United States v. Gleeson,
124 U.S. 255 (1888)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Gleeson, 124 U.S. 255 (1888)

United States v. Gleeson

Submitted January 4, 1888

Decided January 16, 1888

124 U.S. 255


On appeal by the United States from a judgment of the Court of Claims against them for less than three thousand dollars, rendered pro forma, against the opinion of that court, and for the purpose of an appeal, this Court, upon objection taken in behalf of the United States to the irregularity of the actions of the court below, reverses the judgment and remands the case for further proceedings according to law.

This was an appeal by the United States from a judgment of the Court of Claims upon the petition of James M. T. Gleeson, a clerk of the Post Office Department, claiming arrears of salary. Upon the proofs in the cause, the Court of Claims made a finding of facts, in substance as follows:

On November 15, 1871, the claimant, by an order of the Post Office Department addressed to him, was "designated a railway post office head clerk on cars between Washington, D.C., and Lynchburg, Va. Pay $1,400 per annum." He entered upon his duties under that order and continued to serve until May 23, 1883.

On August 14, 1876, one of the blank printed forms used by the department to notify railway post office head clerks of

Page 124 U. S. 256

a reduction of their pay, and copied below, was filled up by inserting the words and figures in brackets.

"Post Office Department, Washington, D.C. August [24], 1876. [J. M. T. Gleeson, R.P.O. Head Clerk, Washington, D.C.]"

"Sir: The Postmaster General has changed your pay as R.P.O. Head Clerk between [Washington, D.C. to Lynchburg, Va.] from $[1,400] to $[1,300] per annum, to take effect on and after August 1, 1876."

"Very respectfully &c."

"[James H. Marr, Acting] First Assistant Postmaster General"

On June 12, 1879, the First Assistant Postmaster General made an order to "reduce the pay of" the claimant and three others, "head clerks on the cars between Washington, D.C. and Lynchburg, Va., from $1,300 to $1,240 per annum, from the 1st to the 30th day of June, 1879, inclusive."

The claimant received these notices and orders and received full pay in accordance therewith. From August 1, 1876, to July 31, 1882, his salary was reduced from $1,00 to $1,300 per annum, and for the month of June, 1879, a further reduction was made from $1,300 to $1,240 per annum, the whole amount of the deductions being $597.84.

The further proceedings of the Court of Claims appeared by the transcript certified by its clerk to this Court to have been as follows:

Its conclusion of law was in these words:

"And upon the foregoing findings of fact, it appearing that the decision in this case will affect a class of cases and that the statutory question involved is novel, the court decides, for the purpose of an appeal to the Supreme Court, that the claimant should recover the sum of $597.84."

One of the judges, in behalf of the court, delivered the following opinion:

"It has been the rule and usage of this Court, when the determination of a new question will affect a class of cases, in none of which a claimant, by reason of the smallness of his demand, will have a right of appeal, to render a judgment pro forma against the government in one case to the end that the question may be examined and the rights of all parties determined by the Supreme Court. "

Page 124 U. S. 257

"In the present instance, the question is novel, and the claimants are a deserving class of officials whose skill, diligence and honesty affect the entire community probably more than the personal services of any other officers. If this case were to receive a final decision in this court, my own conclusion would probably be adverse to the claimant. To me it seems clear that the Postmaster General had authority to reduce the claimant's compensation prospectively, whose continuation in the railway mail service must have been upon the terms prescribed; but it does not seem more clear than other class cases which have been sent to the Supreme Court in the same way, and in some of which the Supreme Court has thought otherwise. Twenty Percent Cases, 4 Ct.Cl. 227; 9 Ct.Cl. 103."

"The other members of the court desire to have it understood that their opinion is adverse to the claimant upon the merits, and that if any other case of this class shall be brought to a hearing before the question involved be determined by the Supreme Court, the decision pro forma now rendered will not furnish a precedent for a recovery."

"The judgment of the court is that the claimant recover of the defendants the sum of $597.84."

Final judgment was entered in this form:

"At a Court of Claims held in the City of Washington on the 24th day of January, A.D. 1887, it was ordered that judgment pro forma for the purpose of an appeal to the Supreme Court be entered as follows: "

"The Court, on due consideration of the premises, find for the claimant and do order, adjudge, and decree that the said James M. T. Gleeson do have and recover of and from the United States the sum of five hundred and ninety-seven and 84/100 dollars ($597.84)."

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