Slavens v. United States
196 U.S. 229 (1905)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Slavens v. United States, 196 U.S. 229 (1905)

Slavens v. United States

No. 228

Argued December 7-8, 1904

Decided January 9, 1905

196 U.S. 229

Syllabus

Under the mail contract in this case, which was made in pursuance of the Postal Laws and Regulations, and after the service had materially decreased by changed methods of transporting mail and the Postmaster General had offered the contractor, who had refused to accept it, the remaining work at a lower compensation, it was within the power of the Postmaster General to put an end to the contract by order of discontinuance, allowing one month's pay as indemnity, and to relet the remaining service; the power to terminate the contract on allowing a month's pay as indemnity was not predicated on an abandonment of the entire service.

While the provisions in a similar contract that the contractor should perform without additional compensation all new or changed service that the Postmaster General should order might not be construed as extending to services of different character and not within the terms of the contract, where the changed service is to take the mail to and from streetcars, met at crossings, instead of landings and stations, it comes within the power reserved to the Postmaster General, and the contractor is not entitled to additional compensation therefor.

In the absence of authority shown, a local postmaster has no power or authority to contract in respect to mail messenger service, and is not the agent of, nor can he bind, the government for that purpose, and if a contractor performs services which he protests against as not being within his contract, solely on the postmaster's order, he is not entitled to extra compensation therefor after his protest has been sustained and the service let to others.

The appellant filed his petition in the Court of Claims to recover for the alleged wrongful termination of certain mail contracts in the Cities of Boston, Brooklyn, and Omaha, and also for extra services performed in connection therewith. The Court of Claims, in disposing of the case, made separate findings of fact and conclusions of law. The findings of fact may be abridged for the purpose of this case, reference being made for fuller details to the findings in the Court of Claims. 38 Ct.Cl. 574. In pursuance of an advertisement for proposals for transporting the mails -- "covered regulation wagon, mail,

Page 196 U. S. 230

messenger, and mail station service" -- the appellant entered into contracts for four years each for the Cities of Boston and Brooklyn, and two years for the City of Omaha. The Boston and Brooklyn contracts began on July 1, 1893, and the Omaha contract on July 1, 1894. Compensation for the Boston contract was at the rate of $49,516 per annum; for the Brooklyn contract, $18,934 per annum, and for the Omaha contract at $3,780 per annum. During the terms of the Boston and Brooklyn contracts, the Postmaster General determined to carry certain of the mails within the district contracted for on electric street railway lines. In both cases, the appellant was offered the privilege of continuing the contract for the reduced service, but refused to do so in each case. The Postmaster General terminated the Boston and Brooklyn contracts, above referred to, the former on February 1, 1896, the latter on March 1, 1896, acting, as he avers, under the authority vested in him by law and the contract between the parties, but not because of any negligence or default on the part of the contractor. He afterwards relet the same service, as thus reduced, to another contractor, for the remaining period of the contract of the seventeen months of the Boston contract at the compensation of $37,000 per annum. The difference between the contract price and the amount it would cost the appellant to furnish the service in Boston during said seventeen months would be $18,884.14. The service of the Brooklyn contract for the remaining period of sixteen months was let to another contractor at a compensation of $9,720 per annum. The court did not find the amount of the loss to the appellant by reason of the termination of this contract. The contracts contained certain stipulations, as set forth in the opinion.

The contracts covered certain specified stations, landings, and mail stations from which the contractor was required to carry the mail, and during the terms of such contracts he was required to perform certain services, which he alleges to be extra services, and for which he was entitled to extra compensation -- in the Boston contract, carrying the mails from the general

Page 196 U. S. 231

post office, in the City of Boston, to the stopping places of the streetcar lines of the railway company from May 1, 1895, until February 1, 1896. Also, carrying the mails between the Back Bay post office and the Brookline office, a distance of from two and a half to three miles, which services were not included in the terms of the contract, but which he was required to perform by the postmaster of the City of Boston, against his protest. The contractor did not protest to the Postmaster General or any officer of the Post Office Department until August 14, 1894. Whereupon the Postmaster General dispensed with the service by the appellant, and entered into a contract with another contractor to perform the service.

Under the Brooklyn contract, which contained specifications as to the places between which the mail had to be carried during the term of the contract, the contractor was required to perform service between the Brooklyn post office and the mail routes established on the streetcar lines, and between the motor routes and the mail stations. Under the Omaha contract, appellant was required, in addition to the places specifically named in the contract, to carry the mail to and from street cars of the Omaha Street Railway at its crossings. It also appears that, under the three contracts, the new service required, in lieu of the service specified in the contract, was much less in mileage required than was the service stipulated by the original contract. The Court of Claims dismissed the petition, 38 Ct.Cl. 574, and the claimant appeals to this Court.

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