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18415Another Official Stripped of Official Character! Yeah! :-)

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  • Legalbear
    Apr 30, 2011

      The second head of that classification is thus described: "Another class of cases is where an individual is sued in tort for some act injurious to another in regard to person or property, to which his defence is that he has acted under the orders of the government. In these cases he is not sued as, or because he is, the officer of the government, but as an individual, and the court is not ousted of jurisdiction because he asserts authority as such officer. To make out his defence he must show that his authority was sufficient in law to protect him." And in illustration of this principle reference was made to Mitchell v. Harmony, 13 How. 115; Bates v. Clark, 95 U.S. 204; Meigs v. McClung, 9 Cranch, 11; Wilcox v. Jackson, 13 Pet. 498; Brown v. Huger, 21 How. 305; 288#####288 Grisar v. McDowell, 6 Wall. 363; and United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196.


      The ratio decidendi in this class of cases is very plain. A defendant sued as a wrong-doer, who seeks to substitute the State in his place, or to justify by the authority of the State, or to defend on the ground that the State has adopted his act and exonerated him, cannot rest on the bare assertion of his defence. He is bound to establish it. The State is a political corporate body, can act only through agents, and can command only by laws. It is necessary, therefore, for such a defendant, in order to complete his defence, to produce a law of the State which constitutes his commission as its agent, and a warrant for his act. This the defendant, in the present case, undertook to do. He relied on the act of January 26, 1882, requiring him to collect taxes in gold, silver, United States treasury notes, national bank currency, and nothing else, and thus forbidding his receipt of coupons in lieu of money. That, it is true, is a legislative act of the government of Virginia, but it is not a law of the State of Virginia. The State has passed no such law, for it cannot; and what it cannot do, it certainly, in contemplation of law, has not done. The Constitution of the United States, and its own contract, both irrepealable by any act on its part, are the law of Virginia; and that law made it the duty of the defendant to receive the coupons tendered in payment of taxes, and declared every step to enforce the tax, thereafter taken, to be without warrant of law, and therefore a wrong. He stands, then, stripped of his official character; and, confessing a personal violation of the plaintiff's rights for which he must personally answer, he is without defence. Poindexter v. Greenhow, 114 U.S. 270, 287 (1885).



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