Maddox v. United States
APPEAL from the Court of Claims; the case being thus:
H. A. Risley, treasury agent at Norfolk for the purchase of the products of insurrectionary States, in November, 1864, contracted in writing to purchase from Maddox and certain persons associated with him, loyal citizens of the United States, a large quantity of tobacco, rosin, and turpentine, situated in the States of Virginia and North Carolina, to be delivered in Norfolk or New York, and sold at certain points mentioned, under the same conditions as other sales of like public property.
With the contract Risley delivered to Maddox and his associates a request for safe-conduct and means of transportation.
This request was presented to the President of the United States, who indorsed on it that the property to be transported under the contract should be free from seizure or detention, and that the military and naval authorities be requested to furnish the necessary facilities for getting the products within our lines. These products, at the time the contract was made, and the military safe-conduct delivered, were not owned or controlled by Maddox and the others, but they expected to procure them in or about the city of Richmond, in the State of Virginia. In the months of January and February, 1865, they succeeded, in part performance of their contract, in purchasing a large number of boxes of tobacco-less, however, than they had agreed to do-which were subsequently either burned by our military forces, appropriated by them to the use of the United States, or destroyed in the fires in Richmond at the time it was captured, in April, 1865.
Hereupon Maddox and his associates filed a petition in the Court of Claims for an alleged breach of contract, and praying judgment for $735,644, with interest.
The United States demurred and the court sustained the demurrer. To reverse that decision this appeal was prosecuted.
Mr. C. H. Hill, Assistant Attorney-General, in support of the ruling below, argued that the cae was similar to the United States v. Lane, in which it was held, after a review of the statutory provisions and the treasury regulations concerning the purchase of products of insurrectionary States, that a purchasing agent, acting in behalf of the United States, had no authority to negotiate with any one in relation to the purchase of such products, unless at the time of the negotiation the party either owned or controlled them; in other words, that they were not designed to protect a speculation; that independently of this the petition did not allege, and the facts did not show, that the contractors were ready and willing, or were even in a condition to perform fully the contract on their part; that is to say, to deliver the whole of the products contracted for.
And, finally, that if the claim had any foundation at all, it was the damage sustained in consequence of the action of the military authorities; a claim not within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims.
Messrs B. R. Curtis and James Hughes, contra, for the appellants, argued—
1st. That the United States v. Lane did not rule this case, because: 1st. The facts were different in this case, Lane in his case having had far greater facilities, and he having been allowed to carry an outward cargo. The point resolved in the case was that carrying an outgoing cargo was without authority of law or regulations pursuant to law.
2d. That all comments of the court made in the Lane case, which do not apply to this case, were obiter dicta and subject to be reviewed and reconsidered in this case.
Mr. Justice DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.
See act of July 4, 1864, 13 Stat. at Large, 381.
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