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Opinion of the Court.

paid to him; that the respondent does not deny the correctness of the account, or the amount found to be due to Mitchell, but bases his refusal to deliver the draft simply upon the ground that Mitchell has not paid the sums demanded of him by the persons who presented their claims at the Treasury Department; that about the 27th day of February, 1888, Mitchell, under certain proceedings under the laws of New York, set forth the indebtedness of the United States to him, and the detention of the draft as herein stated; that the Supreme Court of the city and county of New York, in the course of these proceedings, appointed the relator receiver of all of Mitchell's property, debts, equitable rights, interests, and effects, real and personal; that he, the relator, was duly qualified, and, by virtue of said order, was entitled to demand and to receive the said draft for $12,536; and that Mitchell, for the purpose of enabling the relator to demand and receive said draft, and to apply the proceeds thereof according to the order. appointing him receiver, assigned said draft to relator, giving him thereby full power to demand and receive it or the amount expressed in it.

By an amendment, the petition further alleged that "a general appropriation was made by act of Congress to provide for the payment of work to be done in the building and repairing of life-saving stations prior to the performance of the work done under the said contract of September 3, 1886, and that there is sufficient money now in the Treasury of the United States applicable to the payment of the said work so done under said contract." The prayer is for a writ of mandamus against Hon. William Windom, Secretary of the Treasury, commanding him to deliver or cause to be delivered to the relator the said draft, or show cause at an early date, and that such further order may be made in the premises as law and justice may require, or show cause, etc.

This petition and the order to show cause having been agreed by stipulation to be taken as the alternative writ, a demurrer was interposed, which was overruled by the court, and the respondent ordered to make return. Before the return was made, the relator was allowed to make further amendments,

Opinion of the Court.

designed to reply to what was expected to be set forth in the


The facts stated in the return are averred mainly upon information and belief, as they occurred under a former Secretary, the predecessor of the respondent. It admits that an account was stated by the accounting officers of the Treasury Department on the 11th of February, 1888, under his predecessor, but that said account was stated, and a draft prepared for delivery upon condition, and under the circumstances expressed in the letters of certain officials of the Treasury Department which are filed by the relator as exhibits. It then sets out in substance, though not in the order as here stated, that the respondent is advised and believes that the said amount of $12,536 is not justly due and owing by the United States to Mitchell, or his lawful assignee, for the work done and materials furnished; that the account referred to in the petition was adjusted, and a draft prepared for delivery, upon the condition, previously agreed to by Mitchell, that part of the $12,536, so allowed, should be applied to the satisfaction of the claims of certain mechanics, laborers and material men, by whose work and materials the houses were built and repaired; that Mitchell, under his contract with the government, was liable to a penalty of thirty dollars per day for any delay in completing the work within the time stipulated; that he had actually incurred penalties for delays amounting to $6240; that the remission of these penalties would not have been approved or recommended, and said adjustment of the account would not have been made, and said draft would not have been prepared, but for the above-mentioned conditions agreed to by Mitchell, that he should allow the disbursing officer, to whom the draft was sent, to pay the sub-contractors and workmen out of the proceeds of the draft; that the conditions of the proposed waiver were not complied with by Mitchell, or the relator; that the government has the right to insist upon them, and deduct the penalties from the amount of said account; and that it is the legal right of the respondent to secure a restatement of said account, to cancel said draft, or to take such other course to secure said penalties and

Opinion of the Court.

forfeitures to the government as the laws and regulations of the Treasury Department may require. He further averred that to leave the relator to his remedy at law would enable the government to avail itself of the said forfeitures, or other just damages in the premises.

On the hearing, the court discharged the rule and denied the writ.

The main assignment of error is, that the court erred in not deciding that the duty of the Secretary to deliver the draft was purely a ministerial duty, of which the court should enforce the performance by a writ of mandamus. In order to determine whether the case presented by the record is a proper one for a mandamus, it is necessary to recur to certain statutory provisions bearing upon the powers and duties of the Secretary of the Treasury respecting the accounts to be settled in that department, and especially upon his relations to the accounting officers thereof.

