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UNITED STATES v. TOWERY

decided: February 27, 1939.

UNITED STATES
v.
TOWERY



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT.

Hughes, McReynolds, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter

Author: Roberts

[ 306 U.S. Page 326]

 MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case turns upon the proper construction of the limitation provision of ยง 19 of the World War Veterans Act of 1924, as amended.*fn1

The respondent brought an action in the District Court for Northern Illinois in his own right and as administrator of Robert C. Towery, deceased, upon claims on two war risk insurance term policies issued to the decedent while in the military service of the United States. The claim of respondent as administrator was for total permanent disability benefits alleged to have accrued to the insured in his lifetime, and the claim as beneficiary designated in the policies was based upon the death of the insured. The complaint alleged that the premiums were deducted from the insured's pay during his military service, from which he was discharged June 18, 1919; that he became totally and permanently disabled, while the policies were in force, on June 18, 1919; that he died April 22, 1927; that, on May 2, 1927, respondent was appointed administrator; that, on February 11, 1932, respondent made claim for disability and death benefits

[ 306 U.S. Page 327]

     under the policies; that the claim was denied by the Veterans Administration August 8, 1935. Suit was instituted June 29, 1936. The Government moved to dismiss on the ground that the action was barred by limitation. The District Court granted the motion and gave judgment for the Government. On appeal the Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.*fn2 We granted certiorari because of alleged conflict of decision.*fn3

Section 19 provides that, in the event of a disagreement between the veteran and the Bureau as to a claim under a policy, the claimant may bring an action in the District Court to obtain a decision of the controversy. The statute then proceeds:

"No suit on yearly renewable term insurance shall be allowed under this section unless the same shall have been brought within six years after the right accrued for which the claim is made or within one year after the date of approval of this amendatory Act, whichever is the later date, . . . Provided, That for the purposes of this section it shall be deemed that the right accrued on the happening of the contingency on which the claim is founded: Provided further, That this limitation is suspended for the period elapsing between the filing in the bureau of the claim sued upon and the denial of said claim by the director. . . ."

The Circuit Court of Appeals held that the "contingency," on the happening of which "the right accrued for which the claim is made," is not defined by the statute and must be ascertained from the policy provisions. In the light of these provisions the court held that, in the case of a claim for benefits payable to the insured, the contingency is the accrual of an installment and, in the case of a claim by a beneficiary, the contingency is the death of the insured.

[ 306 U.S. Page 328]

     The policy, while for a stated amount, calls for payment in monthly installments, two hundred and forty of which (interest being calculated at three and one-half per cent.) would equal the principal sum. Contrary to the view of the court below, disability benefits to the insured do not cease at the expiration of two hundred and forty months but are continued for life if the disability so long lasts.*fn4 Should the insured die, however, prior to the payment of two hundred and forty installments, further installments up to the limit of two hundred and forty are payable to his beneficiary. Should the beneficiary die before the receipt of all the remaining installments up to two hundred and forty, the commuted value of the unpaid installments is payable to the estate of the insured in one sum.*fn5 The court below reached its conclusion as to the meaning of the Act, first, by examination of the phrase "within six years after the right accrued for which the claim is made." In the view that, in case of the death of the insured, the beneficiary has a "right" for which a claim may be made and that, prior to the death of the insured, the latter also has a "right," namely, to receive each monthly benefit installment, the court concluded that there were two rights. If this be the correct view there is still a third ...


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