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Totten, Administrator, v. United States

U.S.
Jan 1, 1875
92 U.S. 105 (1875)

Summary

holding that suits against the Government on the basis of covert espionage agreements are prohibited

Summary of this case from Baker v. Wittevrongel

Opinion

OCTOBER TERM, 1875.

An action cannot be maintained against the government, in the Court of Claims, upon a contract for secret services during the war, made between the President and the claimant.

Mr. Enoch Totten for the appellant.

Mr. Assistant Attorney-General Edwin B. Smith, contra.


APPEAL from the Court of Claims.


This case comes before us on appeal from the Court of Claims. The action was brought to recover compensation for services alleged to have been rendered by the claimant's intestate, William A. Lloyd, under a contract with President Lincoln, made in July, 1861, by which he was to proceed South and ascertain the number of troops stationed at different points in the insurrectionary States, procure plans of forts and fortifications, and gain such other information as might be beneficial to the government of the United States, and report the facts to the President; for which services he was to be paid $200 a month.

The Court of Claims finds that Lloyd proceeded, under the contract, within the rebel lines, and remained there during the entire period of the war, collecting, and from time to time transmitting, information to the President; and that, upon the close of the war, he was only reimbursed his expenses. But the court, being equally divided in opinion as to the authority of the President to bind the United States by the contract in question, decided, for the purposes of an appeal, against the claim, and dismissed the petition.

We have no difficulty as to the authority of the President in the matter. He was undoubtedly authorized during the war, as commander-in-chief of the armies of the United States, to employ secret agents to enter the rebel lines and obtain information respecting the strength, resources, and movements of the enemy; and contracts to compensate such agents are so far binding upon the government as to render it lawful for the President to direct payment of the amount stipulated out of the contingent fund under his control. Our objection is not to the contract, but to the action upon it in the Court of Claims. The service stipulated by the contract was a secret service; the information sought was to be obtained clandestinely, and was to be communicated privately; the employment and the service were to be equally concealed. Both employer and agent must have understood that the lips of the other were to be for ever sealed respecting the relation of either to the matter. This condition of the engagement was implied from the nature of the employment, and is implied in all secret employments of the government in time of war, or upon matters affecting our foreign relations, where a disclosure of the service might compromise or embarrass our government in its public duties, or endanger the person or injure the character of the agent. If upon contracts of such a nature an action against the government could be maintained in the Court of Claims, whenever an agent should deem himself entitled to greater or different compensation than that awarded to him, the whole service in any case, and the manner of its discharge, with the details of dealings with individuals and officers, might be exposed, to the serious detriment of the public. A secret service, with liability to publicity in this way, would be impossible; and, as such services are sometimes indispensable to the government, its agents in those services must look for their compensation to the contingent fund of the department employing them, and to such allowance from it as those who dispense that fund may award. The secrecy which such contracts impose precludes any action for their enforcement. The publicity produced by an action would itself be a breach of a contract of that kind, and thus defeat a recovery.

It may be stated as a general principle, that public policy forbids the maintenance of any suit in a court of justice, the trial of which would inevitably lead to the disclosure of matters which the law itself regards as confidential, and respecting which it will not allow the confidence to be violated. On this principle, suits cannot be maintained which would require a disclosure of the confidences of the confessional, or those between husband and wife, or of communications by a client to his counsel for professional advice, or of a patient to his physician for a similar purpose. Much greater reason exists for the application of the principle to cases of contract for secret services with the government, as the existence of a contract of that kind is itself a fact not to be disclosed.

Judgment affirmed.


Summaries of

Totten, Administrator, v. United States

U.S.
Jan 1, 1875
92 U.S. 105 (1875)

holding that suits against the Government on the basis of covert espionage agreements are prohibited

Summary of this case from Baker v. Wittevrongel

recognizing the President's power to conduct intelligence operations and to employ secret agents

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Laden

In Totten v. United States, 92 U. S. 105 (1876), the administrator of a self-styled Civil War spy's estate brought a breach-of-contract suit against the United States. He alleged that his testator had entered into a contract with President Lincoln to spy on the Confederacy in exchange for $200 a month.

Summary of this case from General Dynamics Corporation v. U.S.

