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decided: May 9, 1898.




[ 170 U.S. Page 376]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

The question to be determined in this case is, whether, under the circumstances above set forth, the moneys received by Receiver Smith, and to recover which the action herein

[ 170 U.S. Page 377]

     was commenced, were public moneys within the meaning of the law and the bond given by the receiver.

The moneys paid to the receiver were paid upon the making of proofs by the entrymen under various statutes of the United States providing for the sale of the public lands, such as the statute relating to preemptions, Rev. Stat. §§ 2257-2288; the statute relating to homesteads, Rev. Stat. §§ 2289-2317; the statute relating to the sale of desert lands. Act of March 3, 1877, c. 107, 19 Stat. 377. In the course of the proceedings under these acts and in the examination of the proofs submitted, various questions of fact arise and are to be decided by the register and receiver, who are to be satisfied of the existence of the necessary facts mentioned in the statute, and of the regularity and sufficiency of the proofs. When so satisfied the register issues his certificate to that effect, and the receiver gives what is known as a "final receipt," and upon the two papers the patent finally issues. There must be the favorable action of both register and receiver before the final papers issue, but such action need not be simultaneous. The receiver may act at one time and the register at another, but both must act before the case is concluded and the papers signed upon which the patent is subsequently issued. Lytle v. Arkansas, 9 How. 314; Potter v. United States, 107 U.S. 126.

The statutes are somewhat general in their provisions as to the time of payment of the purchase price of the lands, merely providing that the entries desired may be made upon satisfactory proof being made to the register and receiver and "upon paying to the United States the minimum price of such land."

The statutes do not provide that the entryman shall not pay the money before the final decision is made determining the sufficiency of his proofs, but they simply provide that when the register and receiver are so satisfied and upon payment of the money, entry may be made. The matter of the time of payment, so long as it is made before the entry, is thus left for regulation by the department having the matter in charge. Such regulations are made under § 161 Rev. Stat., permitting each head of a department to prescribe regulations, not inconsistent

[ 170 U.S. Page 378]

     with law, for the government of his department and the conduct of its officers and clerks, etc.

Acting under the authority of section 161, the General Land Office provided by its general circular with regard to the time when payment for public lands sold should be made, and directed "that proofs without payment must in no case be accepted." This regulation did not refer to "final" acceptance of proof, resulting in a favorable decision upon the application. The statutes already provided that it was only upon payment that the entry might be made. The regulation referred to the taking of the proofs at all. It could only mean that no proof proffered by an entryman should be received without payment of the purchase price of the land which he desired to purchase. The probable purpose of the rule was to prevent the unnecessary examination of proofs in cases where they might be found to be satisfactory and yet the purchase price should not then be forthcoming. Whatever the reason, the direction was plain and unambiguous, and it absolutely forbade the reception of the proofs of the entryman unless at the same time he paid the purchase price to the receiver for the lands which he proposed to buy. Thus the entryman could not make his proofs and leave them with the receiver for him and the register subsequently to act upon them, unless the entryman at the time of making his proofs and leaving them for future examination and decision paid the purchase price for the lands. This regulation is not inconsistent with or in violation of the statutes in regard to payment. As we have observed, the payment must by statute be made before entry is allowed, but the particular time is not stated. The regulation above mentioned then comes in, the effect of which is to prevent the acceptance of proof without payment, and the payment must therefore be made when the proof is offered, and it may be some time before it is favorably acted upon by both register and receiver. Thus under provision of law and pursuant to valid requirements of the Land Office the entryman is compelled to pay his money at the time he proffers his proofs and before final action upon them is taken by the two public officers designated in the statutes. When the entryman

[ 170 U.S. Page 379]

     goes to the public land office for the purpose of obtaining the land he desires, and is told that his proofs cannot be filed or accepted unless and until he pays the purchase price of the land, which he thereupon does, he makes such payment to the receiver as a public officer, acting in the line of his duty, and it is safe to say that the entryman is without any thought or intention of paying the money to such receiver as his own private agent, to be kept by that agent in trust until the proofs are satisfactory, and to be then paid by him to the Government; nor are the circumstances of that nature which would lead to the belief that in making such payment the entryman is in fact trusting to the good faith and integrity of the receiver as his agent and that he does not regard himself as dealing with a public officer of the Government. The law accords with the fact. How can it be said that the money which he pays does not become public money upon such payment, when he pays it pursuant to law as the purchase price of land which he desires to buy and the money is exacted from him by the Government before any final action is taken upon his application? What difference does it make that the ...

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