316 U.S. 23 (1942), 658, United States ex rel. Noland Co., Inc. v. Irwin & Leighton

Docket Nº:No. 658
Citation:316 U.S. 23, 62 S.Ct. 899, 86 L.Ed. 1241
Party Name:United States ex rel. Noland Co., Inc. v. Irwin & Leighton
Case Date:April 06, 1942
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 23

316 U.S. 23 (1942)

62 S.Ct. 899, 86 L.Ed. 1241

United States ex rel. Noland Co., Inc.

v.

Irwin & Leighton

No. 658

United States Supreme Court

April 6, 1942

Argued March 11, 1942

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

1. The construction of a library building at Howard University in the District of Columbia -- a project for which federal funds were appropriated by Act of February 14, 1931, and which subsequently was approved, and funds allotted therefor, by the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works under Title II of the National Industrial Recovery Act of June 16, 1933 -- was a "public work" within the meaning of the Miller Act of August 24, 1935, and therefore the contractors were properly required to post a payment bond securing materialmen, and a materialman who supplied materials for the project and had not been paid therefor was entitled to sue on the bond in the name of the United States. P. 27.

2. The Miller Act was intended to apply to the "public works" authorized by the Administrator under the National Industrial Recovery Act, and, under the latter Act, the library at Howard University was a "public work," since it was a project "of the character heretofore constructed or carried on . . . with public aid to serve the interests of the general public." P. 30.

122 F.2d 73 reversed.

Certiorari, 314 U.S. 602, to review the reversal of a judgment overruling a motion to dismiss the complaint in a suit upon a bond.

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BYRNES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BYRNES delivered the opinion of the Court.

By Act of February 14, 1931,1 making appropriations for the Department of the Interior, Congress authorized the construction of a library building at Howard University in the District of Columbia. The cost was not to exceed $800,000, of which sum $400,000 was made immediately available. Only a small part of this money had been used for architects' fees when the President, shortly after his inauguration in 1933, ordered impounded these and all other funds appropriated for construction.

Title II of the National Industrial Recovery Act of June 16, 1933,2 created a Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, with all of its powers vested in an Administrator. By § 202, the Administrator was directed to

prepare a comprehensive program of public works, which shall include, among other things, the following: . . . (c) any projects of the character heretofore constructed or carried on either directly by public authority or with public aid to serve the interests of the general public. . . .

And § 203 provided that,

with a view to increasing employment quickly . . . , the President is authorized and empowered, through Administrator [62 S.Ct. 900] or through such other agencies as he may designate or create, (1) to construct, finance, or aid in the construction or financing of any public works project included in the program prepared pursuant to § 202. . . .

On August 24, 1935, Congress passed the Miller Act.3 By the terms of this statute,

before any contract, exceeding

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$2,000 in amount, for the construction, alteration, or repair of any public building or public work of the United States is awarded to any person, such person shall furnish to the United States . . . a payment bond with a surety or sureties satisfactory to such officer for the protection of all persons supplying labor and material in the prosecution of the work provided for in said contract for the use of each such person.

The Act also permitted persons who supplied materials and labor to bring suit on the bond in the name of the United States.

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These are the statutes applicable to this dispute.

After the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Secretary of the Interior (who had been named Administrator pursuant to Title II) approved the library building at Howard University as a part of the public works program and allotted $1,120,811.58 for its construction. On December 5, 1936, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, on behalf of the United States, entered

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into a contract with respondent, Irwin & Leighton, for the construction of the library building. As a condition of the contract, Irwin & Leighton was required to furnish a bond to secure the laborers and material men under provisions of the Miller Act.4 Accordingly, it posted such a bond in the amount of $408,618, with respondent United States Guarantee Company as surety.

Petitioner furnished to a subcontractor materials worth $23,649.35. Of this sum, it was paid $11,146.80, leaving due $12,502.55 with interest. When payment of this amount was refused, petitioner brought this suit on the bond in the name of the United States. Respondents moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the construction of the library building at Howard University was not a "public work" within the meaning of the Miller Act. The District Court overruled the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals allowed a special appeal and reversed on the authority of its own earlier decision in Maiatico Construction Co. v. United States, 65 App.D.C. 62, 79 F.2d 418. The case is here on certiorari.

The question before us, therefore, is whether the construction of the library was a "public work" as that term is used in the Miller Act. We think that it is, that the Assistant Secretary of the Interior was consequently authorized to require respondents to post a bond securing materialmen, and that petitioner is entitled to sue on the bond in the name of the United States.

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No aid in ascertaining the meaning of "public works" is to be found in the Miller Act itself. But, in the National Industrial Recovery Act, passed two years before the Miller Act, Congress defined it as including

any projects of the character heretofore constructed or carried on either directly by public authority or with public aid to serve the interests of the general public.

The library at Howard University was not only a project "of the character heretofore constructed or carried on . . . with public aid;" it had been directly and specifically authorized by Congress in 1931, and money had actually been appropriated for it. And it requires no discussion that Howard University, established by the authority of Congress "for the education of youth in the liberal arts and sciences,"5 serves "the interests of the general public."

In Maiatico Construction Co. v. United States, supra, upon which the Court of Appeals principally relied in reaching an opposite conclusion, the same court had construed a different statute, the Heard Act of August 13, 1894.6 That Act required that

any person or persons entering into a...

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