Tool Company v. Norris
Annotate this Case
69 U.S. 45 (1864)
U.S. Supreme Court
Tool Company v. Norris, 69 U.S. 2 Wall. 45 45 (1864)
Tool Company v. Norris
69 U.S. (2 Wall.) 45
1. An agreement for compensation for procuring a contract from the government to furnish its supplies is against public policy, and cannot be enforced by the courts.
2. Where the special and general counts of a declaration set forth the same contract, and an instruction directed to the legality of the contract is refused with reference to the special counts, it is unnecessary, in order to bring up to this Court for consideration the writing thereon, to ask the instruction with reference to the general counts to which it is equally applicable, although upon the special counts the verdict passed for the plaintiff in error.
In July, 1861, the Providence Tool Company, a corporation created under the laws of Rhode Island, entered into a
contract with the government, through the Secretary of War, to deliver to officers of the United States, within certain stated periods, twenty-five thousand muskets of a specified pattern at the rate of twenty dollars a musket. This contract was procured through the exertions of Norris, the plaintiff in the court below, and the defendant in error in this Court, upon a previous agreement with the corporation, through its managing agent, that in case he obtained a contract of this kind, he should receive compensation for his services proportionate to its extent.
Norris himself, it appeared -- though not having any imputation on his moral character -- was a person who had led a somewhat miscellaneous sort of a life, in Europe and America. Soon after the rebellion broke out, he found himself in Washington. He was there without any special purpose, but, as he stated, with a view of "making business -- anything generally;" "soliciting acquaintances;" "getting letters;" "getting an office," &c. Finding that the government was in need of arms to suppress the rebellion which had now become organized, he applied to the Providence Tool Company, already mentioned, to see if they wanted a job, and made the contingent sort of contract with them just referred to. He then set himself to work at what he called, "concentrating influence at the War Department" -- that is to say, to getting letters from people who might be supposed to have influence with Mr. Cameron, at that time Secretary of War, recommending him and his objects. Among other means, he applied to the Rhode Island Senators, Messrs. Anthony and Simmons, with whom he had got acquainted, to go with him to the War Office. Mr. Anthony declined to go, stating that since he had been Senator, he had been applied to some hundred times in like manner, and had invariably declined, thinking it discreditable to any Senator to intermeddle with the business of the departments. "You will certainly not decline to go with me, and introduce me to the Secretary, and to state that the Providence Tool Company is a responsible corporation." "I will give you a note," said Mr. Anthony. "I do not want a note," was the reply; "I want the weight of your presence with me. I want the
influence of a Senator." "Well," said Mr. Anthony, "go to Simmons." By one means and another, Norris got influential introduction to Mr. Secretary Cameron, and got the contract, a very profitable one; the Secretary, whom on leaving he warmly thanked, "hoping that he would make a great deal of money out of it."
But a dispute now arose between Norris and the Tool Company as to the amount of compensation to be paid. Norris insisted that by the agreement with him he was to receive $75,000, the difference between the contract price and seventeen dollars a musket, whilst the corporation, on the other hand, contended that it had only promised "a liberal compensation" in case of success. Some negotiation on the subject was had between them; but it failed to produce a settlement, and Norris instituted the present action to recover the full amount claimed by him.
The declaration contained several counts, the first and second ones, special; the third, fourth, and fifth, general. The special ones set forth specifically a contract that if he, Norris, procured the government to give the order to the company, the company would pay to him, Norris,
"for his services, in obtaining, or causing and procuring to be obtained, such order, all that the government might, by the terms of their arrangement with the company, agree to pay above $17 for each musket."
The general counts were in the usual form of quantum meruit &c., but in these counts, as in the special ones, a contract was set forth on the basis of a compensation, contingent upon Norris' procuring an order from the government for muskets for the Tool Company; reliance on this contingent sort of contract running through all the counts of the declaration. There was no pretense that the plaintiff had rendered any other service than that which resulted in the contract for the muskets.
On the trial in the Circuit Court for the Rhode Island District, the counsel of the Tool Company requested the court to instruct the jury that a contract like that declared on in the first and second counts was against public policy and void, which instruction the court refused to give. The
same counsel requested the court to charge,
"That upon the quantum meruit count, the plaintiff was not entitled in law to recover any other sum of money for services rendered to the Tool Company in procuring a contract for making arms than a fair and reasonable compensation for the time, speech, labor performed, and expenses incurred in performing such services, to be computed at a price for which similar services could have been obtained from others."
The court gave this instruction, with the exception of the last nine words in italics. The jury found for the defendant on the first and second -- that is to say, upon the special -- counts, and for the plaintiff on the others, and judgment was entered on $13,500 for the plaintiff. The case came, by writ of error, here.