Clark v. United States,
95 U.S. 539 (1877)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Clark v. United States, 95 U.S. 539 (1877)

Clark v. United States

95 U.S. 539


1. The Act of Congress approved June 2, 1862, 12 Stat. 411, which makes it the duty of the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Interior to require every contract made by them severally on be half of the government or by officers under them appointed to make such contracts, to be reduced to writing, and signed by the contracting parties, is mandatory, and in effect prohibits and renders unlawful any other mode of making the contract.

2. Where, however, a parol contract has been wholly or partly executed on one side, the party performing will be entitled to recover the fair value of his property or services as upon an implied contract for a quantum meruit.

3. In the present case, the contract for the use of the claimant's vessel, and for the payment of her value if she should be lost in the service of the government, was not reduced to writing. When in that service, she was manned by a captain and crew furnished by the Quartermaster's Department and lost, but no negligence was attributed to them. Held that the implied contract being such as arises upon a simple bailment for hire, the claimant cannot recover for her loss.

4. The forms of pleading in the Court of Claims do not preclude a claimant from recovering what is justly due him upon the facts stated in his petition, although there be no count in the petition as upon an implied contract.

5. No question having been raised as to the claimant's title to the vessel, and there being no suggestion of any concealment or suppression of the truth on his part at the time the agreement to compensate him for the use of her was made, she being then in Mexican waters, it would be bad faith on the part of the government, after getting her within its jurisdiction and into its possession, under the pretense of hiring her, to set up that the claimant, having obtained her from the Confederate government in 1863 in payment for supplies furnished to the Quartermaster's Department of that government, had no valid title to her as against the United States.

This is a claim against the United States for the value of a steamer lost in the government service in September, 1865, and for her use for eight days before the loss occurred, at $150 per day.

The Court of Claims found the following facts:

1. In September, 1865, at Brownsville, Texas, the claimant and Major O. O. Potter, an officer in the Quartermaster's Department, entered into an oral agreement, with the approval of General Steele, commanding the Western Division of Texas. The agreement was that the Quartermaster's Department should pay the claimant $150 a day for the use of the steamer Belle,

Page 95 U. S. 540

but no specific contract was made or to be made as to time until she had made a trial trip from Brownsville to Ringgold Barracks and return to prove her ability to perform the service for which the Quartermaster's Department needed a steamer, and if she made a satisfactory trial trip, the parties were then to enter into a formal written contract for her future use at the same price per day. It was also at the same time agreed orally that the Quartermaster's Department was to run the steamer on her trial trip at the expense of the government, and that if she were lost on her trial trip, the government should pay for her whatever three disinterested men should estimate her value to be.

2. Under this agreement, the claimant delivered the steamer to the Quartermaster's Department at Brownsville. The quartermaster then put his own captain and crew on the vessel and sent her to Ringgold Barracks. On her voyage, while thus in the service of the government, she was wrecked and proved a total loss. Three disinterested persons were then agreed upon and requested by Major Potter and the claimant to appraise the value of the vessel. They so acted, and, by a written award, found the vessel to be of the value of $60,000. The claimant has also proved by evidence other than the award that $60,000 was the reasonable value of the vessel. The steamer was in the service of the government before her loss eight days. The United States has not paid for the value of the vessel nor for her service.

3. The steamer Belle was previously owned by, and in the military possession of, the Confederate government. The claimant acquired his title to her about the year 1863, taking her in part payment of a claim he held for supplies furnished by him to the Confederate Quartermaster's Department. At the time she was chartered by Major Potter, as set forth in the first finding, she was in the claimant's possession as alleged owner, and she was also in Mexican waters, beyond the jurisdiction of the United States.

Upon these facts the claim was dismissed.

The claimant then brought the case here.

Page 95 U. S. 541

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