatched a telegram to the agent of the Treasury Department to designate the claimant as acting collector from that date, and to put him in possession of the office. Exactly the same view of the subject was taken by the Secretary of the Treasury, as appears by his communication to the claimant, in which he said, 'You are hereby directed to perform the duties of the office of collector of internal revenue, vice Francis Widner, suspended, and to continue in office until some person shall have been designated or appointed to the office and duly qualified according to law.'
Nothing can be plainer in legal decision than the proposition that, unless the Secretary of the Treasury assumed that a vacancy existed in the office, he could not and would not have given the directions which are contained in that communication.
Under the Tenure-of-Office Act the President had the power at that time, which was during the recess of the Senate, to suspend the collector until the next session of the Senate, and the act of the Secretary, the head of the Treasury Department, is presumed to be the act of the President. Wilcox v. Jackson, 13 Pet. 498.
Some support to the opposite theory, it is supposed, may be derived from the last clause of the first section of the original act regulating the compensation to deputy collectors in such cases, but the court here is entirely of a different opinion. By that clause it is provided that no such payment shall in any case be made where the collector has received or is entitled to receive compensation for services rendered during the same period of time. 13 Stat. 282.
Grave doubts are entertained whether this provision can be construed to give any support to the theory of the defendants, that the collector is entitled to compensation during the same period of time, as he rendered no services; and inasmuch as he was suspended for fraud, it is difficult to see what claim he can have for the salary attached to the office during the period of his suspension, when the duties were performed by the deputy collector. Even if the original provision could be interpreted as supposed, still the better opinion is that it is not in force. It was left out of the act of Congress passed the next year to define the true intent and meaning of the provision, and is not contained in the Revised Statutes. 16 id. 174; Rev. Stat., sect. 3150.
Suffice it to say that the court, in view of the whole case, is of the opinion that the claimant is entitled to receive the salary and commissions allowed by law to the collector of internal revenue during the period that he performed those duties under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, as found by the court below, and that the suspension by the supervisor of internal revenue, and the action of the Secretary of the Treasury directing him to continue in the office until a successor to the suspended officer was appointed and qualified, created such a vacancy, within the meaning of the act of Congress, for all practical purposes in the administration of the duties of the office as entitles the claimant to that compensation. Assume that to be so, and it follows that there is no error in the record.