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Opinion of the Court.
That principle is that the writ of mandamus may issue where the duty, which the court is asked to enforce, is plainly ministerial, and the right of the party applying for it is clear and he is without any other adequate remedy; and it cannot issue in a case where its effect is to direct or control the head of an executive department in the discharge of an executive duty involving the exercise of judgment or discretion. The doctrine to be gathered from these cases, as well those in which mandamus was granted as those in which it was refused, especially from the two leading cases, Kendall v. United States, supra, and Decatur v. Paulding, supra, is thus enunciated in United States ex rel. Dunlap v. Black, supra, by Mr. Justice Bradley, who delivered the opinion of the court:
“The court will not interfere by mandamus with the executive officers of the government in the exercise of their ordinary official duties, even where those duties require an interpretation of the law, the court having no appellate power for that purpose; but when they refuse to act in a case at all, or when, by special statute, or otherwise, a mere ministerial duty is imposed upon them, that is, a service which they are bound to perform without further question, then, if they refuse, a mandamus may be issued to compel them.” p. 48.
It is proper here to remark, as applicable to the determination of this case, that, in the extreme caution with which this remedy is applied by the courts, there are cases when the writ will not be issued to compel the performance of even a purely ministerial act. In a case, for instance, where the intention of the officer, though acting within the scope of his duty, had been frustrated by a clerical mistake, United States v. Schurz, supra; or where the case is one of doubtful right, N. Y. Life and Fire Ins. Co. v. Wilson, 8 Pet. 291, 302; or in a case where the relator having another adequate remedy, the granting of the writ may in this summary proceeding affect the rights of persons who are not parties thereto, or where it will be attended with manifest hardship and difficulties, People v. Forquer, Breese, [1 Ill.] 68, (2d ed., 104); Van Rensselaer v. Sheriff of Albany, 1 Cowen, 501, 512; Oakes v. Hill, 8 Pick. 46. In The King v. The Lord Commissioners of the Treasury,
Opinion of the Court.
4 Ad. & El. 286, 295, Lord Denman, Chief Justice, said: “If, as has been suggested, it should on any occasion be unsafe, with reference to the public service, to make a payment of this kind, the fact may be stated on return to the mandamus. There might perhaps be occasions on which the Lords Commissioners would be bound to apply the money to particular purposes of a more pressing nature.”
We repeat that, if we confine our view of this case, as the counsel for appellee contends that we should, to the adjustment of the account of Mitchell, as stated by the Auditor, the certificate of the balances of the Commissioner of Customs to the Secretary of the Treasury, the issue of the warrant by the latter for the payment of the balance so certified, the preparation of the draft, its transmission to the disbursing officer, the subsequent withholding of it by the Secretary of the Treasury, and his refusal to deliver it either to Mitchell or his assignee, the relator, the case is clearly one of ministerial duty. But the facts, circumstances and conditions set forth in the return of the Secretary of the Treasury place the matter in another and quite a different light. He states in his return that, under the contract of Mitchell with the United States, Mitchell had actually incurred, by defaults, penalties and forfeitures to a large amount, the deduction of which from the amount of his account, as rendered, would reduce that amount largely; that the entire adjustment of that account, including the waiver of the penalties incurred, the certification of the balances, and the issuing of the warrant and preparation of the draft for delivery, was upon the condition, agreed to by Mitchell, that out of the sum thus allowed by the department the claims of the mechanics, sub-contractors, laborers and material men, for work and material furnished by them in the erection of the station buildings, should be satisfied ; that an essential part of this agreement with Mitchell was that the control of the money to be paid was not to be given up until these claims of the aforesaid parties should, in some way, be settled ; that the draft for the amount agreed upon should be sent to the officer of the Life Saving Service at New York, by whom, with Mitchell, these parties, at some appointed time,
Opinion of the Court.
were first to be paid or satisfied out of said draft; and that, if this was not done, the draft was not to be delivered to Mitchell. He further states that Mitchell refused to perform this condition; and that the penalties would not have been waived but for that agreement; and says:
“In the opinion of the respondent said forfeitures and penalties may legally be insisted upon by the government and the amount thereof deducted from said draft, and it is the legal right of the respondent, in his opinion, to secure a restatement of said account, or to cancel said draft, or to take such other course to secure said penalties and forfeitures to the government as the laws and the regulations of the Treasury Department may require; and he avers that to leave the relator to his remedy at law would, in the respondent's opinion, enable the government to avail itself of the said forfeitures or other just damages in the premises."
