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UNITED STATES V. SMITH, 94 U. S. 214 (1876)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Smith, 94 U.S. 214 (1876)

United States v. Smith

94 U.S. 214


1. By reason of its improper suspension of the work of a contractor who had agreed to supply the skilled labor and the materials necessary for the erection of certain buildings for its use, the United Staten is liable in the Court of Claims for such damages as he has actually sustained.

2. The finding of facts by the Court of Claims in the nature of a special verdict is conclusive here unless impeached for some error in law appearing in the record.

3. That court, in estimating damages, must be governed by the proofs submitted; but it is not required to set forth the elements of the calculation by which it arrives at its final result.

4. That court may, however, be asked by either party to state whether a particular item of charge or of damage is included in its finding and, if so, to what amount.

This was a suit by the appellee to recover damages for the suspension of his contract with the United States. By the contract, the parties agreed:

"First, the said Joseph Smith, his heirs, executors, and administrators, agrees to superintend or cause to be superintended, and assist the soldiers in the erection of buildings at post of Beaver, Utah, according to plans and specifications, and agrees

Page 94 U. S. 215

also to supply or cause to be supplied all the skilled labor and material necessary for the erection of the buildings in conformity with said plans and specifications."

"Second, it is agreed that, for and in consideration of the faithful fulfillment of the above stipulations in all their parts, the party of the second part shall be paid by the United States, at the office of the A.A.Q.M., at post of Beaver, Utah, as follows, viz:"

"Sixty-nine thousand one hundred and seventy-seven dollars ($69,177), provided that the United States is not liable for any amount beyond the sums appropriated for such purpose during the fiscal years in which the services are rendered, payment to be made in installments at completion of each separate building, or as soon thereafter as funds may be received for that purpose. The buildings to be inspected and accepted by the United States."

The Court of Claims found the following facts:

"I. On the 1st December, 1873, while the buildings were in progress of construction, the contractor was stopped by order of the post commander, with the approval of the commander of the department, and all work under the contract was ordered to be suspended. The contractor objected to the work's being stopped and requested that he be released from his agreement unless the work could go on. The matter was referred to the Quartermaster-General, and by him submitted to the Secretary of War. Pursuant to orders of the latter, the contractor was allowed to resume work. The period of suspension was from the 1st December, 1873, to the 3d February, 1874. The defendants have paid for the work done under the contract, but have not paid the damages occasioned by the suspension of the work."

"II. On the 30th October, 1874, General Ord, commanding the Department of the Platte, referred the contractor's claim for damages caused by the suspension to the quartermaster of the post of Beaver, who had had entire charge of the work from the beginning to the completion thereof, with instructions to report as to the damages caused by"

"the unexpected stoppages and delays inflicted on the contractor, Smith, by the orders from Washington and department headquarters; the exposed

Page 94 U. S. 216

and unfinished condition in which he was compelled to leave the buildings during winter storms; the remoteness of the place of building, where all skilled labor had to be provided from a great distance, and which was left sometimes unoccupied and unpaid for on the contractor's hands; the deterioration in value of material left exposed while waiting for orders to continue the work."

"The post quartermaster, under these instructions, reported the contractor's losses at $8,000, and the department commander approved the recommendation. The court finds the claimant's damages for the same to be $5,000."

"III. During the progress of the work, the contractor furnished and performed certain additional or extra work not required by his contract. But on the inspection of the buildings before the final payment, it was found by the inspecting officer that the contractor had omitted to furnish and perform certain work required by the contract. It was subsequently agreed between the contractor and the defendant's officers that the extra work furnished should be received and stand in the place of that omitted by the contractor, and under and in pursuance of such agreement or compromise the contractor was paid the balance remaining due of the contract price."

Upon the foregoing findings, the court decided as conclusions of law:

"1. The officers of the government charged with the care and supervision of the building to be erected by the claimant had no right to hinder or delay him in the proper performance of his work, and for the suspension thereof, ordered by such officers in the supposed interest of the government, the claimant should recover such damages as were the necessary consequence of the suspension; that is to say, such damages as would place him as nearly as possible in the same condition as he would have been in if he had been allowed to proceed without such interference, excluding therefrom, nevertheless, any loss or injury to his materials, which might have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care and prudence on his part, in the storing, custody, and preservation thereof."

"2. The estimate or allowance of damages for the suspension of the work made by the post quartermaster, under the instructions of the commanding officer of the department, does not

Page 94 U. S. 217

determine the amount thereof, and should be excluded by the court in making a computation of damages."

"3. The extra work on the buildings done by the claimant in addition to that required by the terms of his contract, and the deficiencies under the contract, as determined by the inspecting officer who inspected the work before acceptance by the government, as provided by the contract, were proper subjects of compromise and setoff, and, having been so compromised and set off against each other before final payment, the claimant is concluded from seeking a recovery for the former."

Judgment was rendered for the claimant for $5,000, whereupon the United States appealed here.

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