United States v. Bliss
172 U.S. 321 (1899)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Bliss, 172 U.S. 321 (1899)

United States v. Bliss

No. 394

Submitted December 12, 1898

Decided January 3, 1899

172 U.S. 321

Syllabus

The appellee's testator contracted with the United States in 1863 to construct war vessels. Owing to changes in plan and additional work required by the government, the time of the completion of the work was prolonged over a year, during which prices for labor and materials greatly advanced. Full payment of the contract price was made, and also of an additional sum for changes and extra work. In 1890, Congress authorized the contractor's executor to bring suit in the Court of Claims for still further compensation. The act authorizing it contained this proviso:

"Provided, however, that the investigation of said claim shall be made upon the following basis: the said court shall ascertain the additional cost which was necessarily incurred by the contractors for building the light-draught monitors Squando and Nauset and the side-wheel steamer Ashuelot in the completion of the same, by reason of any changes or alterations in the plans and specifications required and delays in the prosecution of the work, provided that such additional cost in completing the same, and such changes or alterations in the plans and specifications required and delays in the prosecution of the work were occasioned by the government of the United States, but no allowance for any advance in the price of labor or material shall be considered unless such advance occurred during the prolonged term for completing the work rendered necessary by delay resulting from the action of the government aforesaid, and then only when such advance could not have been avoided by the exercise of ordinary prudence and diligence on the part of the contractors."

Held that the petitioner's right of recovery for advance in prices was limited to the prolonged term, and the Court of Claims could not consider advances which took place during the term named in the contract.

If a party neither pleads nor proves what has been decided by a court of competent jurisdiction in some other case between himself and his antagonist, he cannot insist upon the benefit of res judicata, and this although such prior judgment may have been rendered by the same court.

On August 22, 1863, Donald McKay contracted with the United States for the construction of the gunboat Ashuelot, the contract to be completed in eleven months from that date. On account of changes and additional work required by the government, and other details for which it was responsible,

Page 172 U. S. 322

the completion of the vessel was delayed from July 22, 1864, to November 29, 1865, a period of sixteen months and seven days beyond the contract term. Full payment of the contract price was made, and also of an additional sum for changes and extra work. On August 30, 1890, Congress passed an act, 26 Stat. 1247, c. 853, submitting to the Court of Claims the claims of the executors of Donald McKay for still further compensation. Such act contains this proviso:

"Provided, however, that the investigation of said claim shall be made upon the following basis: the said court shall ascertain the additional cost which was necessarily incurred by the contractors for building the light-draught monitors Squando and Nauset and the side-wheel steamer Ashuelot in the completion of the same, by reason of any changes or alterations in the plans and specifications required and delays in the prosecution of the work, provided that such additional cost in completing the same, and such changes or alterations in the plans and specifications required, and delays in the prosecution of the work were occasioned by the government of the United States; but no allowance for any advance in the price of labor or material shall be considered unless such advance occurred during the prolonged term for completing the work rendered necessary by delay resulting from the action of the government aforesaid, and then only when such advance could not have been avoided by the exercise of ordinary prudence and diligence on the part of the contractors."

Under this act, this suit was brought. Upon the hearing, the Court of Claims, in addition to the facts of the contract, performance, time of completion, and payment, found that:

"During the contract period of eleven months, and to some extent during the succeeding sixteen months and seven days, the government made frequent changes and alterations in the construction of the vessel, and delayed in furnishing to the contractor the plans and specifications therefor, by reason of which changes and delay in furnishing plans and specifications the contractor, without any fault or lack of diligence on his part, could not anticipate the labor, nor could he know the

Page 172 U. S. 323

kind, quality, or dimensions of material which would be made necessary to be used in complying with said changes."

"While the work was so delayed during and within the period of the contract as aforesaid, the price of labor and material greatly increased, which increased price thereafter continued without material change until the completion of the vessel, sixteen months and seven days subsequent to the expiration of the contract period. The increased cost to the contractor as aforesaid was by reason of the delays and inaction of the government, and without any fault on his part."

And rendered judgment in favor of the petitioner for, among other things, the increased cost of the labor and material furnished by him, consisting of two items of $12,608.71 and $14,815.66. From this judgment the United States appealed to this Court.

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