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UNITED STATES V. WILDER, 80 U. S. 254 (1871)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Wilder, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 254 254 (1871)

United States v. Wilder

80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 254


1. When a debtor admits a certain sum to be due by him and denies that a larger sum claimed is due, a payment of the exact amount admitted cannot be converted by the creditor into a payment on account of the larger sum denied, so as to take the claim for such larger sum out of the statute.

2. The statute of limitations is to be enforced, not explained away.

On the 23d of May, 1861, Burbank & Co. contracted with Major McKinstry, a quartermaster of the United States, to furnish transportation for all public stores from St. Paul to Fort Abercrombie at the rate of $2.90 per 100 lbs. The contract specified no period of duration, but the parties acted under and in pursuance of its terms, until the 19th of July, 1863. On that day, Captain Carling, an assistant quartermaster in charge of the department at St. Paul, being obliged, in a military exigency, to send forward quartermaster and commissary stores to Fort Abercrombie, called upon Burbank & Co. to receive and transport them under the contract referred to. But Burbank & Co. declined to receive and transport the goods under that contract and refused to acknowledge its force and validity. Carling, being unable to obtain transportation from other parties, thereupon entered into a verbal agreement with them that if they would transport the stores, they should receive for their services whatever price the transport might be reasonably worth. They carried the stores accordingly. Carling fixed the value of the carriage at $4.50 per 100 lbs. But the quartermaster's department refused to allow or pay to Burbank & Co. any greater price than $2.90 per 100 lbs., alleging as a reason for their refusal that the obligation of the original contract had not been terminated by reasonable notice, and that the services justly and legally ought to be deemed to have been rendered under it, and at the rate of compensation therein agreed on.

The services were performed and completed on the 31st of July, 1863.

Page 80 U. S. 255

On the 1st of October, 1863, Burbank & Co. were paid by the quartermaster $6,393.72, being a payment at the rate of $2.90 per 100 lbs., and leaving unpaid $3,516.21; which "the defendants then and there refused to pay. And it still remains unpaid."

The petition was filed in the Court of Claims on the 26th of August, 1869, being more than six years from the time the services were performed, and less than six years from the time of payment.

Upon these facts, the Court of Claims decided:

1st. That the claimants had a good cause of action upon the parol agreement.

2d. That they were not barred from maintaining this suit upon the facts set forth and within the meaning of the act of March 3, 1863, reorganizing the Court of Claims,

"and which declares that every claim against the United States shall be forever barred, unless the petition setting forth a statement of the claim be filed in the court . . . within six years after the claim first accrued. [Footnote 1]"

The United States appealed and alleged as error that the cause was barred by the statute of limitations, and that the Court of Claims should have so held.

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