In Totten v. United States, 92 U.S. 105, 23 L.Ed. 605 (1876), the administrator of a self-styled Civil War spy's estate brought a breach-of-contract suit against the United States. He alleged that his testator had entered into a contract with President Lincoln to spy on the Confederacy in exchange for $200 a month.

Summary of this case from Gen. Dynamics Corp. v. United States

prohibiting suits against the Government based on covert espionage agreements

Summary of this case from Sinochem Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp.

In Totten v. United States, 92 U. S. 105 (1876), the Court held that an alleged oral agreement between a deceased spy and President Lincoln was unenforceable.

Summary of this case from Tenet v. Doe

In Totten v. United States, 92 U. S. 105 (1876), we held that public policy forbade a self-styled Civil War spy from suing the United States to enforce its obligations under their secret espionage agreement.

Summary of this case from Tenet v. Doe

In Totten, the administrator of William A. Lloyd's estate brought suit against the United States to recover compensation for services that Lloyd allegedly rendered as a spy during the Civil War. 92 U. S. 105. Lloyd purportedly entered into a contract with President Lincoln in July 1861 to spy behind Confederate lines on troop placement and fort plans, for which he was to be paid $200 a month.

Summary of this case from Tenet v. Doe

In Totten, this Court concluded with no difficulty that the President had the authority to bind the United States to contracts with secret agents, observed that the very essence of such a contract was that it was secret and had to remain so, and found that allowing a former spy to bring suit to enforce such a contract would be entirely incompatible with the contract's nature.

Summary of this case from Tenet v. Doe

prohibiting suits against the government based upon covert espionage agreements

Summary of this case from In re Limitnone

precluding suits arising from a secret espionage agreement between the plaintiff and the United States

Summary of this case from Arar v. Ashcroft

establishing absolute bar to enforcement of confidential agreements to conduct espionage, on ground that "public policy forbids the maintenance of any suit in a court of justice, the trial of which would inevitably lead to the disclosure of matters which the law itself regards as confidential"

Summary of this case from El-Masri v. U.S.

In Totten, the estate of William A. Lloyd, a spy hired by President Abraham Lincoln to gain information on Confederate troop positions during the Civil War, brought suit in the Court of Claims to recover compensation Lloyd had allegedly been promised under his secret agreement with the President.

Summary of this case from Doe v. Tenet

In Totten, the estate of William A. Lloyd, a spy hired by President Abraham Lincoln to gain information on Confederate troop positions during the Civil War, sought to recover in the Court of Claims compensation Lloyd had allegedly been promised under his secret agreement with the President. 92 U.S. at 105-06.

Summary of this case from Doe v. Tenet

stating that "suits cannot be maintained which would require the disclosure of [ inter alia] the confidences of the confessional"

Summary of this case from Cox v. Miller

In Totten, the administrator of Totten's estate sued to recover compensation for services performed by Totten for President Lincoln as a spy in gathering information about Confederate military installations and troop movements.

Summary of this case from Guong v. U.S.

barring suit by Civil War spy against the United States for alleged failure to pay for espionage services because the case was predicated on the existence of an undisclosed contract for secret services with the government

Summary of this case from Fazaga v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation

prohibiting suits against the Government based on covert espionage agreements

Summary of this case from Wood v. Johnson & Johnson

In Totten, the plaintiff brought suit against the government seeking payment for espionage services he had provided during the Civil War.

Summary of this case from American Civil Liberties v. National Sec. Agency

In Totten v. United States, 92 U.S. 105, 23 L.Ed. 605 (1875), the Supreme Court expressly recognized the President's power to employ agents to gather intelligence information.

Summary of this case from United States v. Butenko

In Totten v. United States, 92 U.S. 105, 23 L.Ed. 605 (1875), the Supreme Court forbade the disclosure of an alleged spy contract and thereby erected an absolute wall of secrecy around state papers.

Summary of this case from Timken Roller Bearing Company v. U.S.

In Totten v. United States, supra, 92 U.S. 105, the estate of a deceased government agent brought suit seeking compensation under an alleged contract with President Lincoln whereby the decedent had allegedly infiltrated the Confederate Army and transmitted reports to the President.

Summary of this case from Rubin v. City of Los Angeles
Case details for

Totten, Administrator, v. United States

Case Details

Full title:TOTTEN, ADMINISTRATOR, v . UNITED STATES

Court:U.S.

Date published: Jan 1, 1875

Citations

92 U.S. 105 (1875)

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