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decided: February 21, 1916.



Author: Hughes

[ 240 U.S. Page 215]

 MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the court.

This action was brought by sub-contractors under the Act of August 13, 1894 (c. 280, 28 Stat. 278), as amended by the Act of February 24, 1905 (c. 778, 33 Stat. 811), in the name of the United States to recover upon a contractor's bond. The contract was for the construction of a post-office building in Aiken, South Carolina (Act of March 30, 1908, c. 228, 35 Stat. 526, 528), and the Illinois Surety Company (plaintiff in error) was the surety. The summons and complaint were filed on March 4, 1913. Motion to dismiss was made on September 22, 1913, upon the ground that the complaint did not allege that there had been a completion and final settlement of the contract between the contractor and the United States; or that there had been such completion and settlement more than six months, and within one year, prior to the commencement of the action.

[ 240 U.S. Page 216]

     Another ground for the motion was that the remedy under the statute was in equity. The motion was denied, the court permitting the complaint to be amended so as to allege that the contract was completed in July, 1912; that final settlement was made by the Treasury Department on August 21, 1912; and that no suit had been brought by the United States against the contractor and his surety within the six months' period. The defendant, reserving its objection to the order denying the motion and allowing the amendment, answered. Jury trial was waived by written stipulation and the case was heard by the district judge who found, in substance, the facts to be as follows:

That the building was completed, and on August 21, 1912, the Treasury Department "stated and determined the final balance" to be paid the contractor under the contract at the sum of $3,999.01; that this "adjustment and determination" was communicated to the contractor; that on August 26, 1912, a voucher of that date was prepared by the Department showing the balance, as above stated, to which the contractor appended his signature certifying the amount to be correct, and that on that day there was a definite acceptance by the contractor of the adjustment; that on September 11, 1912, a check for the above-mentioned sum was made out by the disbursing clerk of the Department, payable to the order of the contractor, who thereafter collected it; that upon the request of the relator (the Faith Granite Company) the Secretary of the Treasury, on January 16, 1913, furnished to it a certified copy of the contract and bond and that on the sixth day of March, 1913, . . . the present action was instituted by the filing . . . and by service of summons and complaint on defendant Surety Company." It also appeared that no action had been instituted by the United States upon the bond within the six months allowed by the statute.

[ 240 U.S. Page 217]

     The district court gave judgment for amounts found to be due to those for whose benefit the action was brought, and to certain intervenors, and this judgment was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 215 Fed. Rep. 334. The contentions presented are: (1) That the action was instituted prematurely; (2) that the amendment of the complaint was improperly allowed; (3) that there was no right of action at law; and (4) that the court erred in giving judgment for the Carolina Electrical Company, one of the sub-contractors.

1. The statute provides, p. 812: "If no suit should be brought by the United States within six months from the completion and final settlement of said contract, then the person or persons supplying the contractor with labor and materials shall, upon application therefor, and furnishing affidavit . . . be furnished with a certified copy of said contract and bond, upon which he or they shall have a right of action, and shall be, and are hereby, authorized to bring suit in the name of the United States . . . against said contractor and his sureties, and to prosecute the same to final judgment and execution; Provided, That . . . it shall not be commenced until after the complete performance of said contract and final settlement thereof, and shall be commenced within one year after the performance and final settlement of said contract, and not later." In Texas Cement Co. v. McCord,*fn1 233 U.S. 157, we said that this act created a new right of action upon terms named; and hence that an action brought by creditors before six months had expired from the time of the 'completion and final settlement of the contract' could not be sustained. In the present case, the plaintiff in error insists that there was no final settlement within the meaning of the statute prior to the issue of the check

[ 240 U.S. Page 218]

     for payment to the contractor on September 11, 1912, and that in this view the action was brought too soon.

It was evidently the purpose of the Act of 1905 to remedy the defect in the Act of 1894 by assuring to the United States adequate opportunity to enforce its demand against the contractor's surety and priority with respect to such demand. Mankin v. Ludowici-Celadon Co., 215 U.S. 533, 538; United States v. Robinson, 214 Fed. Rep. 38, 39, 40. Accordingly it was provided that if the United States sued upon the bond, the described creditors should be allowed to intervene, and be made parties to the action. but subject "to the priority of the claim and judgment of the United States." And it was only in case the United States did not sue within the specified period that the creditors could bring their action. With this object in view -- to protect the priority of the United States, and at the same time to give a remedy to materialmen and laborers on the contractor's bond and a reasonable time to prosecute it (Bryant v. N.Y. Steamfitting Co., 235 U.S. 327, 337) -- it was natural that the time allowed exclusively for action by the Government should begin to run when the contract had been completed and the Government in its final adjustment and settlement according to established administrative methods had determined what amount, if any, was due. Then the Government would have ascertained the amount of its claim, if it had one, and could bring suit if it desired. As such determinations are regularly made in the course of administration, ...

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