United States v. Northern Pacific Railway Company (242 U.S. 190)

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

242 U.S. 190

United States  v.  Northern Pacific Railway Company

 Argued: October 27, 1916. --- Decided: December 4, 1916

The judgment of the district court was rendered on the pleadings, the admitted facts of the case being as follows:

Five employees of the defendant were called to take charge of a wrecking train at 8:10 o'clock P. M., October 29, 1911, but, before they reported at the place of duty, it was ascertained that such train would not be needed, and when they arrived they were notified that their services would not then be required, but that they should report for duty at 10:35 o'clock P. M. the same evening. From 8:10 to 10:35 o'clock they did not render any service 'save that they kept alive the fire in the engine during said period.' At 10:35 o'clock the five men entered upon a freight train run, which, because of hot boxes, was delayed so that it did not arrive at destination until 1:15 o'clock P. M. the next day.

If the service of the men were considered as beginning at 8:10 o'clock, the hour for which they were called, they were on duty for seventeen hours and five minutes; but if the time were reckoned from 10:35 P. M., when the men actually took charge of the freight train, they were on duty less than sixteen hours. It is admitted that the officials of the railway company believed in good faith that the time of the men should be reckoned from 10:35 P. M., and not from 8:10 P. M., and that, for that reason, when next after October 30th, 1911, they filed their report of employees subject to the act who had been kept on duty for a longer period than sixteen hours, the names of the members of this crew were omitted, although the names of many other employees who had been kept on duty longer than the statutory limit were stated in that report.

It was conceded at the hearing in the circuit court of appeals that the United States had sued the company for the 'forfeitures' prescribed for these excessive services under discussion in this case, and had secured a judgment which had been paid, and that thereby it was determined, for the purposes of this suit, that these employees were on duty from 8:10 o'clock P. M., and therefore for more than sixteen hours.

The government's claim in the case is for the omission for five days to file the report, and it prays judgment for 'forfeitures' aggregating $500, although when the complaint was filed the report claimed to be defective had been on file from November 30th, 1911, to September 14th, 1912, and if the 'forfeitures' of $100 per day prescribed by the law for each day of failure to file a proper report were allowed, the amount of recovery by the government would be $28,900, and it is only by grace of the public officials that the claim in the suit was not for this amount instead of for $500.

Assistant Attorney General Underwood for petitioner.

Messrs. Emerson Hadley and Charles W. Bunn for respondent.

Statement by Mr. Justice Clarke:

Mr. Justice Clarke, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:

Notes[edit]

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).