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Butler v. National Home for Disabled Soldiers, 144 U.S. 64 (1892)

Butler v. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers

No. 170

Argued February 29, March 1, 1892

Decided March 14, 1892

144 U.S. 64


This action was brought by the defendant in error as plaintiff below against the plaintiff in error, defendant below, to recover a balance alleged to be due from him to the plaintiff below as its treasurer. The defendant below denied that any sum was due, and set up an accord and satisfaction. At the trial, after the plaintiff rested, the defendant opened his case at length setting forth the grounds of his defense. After some evidence had been introduced, including the books of account and the evidence of a witness who kept those books, a conversation took place between the court and the defendant respecting the introduction of evidence alleged by the court to be outside of the statements made in the opening. The defendant insisted that the evidence offered was within those statements. A farther conversation resulted in the defendant's offering to show that all the moneys ever received by him as treasurer were duly accounted for and paid over. The court held this to be a mixed proposition of law and fact, and therefore not to be proved by witnesses or other evidence,

Page 144 U. S. 65

and, having excluded it, charged the jury that the question at issue was a bookkeeper's puzzle or problem, which must be solved in favor of the plaintiff although nothing had occurred in the testimony which reflected in the slightest degree upon the integrity or honesty or upright conduct of anybody who was concerned or had at any time been concerned in the transaction.


(1) That under the rule laid down in Oscanyan v. Arms Co., 103 U. S. 261, it was competent for the court if, assuming all the statements and claims made in the defendant's opening with all explanations and qualifications to be true, he had no case, to direct a verdict for the plaintiff, but

(2) That he should have been allowed, especially in view of the statement that there was no imputation upon his integrity or honesty, to offer proof to show that he had accounted for and paid over the money for which he was sued, and that if the proof, when offered, did not tend in law to establish those facts, it could have been excluded.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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