Gibbons v. United States
Annotate this Case
75 U.S. 269 (1868)
U.S. Supreme Court
Gibbons v. United States, 75 U.S. 8 Wall. 269 269 (1868)
Gibbons v. United States
75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 269
1. In the Court of Claims, the government is liable for refusing to receive and pay for what it has agreed to purchase.
2. When an individual who has been absolved from such a contract by the refusal of the proper officer to receive the articles when tendered afterwards consents to deliver them under a threat of the officer that he will withhold money justly due to the plaintiff, he can only recover the contract price, whatever may have been the current market value of the articles.
3. The government is not liable on an implied assumpsit for the torts of its officer committed while in its service and apparently for its benefit.
4. To admit such liability, would involve the government in all its operations, in embarrassments, losses, and difficulties, subversive of the public interest.
5. When the injury to individuals in such cases merits redress by the government, the remedy is with Congress. The statute does not confer jurisdiction on the Court of Claims.
Gibbons entered into a contract with the United States for the delivery of two hundred thousand bushels of oats within thirty days from the date of the contract.
He delivered a portion of the oats, and was ready and offered to deliver the residue within the thirty days, but was prevented by the officers of the United States from so doing; they would not receive it, because they had not convenient storehouses for it.
Subsequently to this refusal, the quartermaster having charge of the contract on the part of the United States sent an "orderly" to Gibbons, requesting his immediate presence with the messenger at the quartermaster's office. This was understood by Gibbons to be an arrest. About the same time, notice was given to him that he must deliver the residue of the oats specified in the contract under penalty of a purchase in open market, the difference of cost to be charged to him. The quartermaster at this time held a large sum of money in his hands, the price of grain before that time delivered. Gibbons remonstrated, contending that the contract was at an end. Influenced, however, by the above-mentioned assumption of power and by the threats used, or by some reason, he did deliver the quantity of oats sufficient to make in all the amount specified in the contract.
By this time oats had advanced in price, and the price which Gibbons was compelled to pay in the market to get them exceeded the amount paid to him by the government, as he alleged, 8 3/4 and 12 cents per bushel.
Gibbons was compelled to pay $333 demurrage on certain vessels which were laden with a portion of the oats, and which were detained by the government officers in receiving the cargoes.
On final settlement with the quartermaster, he was charged for 8,000 bushels of oats purchased by the quartermaster in open market after the expiration of the contract at an advanced cost of 12 cents per bushel. This money was detained from him.
On this case, the Court of Claims -- upon the petition of Gibbons setting forth a claim for the difference, 8 3/4 and 12 cents per bushel, in the price of oats, delivered after the expiration of his contract, for demurrage, "for damages sustained by failure of the government to receive oats under contract at the time of delivery, $400," and for the money detained, but not alleging anything about duress -- thus announced its conclusions in law:
"The obligation on the part of the government under the contract to receive the oats when they were offered, was as
strong as the obligation to deliver. The plaintiff was not bound under a continuing obligation, and as he had made a reasonable offer, which was improperly refused, that put an end to the contract, and he was released from his obligation by the conduct of the government. The officers who threatened him had no authority to compel him to deliver the oaths, and the threats used were superserviceable and improper. If he was so unwise as to submit to the unauthorized menaces of the quartermaster, he must take the consequences. Hence, he cannot recover the difference in price between that named in the contract, and that ruling in market after its expiration."
"Nor can the government withhold from the sum justly due to the plaintiff, any difference which was paid for oats purchased after the expiration of the contract exceeding the price fixed by it."
"Therefore the plaintiff should recover the sum withheld at the time of settlement; also the demurrage."
Judgment being entered accordingly, Gibbons, claimant in the case, appealed to this Court.