United States v. Russell
Annotate this Case
80 U.S. 623 (1871)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Russell, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 623 623 (1871)
United States v. Russell
80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 623
1. Where the government, in emergencies, takes private property into its use, a contract to reimburse the owner is implied.
2. The United States having, under a military emergency, during the rebellion, taken into its service certain already officered and manned steamers
of a citizen of the United States under circumstances which, on a petition filed by the owner in the Court of Claims for remuneration, led the court to find
"that when the same were respectively taken into the service of the United States, the officers acting for the government did not intend to 'appropriate' them, nor even their services, but did intend to compel the captains and crews with such steamers to perform the services needed, and to pay a reasonable compensation for such services, and that such was the understanding of the claimant,"
and, the property having been returned to the exclusive possession and control of its owner so soon as the emergency was over, held that there was no such "appropriation" as brought the case within the act of July 4, 1864, which enacts
"That the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims shall not extend to or include any claim against the United States growing out of . . the appropriation of property by the army or navy . . engaged in the suppression of the rebellion."
By the act of Congress of 1855, [Footnote 1] constituting the said court, jurisdiction is given to it to hear and determine all claims against the United States
"founded on any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an executive department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States."
A subsequent act, however, the Act of July 4, 1864, [Footnote 2] enacts:
"That the jurisdiction of the said court shall not extend to or include any claim against the United States, growing out of the destruction or appropriation of, or damage to property by the army or navy, or any part of the army or navy engaged in the suppression of the rebellion, from the commencement to the close thereof."
In this state of the court's jurisdiction, one Russell filed a petition in that court for compensation for the seizure and use of three steamers belonging to him by the military authorities. The first was the steamer J. H. Russell, which was taken by the Assistant Quartermaster of the United States Army at St. Louis on the 2d of October, 1863, under the following letter:
"CAPTAIN OF THE STEAMER J. H. RUSSELL."
"SIR: Imperative military necessity requires that you make no arrangements for private freight without first consulting this office and obtaining permission in writing so to do."
"Yours very respectfully,"
"Captain and Assistant Quartermaster"
The steamer was detained in the service of the United States in pursuance to this order, being used in the transportation of government freight from the 2d of October until the 20th of November, 1863.
The second vessel was the steamer Liberty, taken on the following order:
"ST. LOUIS, MO., Sept. 2, 1864"
"CAPTAIN OF THE STEAMER LIBERTY."
"SIR: Imperative military necessity requires the services of your steamer for a brief period. Your captain will report at this office at once, in person, first stopping the receipt of freight, should the steamer be so doing."
"L. S. METCALF"
"Captain and Assistant Quartermaster"
In pursuance of this order, the steamer was taken into the service of the United States and was engaged in it for twenty-six days. The steamer was subsequently again taken into the service of the United States at New Orleans under orders from an assistant quartermaster in the army.
The third steamer was the Time and Tide, which was taken into the service of the United States in pursuance of a military order issued by an assistant quartermaster in the United States army at New Orleans on the 21st of March, 1864, and continued in the service of the United States in pursuance of such order for the period of sixty days.
The court found:
"That during the time each of said steamers was in the service of the United States as hereinbefore stated, they were in command of the claimant or of some person employed by him, subject to his control and under his pay. "
"That in the case of each of these steamers, at the times when the same were respectively taken into the service of the United States, the officers acting for the United States did not intend to 'appropriate' these steamers to the United States, nor even their services, but they did intend to compel the captains and crews with such steamers to perform the services needed, and to pay a reasonable compensation for such services, and such was the understanding of the claimant; and that each of said steamers, so soon as the services for which they were respectively required had been performed, were returned to the exclusive possession and control of the claimant."
The court, upon these facts, decided as a conclusion of law that there was not such an "appropriation" of the claimant's property as prohibited the court from taking jurisdiction of the case under the act of July 4, 1864, but that there was such an employment and use of the claimant's property in the service of the United States as raises an implied promise on the part of the United States to reimburse the claimant for the money expended by him for and on behalf of the United States and also a fair and reasonable compensation for the services of the claimant and for the services of said steamers.
Judgment was accordingly rendered against the United States for the sum of $41,355, and from that judgment the United States appealed and assigned as error that under the already quoted act of July 4, 1864, the Court of Claims had no jurisdiction of the claim of the appellee against the government.
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