UNITED STATES V. WARDWELL, 172 U. S. 48 (1898)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Wardwell, 172 U.S. 48 (1898)

United States v. Wardwell

No. 53

Argued October 20, 1898

Decided November 28, 1898

172 U.S. 48


Three cheques were drawn in June, 1869, by authorized army officers upon the Assistant Treasurer of the United States in New York in favor of Wardwell and in payment of his lawful claims against the United States. These cheques, while in his possession, were lost or destroyed, presumably in a depredation made on his house by hostile Indians in 1872. Not having been presented for payment, the amount of these cheques was covered into the Treasury in pursuance of the statutes of the United States, and was carried to the account of "outstanding liabilities." Wardwell having died, his administratrix applied to the Treasury for payment of the cheques by the issue of Treasury warrants under the authority conferred by Rev.Stat. §§ 306, 307, 308. This payment being refused, this suit was brought in the Court of Claims in April, 1896, and the statute of limitations was set up as a defense. Held that the promise by the government contained in the statute to hold money so paid into the Treasury was a continuing promise available to plaintiff at any

Page 172 U. S. 49

time she saw fit, to which full force should be given; that there was no cause for a suit until after refusal of an application for a warrant, and that then, for the first time, a claim for the breach of the contract accrued and the limitations prescribed by Rev.Stat. § 1069 began to run.

This is an appeal from the Court of Claims. The facts as found by that court are that in June, 1869, three checks were drawn in favor of William v. B. Wardwell, one by Major W. B. Rochester, Paymaster, United States Army, and two by Major M. I. Ludington, Quartermaster, United States Army, all drawn on the Assistant Treasurer of the United States in New York, and in payment of lawful claims of Wardwell against the United States. Subsequently to the issue of the checks, and while still in the possession and ownership of Wardwell, they were lost or destroyed, probably in a depredation committed on his house by Indians in the year 1872. None of the checks having been presented for payment, the amounts thereof were covered into the Treasury of the United States and carried to the account of "Outstanding Liabilities" in pursuance of the Act of May 2, 1866, now sections 306 and following of the Revised Statutes, the entry on the books of the Treasury (as shown by a report made by the Secretary of the Treasury to the House of Representatives) being as follows:


Balance Due Balance Due from

Name Period United States from United States


W. v. B. Wardwell 1872 . . . . $461.87

William V. B. Wardwell 1872 . . . . 500.00

Do. 1872 . . . . 1,017.39


No part of the same has ever been paid. Wardwell is dead, and the claimant is his duly appointed and acting administratrix. As such she, in 1890, applied to the Treasury Department for payment of the checks by the issue of Treasury warrants, and at the same time filed a bond of indemnity, with sufficient sureties, for double the amounts thereof, to secure the United States against a possible second demand for payment. The first Comptroller of the Treasury declined to permit

Page 172 U. S. 50

the settlement of a new account or the issue of warrants in favor of the claimant. Thereafter, and on April 10, 1896, she commenced this suit. As a conclusion of law, the court found that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the 14th day of April, 1890, the time when the accounting officers of the Treasury refused to recognize the claimant's demand, and that she was entitled to recover the amount of the three checks, and on the 11th day of January, 1897, entered judgment for that amount. From such judgment the United States appealed to this Court.

Section 1069, Rev.Statutes, provides:

"Every claim against the United States cognizable by the Court of Claims shall be forever barred unless the petition setting forth a statement thereof is filed in the court, or transmitted to it by the secretary of the Senate or the clerk of the House of Representatives as provided by law, within six years after the claim first accrues, provided that the claims of married women first accrued during marriage, of persons under the age of twenty-one years first accrued during minority, and of idiots, lunatics, insane persons, and persons beyond the seas at the time the claim accrued, entitled to the claim, shall not be barred if the petition be filed in the court or transmitted, as aforesaid, within three years after the disability has ceased; but no other disability than those enumerated shall prevent any claim from being barred, nor shall any of the said disabilities operate cumulatively."

The Act of May 2, 1866, is entitled

"An act to facilitate the settlement of the accounts of the Treasurer of the United States, and to secure certain moneys to the people of the United States, or to persons to whom they are due, and who are entitled to receive the same."

14 Stat. 41.

This was carried into the Revised Statutes as sections 306 and following. Section 306, 307, and 308 read:

"SEC. 306. At the termination of each fiscal year, all amounts of moneys that are represented by certificates, drafts or checks, issued by the treasurer, or by any disbursing officer of any department of the government, upon the Treasurer or any Assistant Treasurer or designated depositary of the United

Page 172 U. S. 51

States, or upon any national bank designated as a depositary of the United States, and which shall be represented on the books of either of such offices as standing to the credit of any disbursing officer, and which were issued to facilitate the payment of warrants, or for any other purpose in liquidation of a debt due from the United States, and which have for three years or more remained outstanding, unsatisfied, and unpaid shall be deposited by the Treasurer, to be covered into the Treasury by warrant and to be carried to the credit of the parties in whose favor such certificates, drafts or checks were respectively issued or to the persons who are entitled to receive pay therefor, and into an appropriation account to be denominated 'Outstanding Liabilities.'"

"SEC. 307. The certificate of the Register of the Treasury stating that the amount of any draft issued by the Treasurer to facilitate the payment of a warrant directed to him for payment has remained outstanding and unpaid for three years or more, and has been deposited and covered into the Treasury in the manner prescribed by the preceding section, shall be, when attached to any such warrant, a sufficient voucher in satisfaction of any such warrant or part of any warrant, the same as if the drafts correctly endorsed and fully satisfied were attached to such warrant or part of warrant. And all such moneys mentioned in this and in the preceding section shall remain as a permanent appropriation for the redemption and payment of all such outstanding and unpaid certificates, drafts and checks."

"SEC. 308. The payee or the bona fide holder of any draft or check, the amount of which has been deposited and covered into the Treasury pursuant to the preceding sections, shall, on presenting the same to the proper officer of the Treasury, be entitled to have it paid by the settlement of an account and the issuing of a warrant in his favor, according to the practice in other cases of authorized and liquidated claims against the United States. "

Page 172 U. S. 52

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