We think that this return showed sufficient cause for a discharge of the rule and a refusal to issue the writ. It certainly raises disputed questions of law and fact as to the amount of the actual indebtedness of the United States to Mitchell; as to his agreement that the draft should not be delivered until the claims of the sub-contractors, mechanics and material men should be satisfied out of the proceeds of said draft; as to whether the remission of the forfeiture was absolute or conditional; as to the validity of such agreement; and as to the legal effect of Mitchell's non-fulfilment of the contract. We concur with the court below that these disputed questions of law and fact should not be tried in this proceeding; and that this is not a case in which the power of the court should be exercised.
We have given due consideration to the ingenious argument of counsel for appellee to show that the return in terms does not assert that the remission of the penalties was conditioned as stated by the court below; and that if such condition was agreed to between the accounting officers and Mitchell, such agreement was illegal and void. We think neither of these points is well taken. As to the first, the court below correctly stated the substance of the return, as we have also attempted
Statement of the Case.
to do. The objection really is that the averments of the return, upon this point, lack the essential requisites of good pleading. It does not appear that any such ground was taken in the court below. As to the second point, it is our opinion that the agreement between Mitchell and the accounting officers, as stated in the return, was lawful, and if carried out by Mitchell would have been fair and proper. It was simply that the amount which would otherwise have been excluded by reason of Mitchell's default from the balance certified and from the warrant for payment, should go in part to the payment of the men by whose labor and means the houses of the Life Saving Service had been built for the United States. The judgment of the court below is
No. 1203. Submitted January 9, 1891.- Decided January 19, 1891.
The right conferred by the United States, under the Guano Islands Act of
August 18, 1856, c. 164, (Rev. Stat. tit. 72,) upon the discoverer of a deposit of guano and his assigns, to occupy, at the pleasure of Congress, for the purpose of removing the guano, an island determined by the President to appertain to the United States, is not such an estate in land as to be subject to dower, notwithstanding the act of April 2, 1872, c. 81, (Rev. Stat. $ 5572,) extending the provisions of the act of 1856 “ to the widow, heirs, executors or administrators of such discoverer” if he dies before fully complying with its provisions.
This was a petition for dower in a guano island. The Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland, upon the bill of a citizen of Maryland against the Navassa Phosphate Company, a corporation of New York doing business in Maryland, having appointed receivers of all its property within the jurisdiction of the court, Isabella Duncan of Baltimore, in the State of Maryland, filed in the cause a petition containing the following allegations and prayer:
Statement of the Case.
“1st. That she is the widow of Peter Duncan, late of Baltimore city, in the State of Maryland, and now deceased, having been married to said Peter Duncan on December 19, 1850, and said Peter Duncan having died on January 26, 1875.
“2d. That on July 1, 1857, her late husband, said Peter Duncan, discovered a deposit of guano on an island in the Caribbean Sea, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any government and not occupied by the citizens of any government, said island being called Navassa, and lying in latitude 18° 10' north, longitude 75° west, and that on September 19, 1857, he took peaceable possession and was in occupation of said island in the name of the United States under and by virtue of the act of Congress of August 18, 1856, c. 164, (11 Stat. 119,) and did, on November 18, 1857, file his claim to said island in the Department of State of the United States, in accordance with the provisions of said act of Congress, and did afterwards furnish satisfactory evidence of his said discovery, occupation and peaceable possession to the said Department of State, and in respect to said island so discovered his assignee was declared to be entitled to the rights intended to be secured by said act.
“3d. That said Peter Duncan remained in lawful possession and was legally seized of said Island of Navassa from September 19, 1857, unto November 18, 1857; all of which will appear by the said claim of Peter Duncan as discoverer of said island and the affidavit in evidence thereof, on file with the records of the Department of State in Washington, D. C., certified copies whereof are filed herewith as part of this petition, and by the proclamation of the proper authorities of the United States," a certificate from the Department of State of the issue of which was also filed with the petition. Said claim and proclamation, and the substance of said affidavit, are set forth in Jones v. United States, ante, 202, 205, 206, 218.
“4th. That after remaining in possession and lawfully seized of said Island of Navassa from September 19, 1857, to November 18, 1857, as aforesaid, and which period of time was during the coverture of your petitioner, said Peter Duncan did grant and assign and convey his title and interest in said Island of Navassa to E. K. Cooper; and that by mesne assign