The act of June 18, 1878, 20 Stat. 163, c. 265, to organize the Life Saving Service, and that of May 4, 1882, 22 Stat. 55, c. 117, to promote its efficiency, provide that the keepers of life saving stations, and the superintendents thereof, shall have the powers and perform the duties of inspectors of customs. The sections of the Revised Statutes material to be considered are the following:

Section 277 provides that-

"The First Auditor shall receive and examine all accounts accruing in the Treasury Department relating to the receipts from customs, including accounts of collectors, and other offi cers of the customs and after examination of such accounts, relating to the receipts from customs, including the accounts of collectors and other officers of the customs, he shall certify the balances and transmit the same, with the vouchers and certificates, to the Commissioner of Customs for his decision thereon, and he shall certify the balances of all other accounts, and transmit the same in like manner, to the First Comptroller for his decision thereon."

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SEC. 317 provides that-

"The Commissioner of Customs shall examine all accounts


Opinion of the Court.

settled by the First Auditor relating to the receipts from customs, including accounts of collectors and other officers of the customs, and certify the balances arising thereon to the Register, [and shall perform all the acts and exercise all the powers relating to the receipts from customs and the accounts of collectors, and the other officers of the customs or connected therewith, devolved by section two hundred and sixty-nine upon the First Comptroller in regard to other receipts and other accounts]."

"SEC. 191. The balances which may from time to time be stated by the Auditor and certified to the heads of Departments by the Commissioner of Customs, or the Comptrollers of the Treasury, upon the settlement of public accounts, shall not be subject to be changed or modified by the heads of Departments, but shall be conclusive upon the executive branch of the Government, and be subject to revision only by Congress or the proper courts. The head of the proper Department, before signing a warrant for any balance certified to him by a Comptroller, may, however, submit to such Comptroller any facts in his judgment affecting the correctness of such balance, but the decision of the Comptroller thereon shall be final and conclusive, as herein before provided."

The contention of the counsel for the relator is, that Mitchell performed his contract with the United States to construct and repair certain houses for the Life Saving Service; that his account for the work done and the materials furnished was examined by the proper accounting officer; that a balance was found in Mitchell's favor in the amount of $12,536; that this balance was certified, by the Commissioner of Customs to the Secretary of the Treasury; and that the Secretary did not dispute this indebtedness of the United States to Mitchell, nor submit to the proper accounting officers any facts affecting the correctness of the said balance, but assented to its correctness by issuing a warrant and having prepared a draft for its payment. It is insisted that the Secretary after issuing this warrant has no power to change or modify the balance thus found and certified; but that his duty to deliver the draft to Mitchell, or his assignee, is purely a ministerial one, and that

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the writ of mandamus should issue to compel the performance of that duty.

This argument would be conclusive as to the right of the relator to the remedy prayed for if the facts which it assumes comprised all the facts presented by the record. The statutes which we have quoted are very explicit in designating the officers to whom the right and duty belong of examining and auditing the accounts therein referred to, and of certifying and transmitting the balances of the same to the Commissioner of Customs for his decision thereon; and they expressly provide that when those accounts are examined by those accounting officers in successive grades, the balances stated by the Auditor and certified to the heads of department by the Commissioner shall be conclusive upon the executive branch of the government. There is nothing in the language of these provisions which expressly or by implication vests in the Secretary the power to revise or disallow any part of these accounts. On the contrary, it is clearly his duty to issue a warrant for the payment of any balance without any change or modification, except that before issuing a warrant for any balance certified to by a Comptroller, he may submit to such Comptroller any facts in his judgment affecting the correctness of such balance; but the decision of the Comptroller thereon shall be final and conclusive.

The principles upon which persons holding public office may be compelled by a writ of mandamus to perform duties imposed by law have been distinctly defined and strictly adhered to in a great number and variety of cases before this court. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch, 137; Kendall v. United States, 12 Pet. 524; Decatur v. Paulding, 14 Pet. 497; Brashear v. Mason, 6 How. 92, 101; Goodrich v. Guthrie, 17 How. 284; Ex parte De Groot, 6 Wall. 497; Georgia v. Stanton, 6 Wall. 50; Gaines v. Thompson, 7 Wall. 347; United States v. Seaman, 17 How. 225, 230; Ex parte Bradstreet, 7 Pet. 634; Harrington v. Holler, 111 U. S. 796; Reeside v. Walker, 11 How. 272, 290; United States v. Schurz, 102 U. S. 378, 394, 395; Butterworth v. Hoe, 112 U. S. 50; United States ex rel. Dunlap v. Black, 128 U. S. 40.

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