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BEACH v. UNITED STATES.

decided: December 2, 1912.

BEACH
v.
UNITED STATES.



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CLAIMS.

Author: Pitney

[ 226 U.S. Page 254]

 MR. JUSTICE PITNEY, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

The appellant, by his amended petition, asked for a recovery against the Government in the sum of twenty

[ 226 U.S. Page 255]

     million dollars and interest, as the purchase price upon an alleged assignment and transfer in the year 1893 of certain inventions pertaining to pneumatic transportation for which letters patent had been theretofore issued to him as mentioned in the findings. His first insistence was and is that these inventions and patents had been purchased by the Postmaster-General under an express agreement to pay him the sum mentioned as consideration. In the alternative he insisted and now insists that at least the Government, with his consent, entered into the use and enjoyment of his devices and letters patent in the year 1893, and has ever since then used and enjoyed them, and ought to pay him their fair value, which he places at twenty million dollars. The facts from which the alleged contract of purchase (express or implied) is sought to be deduced are set forth in the findings of fact above referred to. These findings are criticised by the appellant on the ground that they constitute a mere recital of the evidence, instead of an ascertainment of the ultimate facts. This criticism, under the circumstances of the present case, is captious. The court has set forth the documents upon which alone must rest appellant's contention of an express contract, if that contention have any substantial basis; and has likewise set forth the history of the transactions from which, if at all, an agreement must be implied, if there was no express contract. At the same time the court has expressly found that "The evidence does not establish to the satisfaction of the court that plaintiff's letters patent were conveyed or delivered to the Postmaster-General;" and has made a similar negative finding respecting the appellant's claim to be the first inventor of the devices for pneumatic transportation used, operated and conducted for the transportation of mail matter by persons contracting with the United States or by the agents of the United States; and a similar negative finding respecting his claim that his letters patent "covered the

[ 226 U.S. Page 256]

     same devices actually put into practical operation and used by the corporation which under an act of Congress contracted with the Postmaster-General for transmitting mail matter through pneumatic conveyors."

A fundamental obstacle stands in the way of appellant's claim, whether it be rested upon an express or an implied purchase of pneumatic devices or of patented inventions relating thereto. We refer to the lack of power on the part of the Postmaster-General to contract in behalf of the Government of the United States for such a purchase. Sec. 6 of the post-office appropriation act of July 13, 1892 (27 Stat. 145, c. 165), provided merely -- "that the Postmaster-General is hereby authorized and directed to examine into the subject of a more rapid dispatch of mail matter between large cities, and post-office stations and transportation terminals located in large cities, by means of pneumatic tubes or other systems, and make report upon the expense, cost and advantages of said systems when applied to the mail service of the United States, and the sum of ten thousand dollars is hereby appropriated therefor."

Manifestly the appropriation was intended for the purpose of investigation and report, and did not extend to authorizing such a purchase as that which the appellant alleges.

Of this limitation upon the authority of the Postmaster-General the appellant had plain notice at the inception of his dealings with that official. Not only did the advertisement of July 26, 1892, begin by referring to the above-recited clause of the appropriation act, but it contained, near its close, this express declaration: "The Postmaster-General has no authority in law to contract for the expenditure of money for the use of or purchase of any such invention, nor is there any existing appropriation out of which the cost of the same could be paid."

Appellant insists that under other acts of Congress the

[ 226 U.S. Page 257]

     Postmaster-General had authority to purchase the inventions and devices in question. Reference is made to § 3965, Rev. Stat., enacting that "The Postmaster-General shall provide for carrying the mail on all post-roads established by law, as often as he, having due regard to productiveness and other circumstances, may think proper." This is one of the sections that prescribe the general duties of the Postmaster-General, and cannot be fairly treated as authority for making the alleged contract of purchase. Successive appropriation acts are referred to. Act of June 9, 1896 (29 Stat. 313, 315, c. 386), authorizing the Postmaster-General, in his discretion, to use not exceeding $35,000 in the transportation of mail by pneumatic tube or other similar devices, contains no authorization of purchase. Act of March 3, 1897 (29 Stat. 644, 646, c. 385), authorizes the use of not exceeding $150,000 in the transportation of mail by pneumatic tube or other similar devices, "by purchase or otherwise." But this was enacted more than four years after the last transactions (so far as the record shows) between the appellant and the Postmaster-General, out of which it could possibly be claimed that any contract, express or implied, had arisen. For like reasons, subsequent statutes that are referred to (Act of June 13, 1898, 30 Stat. 440, 442, c. 446; Act of March 1, 1899, 30 Stat. 959, 963, c. 327; Act of June 2, 1900, 31 ...


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