Gibbons v. United States

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

75 U.S. 269

Gibbons  v.  United States

APPEAL from the Court of Claims.

The case as found by that court was thus:

Gibbons entered into a contract with the United States for the delivery of two hundred thousand bushels of oats within thirty days from the date of the contract.

He delivered a portion of the oats, and was ready and offered to deliver the residue within the thirty days, but was prevented by the officers of the United States from so doing; they would not receive it, because they had not convenient storehouses for it.

Subsequently to this refusal, the quartermaster having charge of the contract on the part of the United States, sent an 'orderly' to Gibbons, requesting his immediate presence with the messenger at the quartermaster's office. This was understood by Gibbons to be an arrest. About the same time, notice was given to him, that he must deliver the residue of the oats specified in the contract under penalty of a purchase in open market; the difference of cost to be charged to him. The quartermaster at this time held a large sum of money in his hands, the price of grain before that time delivered. Gibbons remonstrated, contending that the contract was at an end. Influenced, however, by the above-mentioned assumption of power, and by the threats used, or by some reason, he did deliver the quantity of oats sufficient to make in all the amount specified in the contract.

By this time oats had advanced in price, and the price which Gibbons was compelled to pay in the market to get them, exceeded the amount paid to him by the government, as he alleged, 8 3/4 and 12 cents per bushel.

Gibbons was compelled to pay $333 demurrage on certain vessels which were laden with a portion of the oats, and which were detained by the government officers in receiving the cargoes.

On final settlement with the quartermaster, he was charged for 8000 bushels of oats purchased by the quartermaster in open market, after the expiration of the contract, at an advanced cost of 12 cents per bushel. This money was detained from him.

On this case, the Court of Claims,-upon the petition of Gibbons setting forth a claim for the difference, 8 3/4 and 12 cents per bushel, in the price of oats, delivered after the expiration of his contract, for demurrage, 'for damages sustained by failure of the government to receive oats under contract at the time of delivery, $400,' and for the money detained, but not alleging anything about duress,-thus announced its conclusions in law:

'The obligation on the part of the government under the contract to receive the oats when they were offered, was as strong as the obligation to deliver. The plaintiff was not bound under a continuing obligation, and as he had made a reasonable offer, which was improperly refused, that put an end to the contract, and he was released from his obligation by the conduct of the government. The officers who threatened him had no authority to compel him to deliver the oaths, and the threats used were superserviceable and improper. If he was so unwise as to submit to the unauthorized menaces of the quartermaster, he must take the consequences. Hence, he cannot recover the difference in price between that named in the contract, and that ruling in market after its expiration.

'Nor can the government withhold from the sum justly due to the plaintiff, any difference which was paid for oats purchased after the expiration of the contract exceeding the price fixed by it.

'Therefore, the plaintiff should recover the sum withheld at the time of settlement; also the demurrage.'

Judgment being entered accordingly, Gibbons, claimant in the case, appealed to this court.


Messrs. Reverdy Johnson and A. L. Merriman, for the appellant:


The Court of Claims correctly decide that the obligation on the part of the government under the contract, to receive the oats when they were offered, was as strong as the obligation to deliver; that the plaintiff was not under a continuing obligation, and as he had made a reasonable offer, which was improperly refused, that put an end to the contract, and he was released from his obligation by the conduct of the government. It therefore seems to be clear, that in case of a delivery subsequently to the termination of the original contract, such delivery is under a new contract; and in case no express contract is made as to price, there would be an implied one to pay their market value at the time, unless there was an agreement to sell at the prices specified in the agreement then at an end.

In this case, no such agreement was made. On the contrary, the plaintiff insisted that the contract was at an end, and the fact that he made the delivery of oats required under a supposed personal arrest, and under the threat of withholding the money due to him upon oats previously delivered, shows conclusively that there was no agreement to deliver the oats at the prices specified in the original contract, and rebuts any presumption of a voluntary delivery under its terms. The court below erred, therefore, in refusing to allow to the plaintiff, the market value of the oats so delivered, and in treating the payment by the government of the amounts specified in the contract before then terminated, as a full payment.

The court should have allowed him the value of the oats when sold and delivered, deducting therefrom, the amount paid by the government.


Mr. Hoar, Attorney-General, and Mr. Talbot, contra:


There was no error on the part of the Court of Claims, the conclusion of law stated in the first and principal paragraph of its opinion being entirely correct.

Besides the reason there given for refusing this allowance, in the additional reason that the facts found leave open to the appellate court, the inference that the whole matter had been voluntarily settled by a payment in full. [1]

Accordingly, the case should now be disposed of by a mandate to reverse the judgment and to dismiss the petition.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

Notes[edit]

^1  United States v. Adams, 7 Wallace, 463.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).