Steele v. United States

Decision Date19 January 1885
Citation113 U.S. 128,28 L.Ed. 952,5 S.Ct. 396
PartiesSTEELE, to the Use, etc., v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

R. B. Washington and W. D. Davidge, for appellants.

Sol. Gen. Phillips, for appellee.


The appellant was the claimant in the court of claims. He brought his suit April 30, 1880, to recover from the United States the sum of $3,400 for plumbing done by him on the United States steam-ship Quinnobaug under a contract made with I. Hanscom, the chief of the bureau of construction and repair of the navy department, on behalf of the government, in the year of 1875. There was no dispute that there was due to him on his contract for work done the sum sued for. The controversy arose on a plea of cross-demand, filed by the United States, which alleged that the officers of the government delivered to the appellant a large amount of old material to be utilized and reworked by him for the plumbing of the Quinnebaug; that a small portion of the material thus delivered he reworked for that purpose, but the greater portion thereof * * * he sold to third parties, realizing therefrom the sum of $20,000. The court of claims found that during the spring and summer of the year 1875 there were delivered to the appellant, by R. W. Steele, who was a naval constructor in the United States nevy, 103,949 pounds of old material resulting from the breaking up of certain monitors; that before such delivery there had been no survey or inspection of the old material, and that of the amount so delivered the appellant sold and disposed of 98,748 pounds, for which he received money and property to the amount of $8,975.56, and the residue was lost in breaking up, handling, and sorting. These findings full established the cross-demand of the government for $8,975.56. The court, therefore, in adjusting the controversy, after charging the appellant with a payment on his claim of $3,900 and another item for $300, about neither of which there was any dispute, held him liable for the amount so received by him for the old material, which was sufficient to extinguish his claim and leave a balance of $3,575.56 due the United States. The court, therefore, rendered judgment against him for that amount, and from that judgment the present appeal is taken.

Upon the facts above stated, it is clear that the judgment of the court of claims was right. But the appellant insists that the other facts found by the court show that it was in error, and that its judgment shoula have been for the appellant for the amount of the claim for which his suit was brought. These facts were as follows: In the latter part of March, or early in April, 1875, the appellant had an interview, in the city of Washington, with Isaiah Hanscom, chief of the bureau of construction and repair in the navy department, at which the two came to some verbal understanding that the appellant was to do the necessary plumbing on the United States steam-ship Quinnebaug, which was then on the ways in the Philadelphia navy yard, and that Hanscom gave the appellant verbal instructions to go on with the work. In the same interview the matter of using on the Quinnebaug old mateirla taken out of other vessels was talked of, and Hanscom spoke of the material as being worth $2,000, but it did not appear what material or what quantity of material was referred to. Afterwards, on April 6, 1875, the appellant wrote a letter to Hanscom, in which he offered to furnish all the material and labor necessary for the plumbing of the Quinnebaug for $14,500, and take in whole or part payment any brass or lead from old vessels that he could use for that purpose. On the receipt of this letter, Hanscom directed Edward Hartt, who was a naval constructor on duty at the Philadelphia navy yard, to draw up specifications for the plumbing to be done on the Quinnebaug, and to solicit proposals therefor. Proposals were accordingly called for and received by the bureau of construction and repair, but the proposal contained in the appellant's letter of April 6th was the lowest bid for the work.

On April 15, 1875, Hanscom sent an order in writing to Naval Constructor R. W. Steele to have all the old lead, brass, and composition arising from the breaking up of the monitors, naming them, weighed, boxed up, and sent to Philadelphia, and to report the amount to the bureau. The officer to whom the order was addressed, interpreting it as authority from the bureau to deliver to the appellant the old material therein referred to, delivered it to him, and the appellant received the 103,949 pounds of such material heretofore mentioned as the property of the United States. On July 9, 1875, Naval Constructor R. W. Steele wrote to Hanscom that he had delivered the old material to the appellant, that it was estimated to be worth $2,000, which sum would be deducted from the first payment due him for his work. He added: 'I beg to say that it was impossible to arrive at a satisfactory estimate of its value when appraised; there was much alloy and dirt mixed with it, and the cost of transportation and labor in separating and preparing it for use is not known, which makes it necessary to correct the...

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29 cases
  • Utah Power & Light Co. v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • 24 Noviembre 1915
    ... ... Camfield v ... United States, 167 U.S. 527, 17 Sup.Ct. 864, 42 L.Ed ... 260. And failure to object does not confer any vested right ... as against the government. Light v. United States, ... 220 U.S. 523-535, 31 Sup.Ct. 485, 55 L.Ed. 570; Steele v ... United States, 113 U.S. 130, 5 Sup.Ct. 396, 28 L.Ed ... 952; Wilcox v. McConnel, 13 Pet. 513, 10 L.Ed. 264 ... It is ... equally well settled, and is, in fact, conceded, that laches ... is not imputable to the government, and, as stated in ... United States v ... ...
  • United States v. Silliman
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • 25 Marzo 1948
    ...1283; see Guaranty Trust Co. v. United States, 1938, 304 U.S. 126, 132, 133, 58 S.Ct. 785, 82 L.Ed. 1224; Steele v. United States, 1885, 113 U. S. 128, 5 S.Ct. 396, 28 L.Ed. 952. The time limitation objection, therefore, we do not find to be well II. Finality of an Executive or Administrati......
  • State ex rel. Jordan v. Mayor and Commissioners of City of Greenwood
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • 31 Marzo 1930
    ... ... on relation of its public officers to assert public rights ... United ... States v. Barbee, 32 L.Ed. 121 ... The ... doctrine of laches is not applicable ... ...
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maryland
    • 6 Junio 1927
    ... ... W. Woodcock, U. S. Atty., of Baltimore, Md., for the United States ...         Marbury, Gosnell & Williams, of Baltimore, Md., for claimant of the ... 92, 20 L. Ed. 534; Gaussen v. United States, 97 U. S. 584, 24 L. Ed. 1009; Steele v. United States, 113 U. S. 128, 134, 5 S. Ct. 396, 28 L. Ed. 952; United States v. Nashville, ... ...
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1 books & journal articles
  • Back to the Future: Use of Percentage Fee Arrangements in Common Fund Litigation
    • United States
    • Seattle University School of Law Seattle University Law Review No. 12-01, September 1988
    • Invalid date
    ...Court did not inquire into the amount of the fee claimed. In Pettus, the Court determined the fee by setting "reasonable compensation." 113 U.S. at 128. It determined this amount to be 5% of the amount recovered. Id. 5. See Pettus, 113 U.S. at 124-25; G. Hornstein, Legal Therapeutics: The "......

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