Twenty Percent Cases
87 U.S. 179

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Twenty Percent Cases, 87 U.S. 20 Wall. 179 179 (1873)

Twenty Percent Cases

87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 179

APPEALS IN FOURTEEN CASES

FROM THE COURT OF CLAIMS

Syllabus

1. The Twenty per Cent. Cases, 13 Wall. 576, affirmed, and the liberal view there taken of the joint resolution of 28th February, 1867, allowing to certain persons in the civil service of the United States at Washington an additional compensation of twenty percentum upon their respective salaries as fixed by law or, where no salary is fixed by law, upon their pay respectively, for one year from the 30th of June, 1866, declared to be the true view and applied to other cases essentially like those.

2. But not applied to the case of a person hired at Washington to do service out of Washington, nor to a contractor who contracted to deliver finished work, and who employed another to do it for him.

3. An Act passed on the 12th of July, 1870, repealing "all acts and joint resolutions, or parts thereof, and all resolutions of either House of Congress granting extra pay," the act "to take effect on the 1st day of July, 1870," did not affect the rights given by the joint resolution above mentioned.

On the 28th of February, 1867, Congress passed this joint resolution: [Footnote 1]

"That there shall be allowed and paid . . . to the following described persons, now employed in the civil service of the United States at Washington as follows: to civil officers, temporary and all other clerks, messengers, and watchmen, including enlisted men detailed as such, to be computed upon the gross amount of the compensation received by them, and employees, male and female, in the executive mansion, and in any of the following named departments, or any bureau or division thereof, to-wit: State, Treasury, War, Navy, Interior, Post Office, Attorney-General, Agricultural, and including civil officers, and temporary and all other clerks and employees, male and female, in the offices of the coast survey, naval observatory, navy yard, arsenal, paymaster-general, including the division of referred claims, commissary-general of prisoners, bureau of refugees, freedmen, and abandoned lands, quartermaster's, capitol and treasury extension, city post office, and commissioner of public buildings, to the photographer and assistant photographer of the Treasury Department,

Page 87 U. S. 180

to the superintendent of meters, and to lamplighters under the commissioner of public buildings, an additional compensation of twenty percentum on their respective salaries as fixed by law, or where no salary is fixed by law, upon their pay respectively, for one year from and after the 30th day of June, 1866. Provided, That this resolution shall not apply to persons whose salaries, as fixed by law, exceed $3,500 per annum."

On the 12th of July, 1870, [Footnote 2] Congress passed an act in these words:

"All acts and joint resolutions, or parts thereof, and all resolutions of either house of Congress granting extra compensation or pay, be, and the same are hereby repealed, to take effect on the 1st day of July, 1870."

Under the said joint resolution of 28th of February, 1866, fourteen different persons filed at different times -- some of them after the passage of the repealing act -- claims in the court below for the twenty percent given by the statute.

The first was employed by the bureau of yards and docks, as a machinist in the navy yard at Washington, upon daily wages at the agreed sum and price of $3.25 per day.

The second and third as coppersmiths on the Treasury extension, upon daily wages. Under specific appropriations for the construction of the Treasury extension, contracts were entered into for finished work, comprehending both materials and labor -- materials separately, and labor by the day separately. The services in these two cases were rendered under the latter contracts.

The fourth and fifth as watchmen upon the capitol extension, at daily wages, their compensation changing during the year.

The sixth as a laborer upon monthly wages in the quartermaster's department in the City of Washington.

The seventh was employed in the Treasury extension as a laborer upon daily wages, working for part of the time at $1.75 per day, and for another part at $2 per day.

The eighth by the authority of the surgeon-general of

Page 87 U. S. 181

the army, as a carpenter at the depot for receiving and distributing medical supplies in Washington.

The ninth was a watchman, laborer, and teamster by the quartermaster's department at Washington.

The tenth was a laborer by the commissary department at Washington.

The eleventh was a laborer, upon daily wages, at the Washington arsenal.

The twelfth was in the secret service division of the Treasury Department, in the capacity of detective, at a monthly salary of $150 per month.

The thirteenth, one Hoffman, was employed by one of the quartermasters on duty in the department at Washington, by the day, as sexton at the Arlington Cemetery, near Washington, but in Virginia, and there rendered his services.

The fourteenth, one Bell, was a plate-printer in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in the Treasury Department. He was paid the market price for his work, the price being neither a salary nor a per diem compensation, but a fixed rate for the work done -- that is to say, per one hundred sheets of face printing and per one hundred sheets of back printing. In the performance of his duties, he employed and paid an assistant, but the pay of the assistant was received directly from the disbursing officers of the Treasury, and was deducted by them from the amount earned by the claimant. The amount paid him after such deduction was $1,184.30, for twenty percent of which the court below entered judgment.

Each of the fourteen claimants was paid the highest rate of wages commonly paid for services such as his.

The Court of Claims gave judgment, pro forma, in all the cases, for the claimants, and the government brought the cases here.

