De Groot v. United States

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

72 U.S. 419

De Groot  v.  United States

APPEAL from the Court of Claims. The case was, in substance, thus:

The United States being engaged in building a large aqueduct at Washington, D. C., De Groot entered into a contract with it to furnish it with several millions of bricks, and to commence the preparation of a brick-yard and machinery within a time named, so as to perform the contract of delivery. Some delay or difficulty arising as to the completion of the work, and De Groot having laid out a good deal of money in his enterprise (which, it seemed, included the purchase of a large brick-yard), applied to Congress for relief. Congress accordingly, on the 3d March, 1857, passed a joint resolution, 'that the Secretary of the Treasury shall settle and adjust with all the parties interested therein, on principles of justice and equity, all damages, losses, and liabilities incurred or sustained by said parties respectively on account of their contract for manufacturing brick for the Washington aqueduct;' and he was directed to pay the amount found due out of an appropriation specified. This joint resolution contained, however, the following proviso:

'Provided, That the said parties first surrender to the United States all the brick made, together with all the machinery and appliances and other personal property prepared for executing the said contract, and that the said contract be cancelled.'

Soon after the passage of this resolution De Groot made, by deed, a surrender to the United States of 'all the brick made, together with all the machinery and appliances and other personal property prepared for executing the contract for manufacturing brick for the Washington aqueduct; which property so surrendered is situated upon the tract of land, containing fifty acres, known as Hunting Park,' &c. The deed then recited—

'And whereas the said land was purchased, a brick-yard thereon opened, sheds and kilns erected, a steam engine put up, and machinery and appliances prepared for executing the said contract: And whereas the said premises, with the brick-yard, shed, kilns, engine, and machinery thereon, and the use of the clay and material thereof, are valuable and useful to the United States for manufacturing brick for the Washington aqueduct, and Captain M. C. Meigs, engineer in charge of the Washington aqueduct, has requested possession of said premises, with the use of the clay and materials thereof, for the United States, and possession thereof hath accordingly been given to him:'

And it concluded with a lease of the brick-yard, sheds, kilns, and appurtenances, to the government for ten years, or until the completion of the aqueduct, together with the privilege of digging and using the clay, &c.

This being done, the Secretary of the Treasury awarded $29,534.

De Groot received $7576 on account of this award, but being dissatisfied with it as too small, petitioned Congress again on the subject. That body then passed (June 15, 1860) another joint resolution:

'That in the further execution of the joint resolution of the 3d of March, 1857, relative to the settlement of the damages, losses, and liabilities incurred by certain parties interested in the contract for furnishing brick for the Washington aqueduct, the Secretary of War is directed and required to settle the account of W. H. De Groot on principles of justice and equity, allowing to the said De Groot the amount of money actually expended by him in and about the execution of the said contract; and also to indemnify him for such losses, liabilities, and damages as by virtue of the said joint resolution he was entitled to receive; the amount, &c., to be paid out of the fund named in said joint resolution, or if that has been diverted to other purposes, out of any money in the Treasury,' &c.

Under this resolution the then Secretary of War, Mr. J. B. Floyd, made an award. After estimating the probable profits of the contract and the price of the brick delivered and surrendered by De Groot under the proviso, Mr. Rloyd proceeded:

'But it must be remembered that when Mr. De Groot's contract was surrendered, he delivered to the United States the brick-yard at Hunting Park, with its appurtenances, machinery, and improvements. All these he would have retained had his contract been carried out. But this property was surrendered to the United States in compliance with the requirements of the joint resolution of March 3, 1857. It was, I think, clearly the intention of Congress to make compensation for the loss which he thus sustained. And accordingly, in addition to the damages already allowed, it is proper to refund to Mr. De Groot such items of expenditure as were necessarily involved in the purchase and improvement of his brick-yard and its appurtenances. These are stated on the schedule, which is supported by vouchers,

'Amounting to, $29,323 22

Add estimated profits, 86,922 81

Add price of brick delivered and surrendered by De Groot, 28,606 34

Total amount, $144.852 37'

[From this amount were deducted $7576 received by De Groot, and certain other items, amounting, in all, to], 25,617 91

Leaving a balance of, $119,234 46

This award, for some reason, was not paid; and on the 21st of February, 1861, Congress passed a joint resolution:'That the joint resolution approved June 15, 1860, for the relief of W. H. De Groot, be, and the same is hereby, repealed; and that the Secretary of War be, and he is hereby, directed to transmit all the papers in his department relating to the case of the said W. H. De Groot to the Court of Claims for adjudication.'

In that court De Groot filed his petition, setting forth a history of the case, and stating that he had surrendered the whole entire property to the United States, which the United States had since been using and now occupied. That under the resolution of June 15, 1860, the Secretary of War, after a careful examination of the case and of all the evidence in it, had adjudged that there was due to him $119,234.46. That this award was made August 17, 1860; that it was fairly made, and that the amount still remained due to the claimant. He averred that the joint resolution of 21st February, 1861, repealing the resolution under which the award had been made, was passed after the award had been made and published, and after he had a vested right in it-a right, therefore, of which Congress could not deprive him; and he set up that the said repealing resolution was accordingly void and inoperative.

