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JURAGUA IRON COMPANY v. UNITED STATES.

decided: February 23, 1909.

JURAGUA IRON COMPANY, LIMITED
v.
UNITED STATES.



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CLAIMS.

Author: Harlan

[ 212 U.S. Page 300]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

This action was brought in the Court of Claims to recover from the United States the alleged value of certain property

[ 212 U.S. Page 301]

     destroyed in Cuba, during the war with Spain, by order of the officer who at the time of its destruction commanded the troops of the United States operating in the locality of the property.

The case depends altogether upon the facts found by the court. We cannot go beyond those facts.

The Court of Claims found that the Juragua Iron Company (Limited) was a corporation of Pennsylvania, having its principal office and place of business in Philadelphia and was and for many years had been engaged in the business of mining and selling iron ore and other mineral products in the United States, Cuba and elsewhere and in manufacturing iron and steel products; that it was so engaged at the opening of the late war with Spain; and to enable it to carry on business it owned, leased and operated mines in Cuba, maintaining offices, works and the necessary tools, machinery, equipments and supplies for its business in the Province of Santiago de Cuba, at or near Siboney, Firmeza and La Crux; that in addition to its mines, works and their equipments, the company also owned real estate at or near Siboney, which was improved by 66 buildings of a permanent character, used for the purposes of its business and occupied by its employes as dwellings and for other purposes; that in the year 1898, and "while the war with Spain was in progress, the lives of the United States troops who were engaged in military operations in the Province of Santiago de Cuba, in the belligerent prosecution of the war, became endangered by the prevalence of yellow fever, and it was deemed necessary by the officers in command, in order to preserve the health of the troops and to prevent the spread of the disease, to destroy all places of occupation or habitation which might contain the fever germs;" that on or about the eleventh of July, 1898, General Miles, commanding the United States forces in Cuba, because of the necessity aforesaid and by the advice of his medical staff, issued orders to destroy by fire these 66 buildings at Siboney, which belonged to the claimant and had been used for the purposes aforesaid; that pursuant to that order such buildings and their contents were destroyed by fire by the military authorities of

[ 212 U.S. Page 302]

     the United States; that the reasonable value of the buildings at the time and place of destruction was $23,130, and the reasonable value of the drills, furniture, tools and other personal property so destroyed by fire was seven thousand nine hundred and eighty-six dollars ($7,986), making a total of thirty-one thousand one hundred and sixteen dollars ($31,116).

As a conclusion of law the court found that the United States was not liable to pay any sum to the plaintiff on account of the damage aforesaid and dismissed the petition.

It is to be observed at the outset that no fact was found that impeached the good faith, either of General Miles or of his medical staff, when the former, by the advice of the latter, ordered the destruction of the property in question; nor any fact from which it could be inferred that such an order was not necessary in order to guard the troops against the dangers of yellow fever. It is therefore to be assumed that the health, efficiency and safety of the troops required that to be done which was done. Under these circumstances was the United States under any legal obligation to make good the loss sustained by the owner of the property destroyed?

By the act of March 3d, 1887, providing for the bringing of suits against the Government of the United States the Court of Claims was given jurisdiction to hear and determine all claims "founded upon the Constitution of the United States or any law of Congress, except for pensions, or upon any regulation of an Executive Department or upon any contract, expressed or implied, with the Government of the United States or for damages, liquidated or unliquidated, in cases not sounding in tort, in respect to which claims the party would be entitled to redress against the United States, either in a court of equity or admiralty if the United States were suable. 24 Stat. 505, c. 359.

Manifestly, no action can be maintained under this statute unless the United States became bound by Implied contract to compensate the plaintiff for the value of the property destroyed, or unless the case -- regarding it as an ...


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