« PrejšnjaNaprej »
eral post office in the city of Boston to the stopping places of the street car lines of the railway company from May 1, 1895, until February 1, 1896. Also, carrying the mails between the Back Bay post office and the Brookline office, a distance of from two and a half to three miles, which services were not included in the terms of the contract, but which he was required to perform by the postmaster of the city of Boston, against his protest. The contractor did not protest to the Postmaster General or any officer of the Post Office Department until August 14, 1899. Whereupon the Postmaster Gen
ral dispensed with the service by the appellant, and entered into a contract with another contractor to perform the service.
Under the Brooklyn contract, which contained specifications as to the places between which the mail had to be carried during the term of the contract, the contractor was required to perform service between the Brooklyn post office and the mail routes established on the street car lines, and between the motor routes and the mail stations. Under the Omaha contract appellant was required, in addition to the places specifically named in the contract, to carry the mail to and from street cars of the Omaha Street Railway at its crossings. It also appears that under the three contracts the new service required, in lieu of the service specified in the contract, was much less in mileage required than was the service stipulated by the original contract. The Court of Claims dismissed the petition, 38 C. CI. 574, and the claimant appeals to this court.
Mr. A. A. Hoehling, Jr., for appellant.
Mr. Special Attorney Joseph Stewart, with whom Mr. Assistant Attorney General Pradt was on the brief, for the United States.
MR. JUSTICE Day, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.
From the foregoing statement of facts it is evident that the
case resolves itself into three propositions: (1) Can the appellant recover for the alleged wrongful termination of his contracts by the Postmaster General? (2) Under the contracts were the services performed in carrying mails from the street cars, at the places designated, extra services for which compensation outside of the contract should be awarded? (3) Under the Boston contract did the service required in carrying the mails to and from Brookline constitute extra service, for which compensation should be awarded?
To determine the first proposition it is essential to have in mind certain provisions of the statute, the preliminary notice to bidders, and, most important of all, the terms of the contract itself. In the notice to bidders it is said:
“There will be no diminution of compensation for partial discontinuance of service or increase of compensation for new, additional or changed service that may be ordered during the contract term; but the Postmaster General may discontinue the entire service on any route whenever the public interest, in his judgment, shall require such discontinuance, he allowing, as full indemnity to the contractor, one month's extra
In the contract it is stipulated:
“It is hereby stipulated and agreed by the said contractor and his sureties that the Postmaster General may change the schedule and termini of the route, vary the routes, increase, decrease, or extend the service thereon, without change of pay; and that the Postmaster General may discontinue the entire service whenever the public interest, in his judgment, shall require such discontinuance; but for a total discontinuance of service the contractor shall be allowed one month's extra pay as full indemnity.”
Section 817, Revised Statutes, Postal Laws and Regulations, 1887, provides:
“The Postmaster General may discontinue or curtail the service on any route, in whole or in part, in order to place on the route superior service, or whenever the public interests,
in his judgment, shall require such discontinuance or curtailment for any other cause, he allowing as full indemnity to the contractor one month's extra pay on the amount of service dispensed with, and a pro rata compensation for the amount of service retained and continued.”
Under the power supposed to be conferred upon him by the terms of the contract, made in pursuance of the preliminary advertisement and the authority vested in him by the Postal Laws and Regulations, above cited, the Postmaster General, having decreased the service under the contract, by reason of the introduction of the method of carrying the mails on the street railways, until the service required originally would be much more than paid for by the compensation agreed upon, discontinued the original service, and, the contractor declining to perform the work remaining at the lower compensation, put an end to the contract by an order of discontinuance, allowing the contractor one month's extra pay as full indemnity. It is contended by the appellant that this contract, properly construed, while it permits the Postmaster General to make changes in the schedule and termini of the route, to reduce the same, to increase, decrease or extend the service, without change of pay, does not confer the right to cancel the contract except upon abandoning the entire service, which may be done with the allowance of one month's extra pay to the contractor. But, it is insisted, so long as any part of the service remains to be performed, it is not within the power of the Postmaster General to put an end to the service of the contractor and relet a part of it to another, substituting a different character of service for a part of the field theretofore covered by the contract. In other words, it is contended that the total discontinuance of service, which only can terminate the contract, must not leave any service to be performed in the district covered.
We cannot accede to this narrow construction of the powers given the Postmaster General by the terms of this contract. He is given general power to increase, decrease or extend the
service contracted for, without change of pay. Furthermore, whenever the public interests in his judgment require it, he may discontinue the entire service. We think the advertisement and the regulations under which this contract was made and the contract as entered into were intended to permit the Postmaster General, when in his judgment the public interest requires it, to terminate the contract, and if a service of a different character has become necessary in his opinion, to put an end to the former service upon the stipulated indemnity of one month's extra pay being given to the contractor. It is not reasonable to hold that the power given to the Postmaster General for the public interest can only be exercised when the mail service in the district is to be entirely abandoned. In the present case the contract was for mail service in three cities of importance, two of them among the large cities of the country, and all of them thriving and growing communities. It is hardly possible that the parties, in making this contract, could have had in view a time when the mail service would be dispensed with. On the other hand, the condition which the contract contemplated, and which in fact arose, made it desirable to extend to this district the use of street railways to carry the mails, with which to improve the facilities for mail delivery.
The authority given to the Postmaster General is broad and comprehensive, requiring him to exercise his judgment to end the service, and thereby terminate the contract, whenever the public interest shall demand such a change. In that event the contractor takes the risk that the exercise of this authority might leave him only the indemnity stipulated forone month's extra pay. We are not called upon to say in this case that the Postmaster General, merely for the purpose of reletting the contract at a lower rate, may advertise and relet precisely the same service for the purpose of making a more favorable contract for the Government, no change having arisen in the situation except the desire for a better bargain. And it may readily be conceived that in some instances there
may be such a diminution of the service contracted for in the district, by reason of the substitution of new and improved methods, as will render the compensation agreed upon altogether disproportionate to the services left to be rendered, and thereby invoking the authority of the Postmaster General to exercise the power reserved to him to terminate the contract. In the present case the findings of fact do not disclose a case of the arbitrary exercise of power. A new means of service within the district by means of the street railway was deemed by the Postmaster General to be required in the public interest. This necessitated the cutting down of the former service to make way for the new, and the Postmaster General exercised the power given him under the contract, and put an end to the service and the contract. If the contention of the appellant is to be sustained, while in the present case the street railway service was not a large proportion of the total service required, the same argument, carried to its legitimate conclusion, would prevent the Postmaster General from taking advantage of this stipulation, although it was manifest that a large proportion, maybe practically all, of the service could be better rendered to the public by substituting the new method, leaving only a small part of the old service to be rendered. In this contingency, as construed by the appellant, the contract price must still be paid, notwithstanding the changed conditions. These contracts were made for a term of years; two for four years and one for two years. It is insisted that the construction contended for by the Government practically puts the contractor into the power of the Postmaster General, and makes the stipulation, in substance, an agreement upon his part to do whatever that officer may require. The obvious answer to this contention is that the contractor is not obliged to carry on the contract when the Postmaster General elects to cancel it. Such action puts an end to the obligations of the contractor as well as the Government. Under the postal regulations, it appears that the contractor is given the opportunity to perform the reduced service at a lower rate. This he was not obliged