The meaning of the joint resolution of February 28, 1867, it may be well here to state, had been a matter of question in this Court on a previous occasion in the cases known as The Twenty Percent Cases, [Footnote 3] and the Court then said that

Page 87 U. S. 182

persons are

"properly in the civil service if they were employed by the head of the department or of the bureau or any division of the department charged with that duty and authorized to make such contracts and fix the compensation of persons employed, even though the particular employment may not be designated in any appropriation"

act. It added that

"many persons not employed as clerks and messengers of the departments are in the public service by virtue of an employment by the head of the department or by the head of a bureau of the department authorized by law to make such contracts, and such persons are as much in the service, within the meaning of the joint resolution, as the clerks and messengers employed in the rooms of the department building. "

Page 87 U. S. 183

MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

Additional compensation is claimed by the respective appellees, as employees in the civil service of the United States in this city, by virtue of the joint resolution of the 28th of February, 1867, which provides that twenty percent additional compensation shall be allowed and paid to certain classes of such employees in Washington, as therein designated.

Civil officers whose annual salaries do not exceed $3,500 and all clerks, whether temporary or permanent, and messengers and watchmen, are specifically named in the resolution,

Page 87 U. S. 184

including enlisted men detailed as such, and the provision is that the additional allowance shall be computed upon the gross amount of the compensation received by such employee as fixed by law, or where no salary is fixed by law, upon the pay of the employee for that fiscal year, and that the benefit of the resolution shall extend to employees, male and female, in the executive mansion and in any of the following named departments, or any bureau or division thereof, to-wit: State, Treasury, War, Navy, Interior, Post Office, Attorney-General, and Agricultural, and including civil officers and all clerks and employees, male and female, in the offices of the coast survey, naval observatory, navy yard, arsenal, paymaster-general, bureau of refugees, freedmen, and abandoned lands, quartermasters, capitol and Treasury extension, city post office, and commissioner of public buildings; to the photographer and assistant photographer of the Treasury Department, to the superintendent of meters, and to lamp-lighters under the Commissioner of Public Buildings.

Judgments rendered by the Court of Claims involving controversies of a like character were removed into this Court by appeal on a former occasion, [Footnote 4] when it became the duty of this Court to examine the joint resolution in question and to determine what in the judgment of the Court is its actual scope and true intent and meaning as applied to the several cases then before the court.

Attempt was then made in argument to convince the Court that the words of the resolution, "in the civil service of the United States," as there employed, should be restricted to persons filling offices or holding appointments established by law, but the Court rejected that narrow construction of the phrase and unanimously decided that neither a commission nor a warrant of appointment is necessary to entitle an employee to the benefits of the joint resolution, provided he was actually and properly employed in the executive mansion, or in any of the departments, or in any bureau or division thereof, or in any of the offices specifically

Page 87 U. S. 185

designated in the said joint resolution; that persons so employed here are properly to be regarded as employees in the civil service of the United States within the true intent and meaning of that phrase as there used if they were employed by the head of the department or of the bureau or any division of the department charged with that duty and authorized to make such contracts and fix the compensation of the person or persons employed, even though the particular employment may not be designated in an appropriation act.

Such was the unanimous opinion of the Court as to the true construction of the joint resolution under consideration on that occasion, and the Court, with equal unanimity, adheres to that conclusion in the cases before the Court.

Many persons not employed as clerks or messengers of a department are in the public service by virtue of an employment by the head of a department or by the head of some bureau of a department or division thereof authorized to make such contracts, and such persons are as much in the civil service of the United States within the meaning of the joint resolution as the clerks and messengers employed in the rooms of the department building. [Footnote 5]

Much discussion of that topic, however, is unnecessary, as the question was explicitly determined in our former decision, to which reference is made for a full exposition of the present views of the court upon that subject.

Grant all that, still it is insisted that the joint resolution has been repealed since that decision was made, and that the effect of the repealing act is to bar the right of recovery in all of the cases under consideration, in support of which proposition reference is made to the fourth section of the Appropriation Act of the 12th of July, 1870, which enacts that all acts and joint resolutions or parts thereof, and all resolutions of either house of Congress granting extra compensation

Page 87 U. S. 186

or pay, be and the same are hereby repealed, to take effect on the 1st day of July in the same year. [Footnote 6]

Two propositions are submitted by the United States, based upon that repealing act, to show that the respective appellants in these cases cannot recover:

(1) That the repeal of the joint resolution prevents the officers of the Treasury from paying the additional compensation after the date of its passage.

(2) That the repealing act, even if the resolution created an implied contract and gave jurisdiction to the Court of Claims to enforce it, divested the Court of Claims of all jurisdiction in such controversies.

Both of the propositions, as it seems to the Court, overlook the material facts of the case, all of which are undisputed. They are as follows:

(1) That the joint resolution ceased to be operative at the end of the fiscal year in which it was enacted.

(2) That such additional compensation is allowed only for that year.

(3) That the claims in these cases are only for such additional compensation during that fiscal year.

(4) That the joint resolution ceased to be operative at the close of that fiscal year.

(5) That the right to such additional compensation became fixed and vested when the year's services were faithfully performed.

