Merrill-Ruckgaber Company v. United States/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

241 U.S. 387

Merrill-Ruckgaber Company  v.  United States

 Argued: March 17, 1916. --- Decided: June 5, 1916

The case is in narrow compass. It involves for its solution the construction of a contract, and the rules to guide such construction we need not rehearse. To its words we at first resort, but not to one or a few of them, but to all of them as associated, and as well to the conditions to which they were addressed and intended to provide for. The argument of appellant ignores this rule. As we shall see, it makes one word dominant, controls all others by it, and puts out of view the demands of the physical conditions.

The contract provided that whatever walls would have to be removed and excavations made would have to be done in such manner as not to endanger adjoining property, and that all necessary shoring and underpinning, etc., in connection therewith, had to be done. To this provision there was subsequently added that 'in the case of the building [italics ours] joining the north line of the site the underpinning of the main rear walls must be carried to rock by a method satisfactory to the supervising architect.'

But there were two buildings 'joining the north line of the site,' and appellant selected one as the full measure of its obligation to carry the underpinning to rock, as required by the specifications, giving as a reason, in a communication to the architect's office, that it did not consider that there was any rear wall in No. 25 Pine street, but only a metallic curtain wall.

The architect's office was not impressed with the distinction between walls, and the selection of one building joining the north line of the site, but insisted that the underpinning of the main rear walls of both of the buildings joining such line must be carried to rock by a method satisfactory to the supervising architect. Appellant filed its appeal to the Secretary of the Treasury, who affirmed the action of the architect.

Counsel intimates unfairness on the part of the supervising architect, but there is no just foundation for it; and, besides, there is no attempt to impugn the good faith of the Secretary of the Treasury, who sustained the decision of the architect, and the contract explicitly provides that 'the decision of the supervising architect as to the proper interpretation of the drawings and specifications shall be final.' If we may concede to appellant an ambiguity in the specifications, arising from the use of the singular word 'building,' instead of the plural word 'buildings,' against the material conditions which appellant's officers had inspected and knew of, and against, as well, the other parts of the specifications, which, among other things, call for 'rear walls' instead of a 'rear wall,' seemingly implying two buildings, and not one only, at the utmost it could only be said that there was ground for dispute, and, under the contract, the decision of the architect upon the dispute was final.

Judgment affirmed.

Mr. Justice McReynolds took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.


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).