Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


decided: March 2, 1896.



Author: Gray

[ 161 U.S. Page 77]

 MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

In determining the construction and effect of the contract sued on, it is important to keep in mind the acts of Congress and the decisions of this court bearing upon the subject.

In Kendall v. United States, 7 Wall. 113, certain attorneys in 1843 (before Congress had passed any act regulating assignments of claims against the United States) made an agreement with the representatives of the Western Cherokees, a branch of the Cherokee tribe of Indians, to prosecute a claim of the Western Cherokees against the United States, and to receive directly from the United States five per cent of all sums collected upon the claim. By a treaty between the United States and the Cherokee tribe in 1846, it was agreed that certain sums found due to the Western Cherokees should be paid by the United States directly to the heads of families per capita, and should not be assignable. 9 Stat. 874. And by the act of September 30, 1850, c. 91, making an appropriation of the sum necessary to fulfil that treaty, Congress provided that "in no case shall any money hereby appropriated be paid to any agent of said Indians, or to any other person or persons than the Indian or Indians to whom it is due." 9 Stat. 556. This court held that the attorneys could not maintain a suit in the Court of Claims to recover, as compensation for their services in procuring the treaty and appropriation, the five per cent that the Indians had agreed should be paid to the attorneys by the United States; and, speaking by Mr. Justice Miller, said: "We apprehend that the doctrine has never been held, that a claim of no fixed amount, nor time or mode of payment; a claim which has

[ 161 U.S. Page 78]

     never received the assent of the person against whom it is asserted, and which remains to be settled by negotiation or suit at law, can be so assigned as to give the assignee an equitable right to prevent the original parties from compromising or adjusting the claim on any terms that may suit them." "We have no hesitation in saying that the United States, under the circumstances, had the right to make the treaty that was made, without consulting plaintiffs, or incurring any liability to them. The act of Congress, which appropriated the money, only followed the treaty in securing its payment to the individual Indians, without deduction for agents. And both the act and the treaty are inconsistent with the payment of any part of the sum thus appropriated to plaintiffs." 7 Wall. 116-118.

By the act of February 26, 1853, c. 81, ยง 1, "All transfers and assignments hereafter made of any claim upon the United States, or any part or share thereof, or interest therein, whether absolute or conditional, and whatever may be the consideration therefor, and all powers of attorney, orders or other authorities for receiving payment of any such claim, or of any part or share thereof, shall be absolutely null and void, unless the same shall be freely made and executed in the presence of at least two attesting witnesses, after the allowance of such claim, the ascertainment of the amount due, and the issuing of a warrant for the payment thereof." 10 Stat. 170. This section has been reenacted, in almost the same words, in section 3477 of the Revised Statutes.

At the first term of this court after the passage of the act of 1853, it was said by this court, speaking by Mr. Justice Grier, that "this act annuls all champertous contracts with agents of private claims." Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 16 How. 314, 336. And the act has since been held by this court to include all specific assignments, in whatever form, of any claim against the United States under a statute or treaty, whether to be presented to one of the executive departments, or to be prosecuted in the Court of Claims; and to make every such assignment void, unless it has been assented to by the United States. United States v. Gillis, 95 U.S. 407;

[ 161 U.S. Page 79]

     Spofford v. Kirk, 97 U.S. 484; McKnight v. United States, 98 U.S. 179; St. Paul & Duluth Railroad v. United States, 112 U.S. 733; Hager v. Swayne, 149 U.S. 242, 247.

In Spofford v. Kirk, above cited, the owner of a claim against the United States for military supplies had, before its allowance or the issue of a warrant for its payment, drawn upon the attorneys employed by him to prosecute it an order to pay to a third person a certain sum out of any moneys coming into their hands on account of the claim; the order had been accepted by the drawees, and sold by the payee to a purchaser in good faith for value; and the drawer and acceptors, after the issue of the treasury warrant, declined to admit the validity of the order. It was adjudged that the accepted order, otherwise an equitable assignment, was void, by reason of the statute, and therefore passed no right in the fund, and could not be enforced against the drawer and acceptors.

That decision has never been overruled or questioned by the court, although the act has been held not to apply to general assignments made by a debtor of all his property for the benefit of his creditors, whether under a bankrupt or insolvent law, or otherwise; Erwin v. United States, 97 U.S. 392; Goodman v. Niblack, 102 U.S. 556; Butler v. Goreley, 146 U.S. 303; nor to enable the original claimant to recover of the United States a sum once paid by the United States to his attorney in fact, holding a power of attorney, made before the allowance of the claim and the issue of the warrant, and remaining unrevoked; Bailey v. United States, 109 U.S. 432; nor to invalidate a contract of partnership in furnishing supplies to the United States, or a promise by one to another of the partners to pay a sum, already due him under the partnership articles, out of money to be received from the United States for such supplies; Hobbs v. McLean, 117 U.S. 567; nor to affect ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.