Bell v. United States
Annotate this Case
366 U.S. 393 (1961)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Bell v. United States, 366 U.S. 393 (1961)
Bell v. United States
Argued January 11, 1961
Decided May 22, 1961
366 U.S. 393
Petitioners were enlisted men in the United States Army who were captured during the hostilities in Korea in 1950 and 1951. In the prison camps to which they were taken, they consorted, fraternized, and cooperated with their captors and behaved with utter disloyalty to their comrades and to their country. After the Korean Armistice in the summer of 1953, they refused repatriation and went to Communist China. They were dishonorably discharged from the Army in 1954. In 1955, they returned to the United States and filed claims for accrued pay and allowances, which were denied administratively. They then sued in the Court of Claims for pay and allowances from the time of their capture to the date of their discharge from the Army.
Held: under 37 U.S.C. § 242 and the Missing Persons Act, petitioners were entitled to the pay and allowances that accrued during their detention as prisoners of war; but no opinion is expressed as to their rights to pay for the period between the Korean Armistice and their administrative discharge, since that question was not separately raised or argued in this Court. Pp. 366 U. S. 394-416.
(a) Refusal to pay petitioners cannot be justified under § 9A of the Act of 1939, which made it unlawful to pay from appropriated funds compensation to any employee of the Federal Government who was a member of any organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government, since that statute was repealed more than a year before the Army relied upon it in refusing to pay petitioners. Pp. 366 U. S. 398-400.
(b) Refusal to pay petitioners cannot be sustained on the principle of contract law that one who willfully commits a material breach of a contract can recover nothing under it, since common law rules governing private contracts have no place in the area of military pay, which is governed entirely by statute. Pp. 366 U. S. 401-404.
(c) Under the plain language of 37 U.S.C. § 242 and the Missing Persons Act, a serviceman captured by the enemy and thus unable to perform his normal duties is nonetheless entitled to his pay. Pp. 366 U. S. 397-398, 366 U. S. 404-405, 366 U. S. 409-410.
(d) Refusal to pay petitioners cannot be justified under the Missing Persons Act, either on the ground that they were no longer "in the active service" or on the ground that they had been "officially determined absent from [their posts] of duty without authority," since there has never been any official administrative determination that petitioners were no longer in the active service or that they were absent from their posts of duty without authority during the period here in question. Pp. 366 U. S. 404-414.
(c) No opinion is expressed as to petitioners' pay rights for the period between the Korean Armistice and their discharges from the Army, since that question was not separately raised or argued administratively, in the court below, or in this Court. Pp. 366 U. S. 414-415.
___ Ct. Cl.___, 181 F. Supp. 668, reversed and remanded.