350 U.S. 148 (1956), 46, Rex Trailer Co., Inc. v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 46
Citation:350 U.S. 148, 76 S.Ct. 219, 100 L.Ed. 149
Party Name:Rex Trailer Co., Inc. v. United States
Case Date:January 09, 1956
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 148

350 U.S. 148 (1956)

76 S.Ct. 219, 100 L.Ed. 149

Rex Trailer Co., Inc.


United States

No. 46

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 9, 1956

Argued December 5, 1955




In an action based on § 26(b)(1) of the Surplus Property Act of 1944, the United States recovered $2,000 on each of five counts of a complaint charging petitioner with fraudulent purchases of motor vehicles. Petitioner had previously pleaded nolo contendere to a 5-count indictment arising out of the same five transactions, and paid fines aggregating $25,000.


1. The recovery under 26(b)(1) is civil in nature, and did not put petitioner twice in jeopardy in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 148-162.

2. The failure of the Government to allege specific damages did not preclude the recovery here. Pp. 152-153.

3. On the record in this case, it cannot be said that the measure of recovery fixed by Congress in the Act is so unreasonable or excessive that it transformed the civil remedy into a criminal penalty. Pp. 153-154.

218 F.2d 880 affirmed.

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

[76 S.Ct. 220] Petitioner contends that this action brought by the Government to recover $2,000 on each of five counts of a complaint based on § 26(b)(1) of the Surplus Property Act of 19441 places it twice in jeopardy in violation

Page 149

of the Fifth Amendment. In an earlier proceeding, it had pleaded nolo contendere to a five-count indictment bottomed on the same five transactions and paid fines in the aggregate amount of $25,000. In the present case, the District Court granted the Government's motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, 218 F.2d 880. We granted certiorari, 349 U.S. 937, to resolve an asserted conflict between the decisions of the Courts of Appeals.2

At the close of World War II, the Government was faced with the problem of disposing of vast quantities of surplus war materials. A large part of this property, valued at many billions of dollars, was needed to satisfy the civilian demand caused by wartime shortages in consumer goods. To facilitate and regulate the orderly

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disposal of this property, Congress passed the Surplus Property Act of 1944, 58 Stat. 765. The stated purposes of this statute included the reestablishment of returning veterans in business, agricultural, or professional life, the discouragement of speculation in surplus property, and the elimination of unusual and excessive profits to speculators. The concern of Congress for returning veterans is emphasized by its 1946 Amendment to the Act, 60 Stat. 168, which gave veterans a priority for the purchase of surplus property, second only to that of the Federal Government, and authorized the Administrator to assign the highest priority to veterans for the purchase of certain items. This legislation thus afforded veterans an opportunity to purchase goods not available elsewhere at a fair price and on good credit terms. The benefits were of great value to the millions of men and women returning to civilian life just after the war.

With this background in mind, we may turn to the facts of the present case. In June, 1947, the Rex Trailer Company purchased five motor vehicles from the War Assets Administration at Tinker Field, Oklahoma. Rex had only a nonpriority right of purchase under the Surplus Property Act, but, by the fraudulent use of the names of five persons possessing [76 S.Ct. 221] veteran priority rights, it was able to purchase the vehicles. Admittedly, the terms of the statute were...

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