Clarkson v. Stevens,
106 U.S. 505 (1882)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Clarkson v. Stevens, 106 U.S. 505 (1882)

Clarkson v. Stevens

Decided November 27, 1882

106 U.S. 505


1. Where, by a contract for the construction of a ship, the builder is to furnish the requisite labor and materials and to receive therefor a sum payable in installments as the work progresses, this Court will not enforce any arbitrary rule of construction in determining the question whether the title remains in the builder until the ship is delivered or ready for delivery, or whether the property in so much of her as on the payment of any installment is completed passes to the other party, but it will carry into effect the intent of the parties, to be gathered from the terms of the contract and the circumstances attending the transaction.

2. Being thereunto authorized, the Secretary of the Navy entered into a contract with S. whereby the latter covenanted to construct a shot-and-shell-proof war steamer for harbor defense. The Secretary was to appoint an agent to receive and, on account of the Navy Department, receipt for all materials delivered at S.'s establishment for the construction of the steamer -- the materials, when receipted for, to become the property of the United States, and to be marked "U.S." The agent's certificate to S.'s accounts for materials and labor was the evidence on which payments were to be made to the latter. S. executed a mortgage to the United States to secure his faithful performance of the contract, conferring upon the mortgagee, in case of his failure to fulfill it, power to enter upon his establishment and sell the steamer. When the steamer should be fully completed by S. and accepted by the United States, the balance of the purchase price was then to be paid and the mortgage surrendered. The period within which the vessel was to be completed was from time to time extended. S. died, and the vessel was never finished. Held

1. That the title to the unfinished vessel remained in S., and that no property therein vested in the United States.

2. That by the resolution of Congress, releasing and conveying to his heirs at law "all the right, title, and interest of the United States in and to" the vessel, nothing passed to them.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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