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UNITED STATES V. WORMER, 80 U. S. 25 (1871)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Wormer, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 25 25 (1871)

United States v. Wormer

80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 25




The United States contracted, during the war to suppress the Rebellion, with a dealer in horses for a large number of cavalry horses, he to be paid on the completion of the contract should Congress make an appropriation for that purpose. After the contract had been made, the government issued instructions which were better calculated to protect it against frauds than previous ones had been, and among the regulations was one that the horses should be placed in the inspection yard twenty-four hours before inspecting them, and another that the person appointed as inspector should brand with the letter R on the shoulder, all horses "manifestly intended as a fraud on the government, because of incurable disease or any purposely concealed defect." The contractor threw up his contract and claimed damages, which the Court of Claims allowed him, to the extent which it deemed would make him whole.

This Court reversed the judgment and ordered a dismissal of the contractor's claim, it holding that the new regulations were not unreasonable.

The claimant demanded $15,000 from the government by way of damages for breach of contract. The principal facts

Page 80 U. S. 26

were that on the 26th day of February, 1864, he entered into a written agreement with the chief quartermaster of the Cavalry Bureau to deliver at the government stables in St. Charles, Illinois, by or before the 26th of March, 1,200 cavalry horses, sound and of certain specified ages, height, and quality, and on delivery to be examined and inspected without unnecessary delay by a person or persons to be appointed by the government. Rejected horses were to be removed by the contractor within one day after receiving notice of their rejection. Payment was to be made on completion of the contract, should Congress have made an appropriation for that purpose, or as soon thereafter as funds might be received. Instructions for inspectors of cavalry horses were issued a few days after the date of the contract, which required, amongst other things, that horses proposed for sale to the government should be placed in the inspection yard at least twenty-four hours before inspecting them, and none but the inspector and his assistants were to be allowed to enter the yard or to handle the horses until the inspection was completed. It was also provided that all horses which were manifestly intended as a fraud upon the government because of incurable disease or any purposely concealed defect should be branded on the left shoulder with the letter R. Horses rejected for being under age, in poor condition, or injured by transportation &c., were to be lightly branded on the front part of the fore hoof with the letter R. A large number of other directions were given to inspectors, but these were the principal ones complained of. The claimant applied to have these rules modified or suspended in his case as not having been promulgated when he made his contract, but his application was refused. He therefore threw up his contract, and did not purchase any horses, but alleged that he sustained damages by not being allowed to perform his contract untrammeled by the new regulations.

The Court of Claims found that the regulations materially changed and modified the contract by throwing upon the claimant, in its performance, increased delay, greater expense, and largely augmented risk, and therefore they

Page 80 U. S. 27

gave judgment in his favor for such damages as would make him whole, which they estimated at $9,000. The United States appealed.

Page 80 U. S. 28

MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

We think that the Court of Claims erred in its finding and judgment in this case. The government clearly had the right to prescribe regulations for the inspection of horses, and there was great need of strictness in this regard, for frauds were constantly perpetrated. We see nothing unreasonable in the regulations complained of. It is well known that horses may be prepared and fixed up to appear bright and smart for a few hours, and it was altogether reasonable that they should be placed in the government yard for the period required, and that no person interested in them should be permitted to manipulate them whilst under inspection. The branding was also a proper and necessary precaution to prevent the same horses' being presented a second time after condemnation. The branding on the foot was of slight importance, and the brand on the shoulder was not to be applied except in cases of absolute fraud. A person guilty of fraud would have no right to complain of the regulation's being carried into effect.

As the government had the right to prescribe all proper and reasonable regulations on the subject, and as the regulations prescribed do not seem to have been unreasonable, the claimant cannot complain. If he chose, under these circumstances, to fling up his contract, he must be content to suffer any incidental damage which he may have incurred

Page 80 U. S. 29

in making preparations for its performance. It was a damage voluntarily sustained, and the maxim volenti non fit injuria applies to the case.

Decree reversed and the court below directed to dismiss the petition.

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