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District of Columbia v. Barnes, 197 U.S. 146 (1905)

District of Columbia v. Barnes

No. 143

Argued January 23, 1905

Decided February 27, 1905

197 U.S. 146


Findings of fact made by the Court of Claims are conclusive here, and the jurisdiction of this Court is limited to determination of questions of law. The intent of the District of Columbia Act of June 16, 1880, 21 Stat. 284, was to enable parties to submit the justice of their claims against the United States for work done in the District prior to March 14 1876, to adjudication in a competent court, and, for that purpose, the jurisdiction conferred was equitable as well as legal; under the equitable jurisdiction so conferred, the Court of Claims has power to reform a written contract between the District of Columbia and a claimant to supply therein what was omitted by mutual mistake of the parties, and to award money relief to the claimant on the contract as so reformed.

It was also the intention of the Act of June 16, 1880, to permit the Court of Claims to adjudicate claims for all work done by order and direction of the Commissioners and accepted by them for the use and benefit of the District of Columbia; for this purpose, the statute is remedial, and a claimant, if the facts support his claim, can recover for work so done and

Page 197 U. S. 147

accepted notwithstanding it was under verbal directions of the Commissioners, and not under written contract, as required by prior acts of Congress.

The main purpose of the Court of Claims is to arrive at and adjudicate the justice of alleged claims against the United States, and the court is not bound by special rules of pleading.

The action now appealed was brought under the Act of June 16, 1880, known as the District of Columbia Claims Act. 21 Stat. 284. The original petition was filed August 4, 1880. At subsequent stages of the case, amended petitions were filed. On October 1, 1887, the Court of Claims decided the case in favor of the District of Columbia, giving judgment against the claimant for the sum of $11,074.11. 22 Ct.Cl. 366. On November 18, 1887, the claimant filed a motion for a new trial, which was submitted on March 28, 1895, and allowed on April 1, 1895. The case was then referred, as provided in the act, and upon report and hearing, judgment was rendered on November 11, 1895, against the District for the claimant in the sum of $31,754.57, being rendered for Barnes in the sum of $22,350.54, and for Ritchie, assignee, in the sum of $9,404.03, both sums due and payable as of January 1, 1876. On April 20, 1896, the defendant filed its motion for a new trial, which was granted on May 18, 1896. On March 31, 1902, the court rendered a judgment in favor of the claimant and his assignee in the sum of $23,694.47, due and payable as of March 1, 1876. 37 Ct.Cl. 342. On April 22, 1902, an appeal was taken by the District from the judgment of March 31, 1902, to this Court. This appeal was dismissed for want of jurisdiction. District of Columbia v. Barnes, 187 U.S. 638.

Under the Act of March 3, 1903, 32 Stat. 1031, 1070, this appeal from the judgment of March 31, 1902, was taken by the District,

bringing the case in review before this Court.

Page 197 U. S. 149

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