CAMP V. UNITED STATES, 113 U. S. 648 (1885)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Camp v. United States, 113 U.S. 648 (1885)

Camp v. United States

Argued January 27-28, 1885

Decided Match 2, 1885

113 U.S. 648


When a regulation, made by the head of an executive department in pursuance of law, empowers subordinates of a class named to contract on behalf of the United States as to a given subject matter, and further directs that "any contract made in pursuance of this regulation must be in writing," a verbal executory contract relating thereto is not binding upon the United States.

Page 113 U. S. 649

When an executive regulation directs officers of one class to make a contract on behalf of the United States, it confers no authority to make it upon officers of a different class, although employed about the same government business.

Independently of the question of authority, the record does not show that the contract set up in the plaintiff's petition was entered into.

The appellant brought this action on the 13th day of April, 1869, to recover a balance alleged to be due as compensation for collecting and delivering to the United States, in 1864, a large amount of cotton in bales which was captured and abandoned property within the meaning of the acts of Congress. He claims to have performed the services in question under an arrangement or agreement with an agent of the Treasury Department which the Secretary of the Treasury subsequently recognized as a valid contract with the government. He admits certain payments on his claim, and asks judgment for the further sum of $80,000. The court below dismissed his petition.

The material facts, as found by the Court of Claims, were in substance as follows:

In the early part of 1864, one Hart, an assistant special agent of the Treasury Department for the District of Natchez in the State of Mississippi, made a verbal arrangement with Camp whereby it was understood and agreed between them that the latter should bring out and turn over to the United States, through their agent in Natchez, about 2,200 bales of cotton, stored on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, in Adams County, Mississippi, within that district, and the property of one John K. Elgee, a resident of Alexandria, Louisiana, then within the lines of rebel occupation. "The agent," the findings of fact state,

"was then to represent the arrangement and business, whatever it might be, to the Secretary of the Treasury, and was likewise to represent that he had assured the claimant by the arrangement that the Secretary would allow to him twenty-five percent of the proceeds of the cotton at least. No bond of indemnity was given by the claimant. By the arrangement, the claimant was also to pay to the agent Hart out of the proceeds, when received by him, from

Page 113 U. S. 650

$5,000 to $10,000, provided the Secretary of the Treasury should see no impropriety in his (the agent's) accepting from the claimant a portion of the proceeds."

On or about March 31, 1864, Camp, representing himself as a Treasury agent, engaged the services of a transport which, under the protection of a gun boat, ascended Buffalo Bayou, took on board 572 bales of the Elgee cotton, and brought it to Natchez, where it was seized by General Tuttle, commanding the federal military forces, on suspicion that the claimant intended to appropriate it to himself, and placed under guard in the government yard. Shortly thereafter, Camp informed the supervising special agent and the assistant special agent of the Treasury of what he had done.

By direction of the supervising special agent, the cotton was forwarded to St. Louis, consigned to O. S. Lovell, an agent of the Treasury Department. After it reached that city, Elgee brought an action of replevin against Lovell in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County. The United States took charge of the defense, and on June 22, 1864, a stipulation was entered into between the Treasury Department and Elgee whereby that action was removed to the circuit court of the United States and the cotton was sold, the proceeds, after paying certain charges, being invested in bonds which were held to abide the result of the litigation. In that suit, a judgment was obtained by the government which was affirmed by this Court.

The appellant presented his claim for compensation to the Treasury Department, which, by its assistant Secretary, on the sixth of December, 1865, directed the Commissioner of Customs to

"state an account and make a requisition in favor of Benjamin F. Camp upon F. E. Spinner, treasury agent, to be paid from the proceeds of captured and abandoned property, for the sum of $30,000, being part of the proceeds of certain property known as the Elgee cotton, collected as captured or abandoned property by said Camp, for an interest therein, said sum being an advance to said Camp on account of his expenditures in relation to said cotton."

This order recited that Camp had executed bond, with surety to the United States conditioned that he would repay the said sum on demand of the Secretary of the Treasury

Page 113 U. S. 651

and fully indemnify the government against all loss and damage by reason of such payment. In pursuance of that order, the sum of $30,000 was paid to him. On the 7th of March, 1866, the further sum of $15,000 was paid to William Prescott Smith (who had acquired a joint interest with the claimant), the order which directed the payment reciting that that amount was "an advance to Smith on account of his joint interest with Camp in said cotton." The net proceeds of the sale of the cotton, with the interest that had accrued on the bonds in which they were invested -- in all, $366,170.83 -- were covered into the Treasury in pursuance of a joint resolution of Congress approved March 30, 1868.

On the 20th of August, 1868, the heirs and representatives of Elgee brought suit against the United States in the Court of Claims under the Captured and Abandoned Property Act to recover those proceeds. That suit was pending and undetermined when the present action was commenced. The claim of Elgee's heirs and representatives was established, his loyalty having been shown only by proof that on the 2d day of May, 1864, he took the oath prescribed by President Lincoln's amnesty proclamation of December, 1863.

It was in evidence that twenty-five percent of the proceeds of captured cotton was the remuneration ordinarily allowed by the Treasury Department to contractors under the Treasury regulations for collecting and bringing in such property.

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