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SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY v. UNITED STATES

decided: May 11, 1925.

SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY
v.
UNITED STATES



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CLAIMS.

Taft, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, Stone

Author: Sanford

[ 268 U.S. Page 264]

 MR. JUSTICE SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Southern Pacific Company, having carried certain persons as passengers at the request of the Government and received payment for such transportation at land-grant rates, brought this action to recover the difference between the rates thus paid and the full tariff rates. The Court of Claims, on its findings of fact, being of opinion that the claimant by its course of proceeding and acceptance of the land-grant rates was precluded from the recovery of the balance of the full tariff rates, entered judgment dismissing the petition. 59 Ct. Cls. 36.

The facts found, shortly stated, are as follows: The claimant in 1911 became a party to the so-called "land-grant equalization agreements" with the Quartermaster General, by which it agreed (subject to certain exceptions not here material) to transport troops of the United States at the net rates effective over land-grant lines, that is, at fifty per cent. of the rates charged private parties.*fn1 Thereafter, between March 1, 1912, and June 18, 1916,*fn2 the claimant transported, upon Government requests, a number of applicants for enlistment in the Army, discharged, retired and furloughed soldiers, and civilian employees in the War Department.

[ 268 U.S. Page 265]

     It had been previously ruled by the Comptroller of the Treasury that such persons were to be regarded as troops of the United States and that their transportation could be paid for only at land-grant rates; and disbursing officers, as the claimant knew, were authorized to make payments on that basis only. Because of this ruling the claimant presented its bills for all such transportation on the form of voucher prescribed for transportation at land-grant rates,*fn3 in which it stated in appropriate columns the "gross amount" of the regular fares, the "amount to be deducted on account of land-grant," and, in the final column, the "amount claimed" (the gross amount less the land-grant deduction); and certified the accounts to be correct. All these vouchers were presented to the Disbursing Quartermaster at San Francisco, and were paid by him in the amounts claimed; and all these payments were accepted by the claimant.

Prior to January 1, 1914, the claimant, except in one instance, accepted payment of these bills without protest or other objection.

After January 1, 1914, however, there was written, typewritten or stamped by the claimant upon a part of the land-grant vouchers, before they were paid, a so-called short form of protest, reading as follows: "Amounts claimed in this bill accepted under protest." This form of protest was understood by the clerk who handled these bills in the office of the Disbursing Quartermaster as being "addressed to the matter of land-grant rates," for the purpose of reserving the claimant's right to present a further claim for full commercial fares to the accounting officers or the courts. The claimant used this form of protest on 201 vouchers between January 1 and October 1, 1914;*fn4 but 303 of the vouchers presented and paid during this period bore no protest.

[ 268 U.S. Page 266]

     On October 1, 1914, the claimant began "systematically" to endorse in typewriting on the land-grant vouchers, before presentment, a so-called long form of protest, reading as follows: "As U.S. Government accounting officers claim they have no authority to allow or pay for the transportation of discharged soldiers more than the fares for troops of the U.S. such fares are shown herein but under protest and S. P. Co. for itself and connecting carriers does not waive any of its rights to full published tariff fares and any payment at any less amount will be accepted as part payment only for the services performed." This form of protest was used on 516 vouchers between October 1, 1914, and June 18, 1916,*fn5 but 212 of the vouchers presented and paid within this period bore no form of protest whatever.

The claimant brought the present action in March, 1918, shortly before the decision in United States v. Union Pacific Railroad, 249 U.S. 354. In that case the railroad company, a party to the land-grant equalization agreement, having transported persons of all the classes that are here in question except civilian employees, had presented to the Auditor for the War Department claims for such transportation at the full tariff rates, and the Auditor and Comptroller having successively refused to allow these claims at more than the land-grant rates, had then brought suit in the Court of Claims to recover the full passenger fares. It was held by this court that such persons were not troops of the United States within the meaning of the land-grant acts and the equalization agreements, and that the railroad company was entitled to recover the full amount claimed. In the ...


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