Without, therefore, submitting any evidence to sustain his original cause of action, De Groot rested his case entirely upon the validity and conclusiveness of the award made by Mr. Floyd, the Secretary of War; giving proof, however, to show that the case was carefully examined by Mr. Floyd, and that his award was given fairly and without interest, corruption, or bias. De Groot accordingly claimed the amount of the award.

To the petition presented as above stated the United States demurred.

A majority of the Court of Claims was of opinion 'that from the showing of the plaintiff, as alleged in his petition, the Secretary of War had transcended his authority in undertaking to award for the value of the real estate; which was not embraced in the resolution of the 3d of March, 1857, among the property which the parties were required to surrender, and that the finding of the Secretary was therefore void as an award, because it exceeded the submission.' But the court also thought that the facts and circumstances alleged constituted a cause of action independent and irrespective of the award; and that as the repealing resolution referred the case to that court for adjudication, that it would stand there on its merits, unaffected by the award, and to be decided on any proofs submitted. Stating the matter in its own more specific way, the court held and decided, among other things—

'1st. That by including in the award the value or price of the real estate upon which the brick-yard was located, Floyd exceeded the powers conferred upon him by the joint resolutions of Congress.

'2d. That having commingled such allowances with the general finding in such manner as to be incapable of separation, it thereby vitiated the whole award.

'4th. Floyd having thus exceeded the powers conferred upon him, it was competent for Congress to disaffirm his acts and revoke the authority conferred upon him by a repeal of the resolution under which he acted.'

And they added as another point: 'That no sufficient evidence having been given to sustain any part of the claim, irrespective of Floyd's award, which they had held invalid, judgment had been rendered for the defendants.'

The case being thus decided in the Court of Claims, De Groot made known to it his desire to bring it here for review.

The judgment of the Court of Claims was rendered in December, 1865. Subsequently to that date, to wit, at December Term, 1865, the Supreme Court announced among its General Rules, [1] certain 'Regulations,' as follows: Regulations under which appeals may be taken from the Court of Claims to the Supreme Court.


In all cases hereafter decided in the Court of Claims in which, by the act of Congress, such appeals are allowable, they shall be heard in the Supreme Court upon the following record, and none other:

1. A transcript of the pleadings in the case, of the final judgment or decree of the court, and of such interlocutory orders, rulings, judgments, and decrees as may be necessary to a proper review of the case.

2. A finding of the facts in the case by the said Court of Claims, and the conclusions of law on said facts on which the court founds its judgment or decree.

The finding of the facts and the conclusion of law to be stated separately, and certified to this court as part of the record.

The facts so found are to be the ultimate facts or propositions which the evidence shall establish, in the nature of a special verdict, and not the evidence on which these ultimate facts are founded. See Burr v. Des Moines Company. [2]


In all cases in which judgments or decrees have heretofore been rendered, when either party is by law entitled to an appeal, the party desiring it shall make application to the Court of Claims by petition for the allowance of such appeal. Said petition shall contain a distinct specification of the errors alleged to have been committed by said court in its ruling, judgment, or decree in the case. The court shall, if the specification of alleged error be correctly and accurately stated, certify the same, or may certify such alterations and modifications of the points decided and alleged for error as in the judgment of said court shall distinctly, fully, and fairly present the points decided by the court. This, with the transcript mentioned in Rule I (except the statement of facts and law therein mentioned), shall constitute the record on which those cases shall be heard in the Supreme Court.

Under a supposed conformity with these rules, the record in the case had been made. As it came before this court, it consisted of 244 pages. The first forty were occupied by De Groot's petition for appeal. This document contained the petitioner's statement of his case, copies of contracts; of the different resolutions, already mentioned, of Congress; of the awards made by the Secretaries of the Treasury and of War; of pleadings and opinions in the court below and of some other papers.

At the close of the document there was an entry by the court below, that the petition not being, in the opinion of the court, in accordance with the rules prescribed by the Supreme Court of the United States regulating appeals, that the Court of Claims had certified 'the following alterations and modifications of the points decided and alleged for error.'

The Court of Claims then, itself, made a statement of facts, adding,-the same being presented (supra, at p. 424),-what it held and decided upon them; all this occupying only about fourteen pages.

As appearing in the printed transcript before the court, this statement by the court was set pretty much in the body of the book, and was not very distinguishable to the eye from its other various contents. The opinions of the court were annexed at large. The several matters specified occupied the first seventy-two pages of the book. Following this were all the proofs that had been filed in the Court of Claims-these occupying one hundred and seventy-six pages; and, being returned, as it was certified, by request of counsel, in order 'to enable the Supreme Court to judge whether plaintiff proved any claim independent of the award, and to review the ruling refusing to strike out defendant's evidence.'

On this record the case was now here for review.

Messrs. How, D. D. Field, and Henry Bennett, for the appellant.

Mr. Weed, Assistant Solicitor of the Court of Claims, contra.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  3 Wallace, vii.

^2  1 Wallace, 102.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).