(6) That the repealing act, which it is supposed constitutes a bar to the cause of action in these cases, did not become a law until more than three years after the right to the additional compensation had become fixed and vested, and the joint resolution had ceased to be operative in respect to prospective services.

Viewed in the light of these suggestions, grave doubts arise whether the repealing act in question applies at all to the joint resolution, as it is difficult to believe that Congress would deem it necessary to repeal a provision which had expired by its own limitation more than three years before they acted upon the subject.

Mere supererogation, however, it is said, cannot properly be imputed to the national legislature, and there would be

Page 87 U. S. 187

much force in the suggestion if the joint resolution had at that time been in operation and had been the only provision of the kind to which the descriptive words of the repealing act would apply, but the fact is plainly otherwise, as there are several acts of corresponding import which were in full force at that date, and which, it must be admitted, are unquestionably included within those descriptive words. [Footnote 7]

Enough appears in the repealing act itself to show that Congress did not intend to give it any retroactive effect, except as therein provided, as the act expressly enacts that the provision in question shall take effect on the 1st day of July next before the day it was approved, which affords a demonstration that Congress never intended that it should retroact to any other or greater extent. [Footnote 8]

Courts of justice agree that no statute, however positive in its terms, is to be construed as designed to interfere with existing contracts, rights of actions, or with vested rights unless the intention that it shall so operate is expressly declared or is to be necessarily implied, and pursuant to that rule courts will apply new statutes only to future cases unless there is something in the nature of the case or in the language of the new provision which shows that they were intended to have a retroactive operation. Even though the words of a statute are broad enough in their literal extent to comprehend existing cases, they must yet be construed as applicable only to cases that may hereafter arise, unless the language employed expresses a contrary intention in unequivocal terms. [Footnote 9]

Such a law, if passed by a state and construed to have the effect claimed for it in this case by the appellants, would be unconstitutional and void; but it is not necessary to discuss any such proposition in this case, as there is not a word in the repealing act to support the conclusion that Congress

Page 87 U. S. 188

intended to rescind any antecedent contract or to enact any bar to the right of recovery in such cases where the service had been faithfully performed before the repealing act was passed.

Apply those rules to the cases before the court and it is clear the appellees in the first twelve are entitled to recover, as the finding of the court below shows that the claimant in each of those cases is included within the joint resolution as construed and defined by this Court.

But the other two claimants, to-wit, Hoffman and Bell, are not entitled to recover, the former because he was employed as sexton at the Arlington Cemetery, in the State of Virginia, and not "in Washington," and because, consequently, his claim is not within the words of the joint resolution. Nor is the latter, because he was not in the civil service of the United States within the meaning of that provision, as he was a plate-printer, working under a contract as an agreed rate "per one hundred sheets of face printing and per one hundred sheets of back printing." He employed an assistant, for whose compensation he was responsible, but the finding of the subordinate court shows that the assistant was paid directly by the disbursing officer and that the sum thus paid was deducted from the gross earnings of the claimant. Suffice it to say that the claimant was a contractor, and that he employed another to do most or all of the work, and in the judgment of the Court, such a contractor is not entitled to the additional compensation allowed and directed to be paid by the joint resolution under consideration.

Judgment affirmed in the first twelve cases.

Judgment reversed in the last two cases, and the causes remanded with directions to dismiss the respective petitions.

[Footnote 1]

14 Stat. at Large 569.

[Footnote 2]

16 Stat. at Large 250, § 4.

[Footnote 3]

80 U. S. 13 Wall. 576.

[Footnote 4]

Twenty Percent Cases, 13 Wall. 576.

[Footnote 5]

United States v. Belew, 2 Brockenbrought 280; Graham v. United States, 1 Nott & Huntington 380; Commonwealth v. Sutherland, 3 Sergeant & Rawle 149.

[Footnote 6]

16 Stat. at Large 250.

[Footnote 7]

12 Stat. at Large 587; 14 id. 206; 15 id. 77.

[Footnote 8]

16 id. 250.

[Footnote 9]

Potter's Dwarris 161; Wood v. Oakley, 11 Paige 403; Butler v. Palmer, 1 Hill 325; Jarvis v. Jarvis, 3 Edwards 466; McEwen v. Bulkley, 24 How. 242; Harvey v. Tyler, 2 Wall. 329; Blanchard v. Sprague, 3 Sumner 535; United States v. Heth, 3 Cranch 399.

MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE, in whose opinion concurred the CHIEF JUSTICE, and MR. JUSTICE DAVIS, dissenting from the judgment in the first twelve cases:

I dissent from the judgment of the Court in these cases in

Page 87 U. S. 189

favor of the claimants, and will give my views as briefly as may be. When the resolution giving the twenty percent was passed, nearly eight months of the year to which the allowance related had elapsed. The allowance was a mere gratuity. Hence there was no vested right arising from the resolution, and there could be none. But the resolution was operative in each case until the claimant was paid. When repealed, the gratuity which it gave fell with it. The repeal necessarily had that effect. I see no reason for giving the repealing section a more limited construction. It was intended to take away from all those who had not then been paid, the right to be paid thereafter. I think, therefore, that the judgments of the Court of Claims should be reversed.

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