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U.S. Supreme Court

Southworth v. United States, 151 U.S. 179 (1894)

Southworth v. United States

No. 171

Argued December 15, 18, 1893

Decided January 8, 1894

151 U.S. 179


8,283 complaints being made to a commissioner of a circuit court charging that number of persons with violating the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 5512 by fraudulently obtaining registration in Louisiana, that number of warrants were issued and delivered to tale marshal. 6,903 of the persons against whom the warrants issued were not found. 1,380 were arrested, 77 of whom were held for trial, and the remaining 1,303 on examination were discharged. The commissioner presented his account to the court, claiming in each of the 8,283 cases the fee of $10 allowed by Rev.Stat. § 1986 for "his services in each case, inclusive of all services incident to the arrest and examination." The Circuit Court approved and allowed the claim only as to the 77 cases, and that was paid. The commissioner chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 151 U. S. 180

brought suit in the Court of Claims to recover a fee of $10 in each of the other 8,206 cases. The government demurred to the petition, and it was dismissed. The claimant appealed from this judgment.


(1) That the refusal of the Circuit Court to approve the account of the commissioner, though no bar to the recovery, might be a matter for consideration in respect to the good faith of the transaction.

(2) That the payment of the claim for the 77 cases conceded the sufficiency of the complaint on which, in each case, the proceeding was founded.

(3) That when a defendant was arrested and an examination held, there was a criminal case entitling the commissioner to a fee, although the examination resulted in a discharge.

(4) That when no arrest was made and no examination took place, no case had arisen within the meaning of Rev.Stat. § 1986, entitling the commissioner to a fee.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the Court of Claims. The action was commenced by John P. Southworth on December 16, 1882, to recover the sum of $82,830 for services as a circuit court commissioner for the District of Louisiana. The petition alleged that during the year 1876, 8,283 complaints were made to him as such commissioner, charging certain persons named therein with the violation of section 5512, Rev.Stat.; that on such complaints the petitioner, as commissioner, duly issued warrants against the persons named, and delivered them to the marshal of the district; that, of the persons named in these complaints and warrants, 6,903 were not found, and 1,380 were arrested; that, of those arrested, 77 were held for trial, while the remaining 1,303 were, on examination, discharged.

The complaints are stated to have all been in this form:

"United States of America"

"District of Louisiana"

"Parish of Orleans"

"_____, _____, having been duly sworn, each for himself, on oath says that he is a citizen of the State of Louisiana, residing in and a qualified elector of said Parish of Orleans, duly registered, and that his name appears as a registered elector or voter upon the registration books of said parish for the year 1876, and they further say, each for himself, that they have

Page 151 U. S. 181

made due and diligent personal inquiry for _____, registered upon the registration book of the _____ ward of the City of New Orleans, No. ___, and claiming to reside at No. ___ _____ Street in said ward and city, and that said _____ does not reside in said _____ Ward or Parish of Orleans aforesaid; that therefore said _____, on or about the ___ day of _____, 187_, did fraudulently obtain registration as aforesaid in said _____ ward and parish as stated, as an elector in said ward and parish, contrary to the 21st section of Act No. 155 of the Session of 1874 of the General Assembly of the State of Louisiana, and contrary to, and in contravention of, section 5512 of the Revised Statutes of the United States."

"________ ________."

"________ ________."

"Sworn to and subscribed on the ___ day of _____, 1876."

"Jno. P. Southworth"

"United States Commissioner of the Circuit"

"Court in and for the District of Louisiana"

The petition further alleged that the petitioner, as commissioner, made a docket entry of all the proceedings in each case, as required by law, including therein the title of the case, with the name of the defendant, the drawing of the affidavit or complaint and the date of the same, the issuing of the warrant and its date, the return of the officer, the arrest and examination of the person charged in each case where an arrest was made, the number of oaths administered and affidavits filed, and that he also kept full and correct files in each case of all the papers therein, including affidavits, warrants, etc.; that he presented his account, duly verified by his oath, to the district attorney of said district of Louisiana, who submitted the same in open court to the district court, and the court passed upon the same by approving the account as to the 77 cases in which the persons arrested were held for trial, the amount of which was, as afterwards admitted, paid by the government, and disallowing and refusing to certify the same as to the other cases. It further alleged a presentation of his claim to the proper accounting chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 151 U. S. 182

officers of the United States for settlement, and their refusal to allow the same.

A demurrer to this petition having been sustained, 19 Ct.Cl. 278, the plaintiff amended by adding allegations to the effect that Act No. 155 of the Session Laws of the General Assembly of Louisiana for the year 1874 required a registration of voters for the election in 1876, and showing, in a general way, the facts and circumstances which justified the commissioner, as claimed, in finding that there was probable cause to believe that offenses had been committed, and in issuing the warrants.

A demurrer to this amended petition was thereafter filed and sustained, and judgment rendered dismissing the petition.

Pending the proceedings in the Court of Claims, the petitioner died, and the suit was revived in the name of the present plaintiff, his executrix.

Section 5512, Revised Statutes, is in chapter 7 of the title "Crimes." By section 1982, the commissioners, with other officers, are

"authorized and required at the expense of the United States, to institute prosecutions against all persons violating any of the provisions of chapter seven of the title 'Crimes,'"

and by section 1986, the commissioner is "entitled to a fee of ten dollars for his services in each case, inclusive of all services incident to the arrest and examination."

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