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UNITED STATES V. HILL, 120 U. S. 169 (1887)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Hill, 120 U.S. 169 (1887)

United States v. Hill

Argued December 20, 1886

Decided January 31, 1887

120 U.S. 169


It was the custom in the United States courts in Massachusetts, from 1839 to December, 1884, known and approved by the judges, for the clerk to charge $3 as fees in naturalization proceedings. The clerk of the District Court never included those fees in his returns. That fact was known to the judges to whom his accounts were semiannually exhibited and by whom they were passed without objection in that particular. Relying on that custom and believing that those fees formed no part of the emoluments to be returned, the clerk of the district court appointed in 1879 did not include those fees in his accounts. This was known to the district judge when he examined and certified the accounts, and his accounts so made out, to July, 1884, were examined and adjusted by the accounting officers of the Treasury. Under a rule made by the district court in 1855, the clerk had charged and received the $3 as a gross sum for examining, in advance of their presentation to the court, the application papers and reporting to the court whether they were in conformity with law, and had made no division for specific services according to any items of the fee bill in §§ 823 et seq. of the Revised Statutes. In a suit brought in December, 1884, on the official bond of the clerk against him and his surety to recover the amount of the naturalization fees, held:

(1) The provision in § 823, taken from § 1 of the Act of February 26, 1853, c. 80, 10 Stat. 161, that the fees to clerks shall be "taxed and allowed" applies prima facie to taxable fees and costs in ordinary suits between party and party prosecuted in a court, and there is no specification of naturalization matters in the fees of clerks.

Page 120 U. S. 170

(2) The statute being of doubtful construction as to what fees were to be returned, the interpretation of it by judges, heads of departments, and accounting officers, contemporaneous and continuous, was one on which the obligors in the bond had a right to rely, and, it not being clearly erroneous, it will not now be overturned.

This was an action at law to recover from the defendants in error fees which it was claimed the clerk of the District Court of the United States for the District of Massachusetts should have accounted for, the defendants being the clerk and his bondsman. Judgment for defendants to review which this writ of error was sued out. The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

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