White v. United States,
239 U.S. 608 (1916)

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U.S. Supreme Court

White v. United States, 239 U.S. 608 (1916)

White v. United States

Nos. 153, 154

Argued January 7, 1915

Decided January 17, 1916

239 U.S. 608



The act of March 4, 1913, c. 148, 37 Stat. 891, granting officers of the Navy, who had been advanced in rank, the pay and allowances of the higher rank, applies only to officers on the active list, and does not apply to officers on the retired list who were assigned for active service after their retirement.

In construing a statute, the Court will regard it as more rational to assume that Congress was dealing with present affairs than that it was reopening finished transactions.

The general rule of statutes relating to duty and pay of naval officers is found in Rev.Stat., § 1462, providing that no officer on the retired list shall be employed in active duty except in time of war.

49 Ct.Cl. 702 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the construction of various statutes of the United States relating to pay of retired naval officers while on active service, are stated in the opinion.

Page 239 U. S. 611

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

These claims raise the same question. The claimant White was a lieutenant commander in the Navy. On June 30, 1905, he was transferred to the retired list, on his own request, with the rank of commander (Navy Personnel Act of March 3, 1899, c. 413, §§ 8, 9, 30 Stat. 1004, c. 413), and on April 13, 1911, was commissioned a commander on the retired list from June 30, 1905. (Act of March 4, 1911, c. 266, 36 Stat. 1354.) He was continued in active service from June 30, 1905, until October 31, 1911. (Act of June 7, 1900, c. 859, 31 Stat. 703.) The claimant Ford was a captain, was retired on May 19, 1902, under Rev.Stat. § 1444, Comp.Stat. 1913, § 2622, with the rank of rear admiral (Act of March 3, 1899, c. 413, § 11, 30 Stat. 1007), and was commissioned rear admiral on the retired list from May 19, 1902. (Act of March 4, 1911, c. 266, 36 Stat. 1354.) He was continued on active duty from May 19, 1902, until December 25, 1907. (Act of June 7, 1900, c. 859, 31 Stat. 703.) As provided by the last-mentioned statute, both of these officers received the pay and allowances of the rank they held before they were retired. By the Act of March 4, 1913, c. 148, 37 Stat. 891, 892, it was enacted that

"all officers of the Navy who, since the third day of March, eighteen hundred and ninety-nine, have been advanced or may hereafter be advanced in grade or rank pursuant to law shall be allowed the pay and allowances of the higher

Page 239 U. S. 612

grade or rank from the dates stated in their commissions."

The claims are made under this act for the difference between the pay and allowances received during active service after retirement and that of the higher grade to which the claimants respectively had been advanced. Demurrers to the petitions were sustained by the Court of Claims.

The claimants, although pressing the universal application of the statute according to the literal meaning of its words, still tacitly concede that we must go behind the letter of the law. For, while the statute says that all officers who have been advanced since the date mentioned shall have the pay of the higher grade, and says nothing about active service, the claims are confined to the periods of active service named, which implies a concession that the advance in grade by itself was not enough. And this concession was required by the fact that the statute grants allowances as well as pay, and that allowances are an incident of active duty alone.

As it stands admitted that the statute is of more limited scope than is apparent on its face, to an untrained reader, at least, the question is whether it is to be read as applying to all advanced officers who have been on active service, or only to all such officers upon the active list. We are of opinion that the latter is the true meaning, and that the decision of the Court of Claims was right. The general rule of the statutes is found in Rev.Stat. § 1462. "No officer on the retired list of the Navy shall be employed on active duty except in time of war." An exception, limited to twelve years from its passage, was made by the Act of June 7, 1900, allowing officers on the retired list, in the discretion of the Secretary of the Navy, to be ordered to such duty as they might be able to perform, and giving them while so employed the pay and allowances of the grade on the active list from which they were retired. When the Act of 1913, under which these claims are made,

Page 239 U. S. 613

was passed, this exception had expired -- all services under it had been rendered and paid for, and, with other exceptions not affecting this case, the general rule was in force. It is more rational to suppose that Congress was dealing with present affairs than that it was reopening transactions that might be ten years old, and that must have been finished, at the latest, nearly a year before. And this construction is confirmed when we notice that the increased pay and allowances are given from the date of the commission -- that is, if the claimants are right, from the date of their retirement, without regard to the time when their active duty began. In these cases, it was continuous with their service before retirement. But it might have begun years afterwards, and yet, by the statute, the date of the increase in pay and the allowances would have been the same.

The conclusion to which the statutes directly concerned would lead us is confirmed still further by consideration of the Act of August 22, 1912, c. 335, 37 Stat. 328, 329. This act provided that, thereafter, any naval officer on the retired list might, with his consent, in the discretion of the Secretary of the Navy, be ordered to such duties as he might be able to perform, and while so employed in time of peace should receive the pay and allowances of an officer on the active list of the same rank, provided that he was not to receive more than the pay and allowances of a lieutenant, senior grade, on the active list of like length of service, and, if his retired pay exceeded that, then he was to receive his retired pay only. The clash that there would be between the policy of this act and that of 1913, if construed as the claimants would have it construed, is plain.

Finally, it may be worth noticing that the reports that introduced the enactment pointed out as the evil to be remedied that, under the Act of June 22, 1874, c. 392, 18 Stat.191, the only officers who did not receive the pay of

Page 239 U. S. 614

their grade from the time they took rank as stated in their commissions were the youngest officers, who were appointed to the lowest grade, and therefore not promoted to fill a vacancy, as contemplated in the Act of 1874. House Rep. No. 1089. 62d Cong., 2d Sess. Senate Rep. No. 1217. 62d Cong., 3d Sess.

Judgments affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS took no part in the consideration and decision of these cases.

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