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WHITE v. U S, 191 U.S. 545 (1903)

U.S. Supreme Court

WHITE v. U S, 191 U.S. 545 (1903)

191 U.S. 545

ULYSSES S. G. WHITE, Appt.,
v.
UNITED STATES.
No. 75.

Argued November 12, 13, 1903.
Decided December 21, 1903.

Messrs. William B. King and George A. King for appellant.

[191 U.S. 545, 548]   Assistant Attorney General Pradt and Mr. John Q. Thompson for appellee.

Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

This is an appeal from the judgment of the court of claims dismissing the petition of the claimant. Upon hearing, that court made the following findings of fact:

Three years and 130 days, at $2,700 per annum $9,061 64 Five years, at $3,000 per annum. 15,000 00 ___ Total $24,061 64

Three years and 130 days, at $3,000 per annum $10,068 49 Five years, at $3,500 per annum 17,500 00 ___ Total $27,568 49

The claim arises under the act of March 3, 1899, commonly [191 U.S. 545, 549]   known as the Navy personnel act. The act is entitled 'Chapter 413. An Act to Reorganize and Increase the Efficiency of the Personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States.' 30 Stat. at L. 1004 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1072). Section 13 of the act provides:

The part of the statute particularly under consideration in [191 U.S. 545, 550]   this case, and upon the interpretation of which the right of the claimant depends, is contained in the 3d paragraph: 'And that all officers, including warrant officers, who have been or may be appointed to the Navy from civil life, shall, on the date of appointment, be credited, for computing their pay, with five years' service.'

It is the contention of the claimant that he comes within the terms of this proviso, and, as an officer appointed to the Navy from civil life, is entitled, as of the date of his appointment, to be credited with five years' service, having been appointed January 9, 1877, and by previous service in the Army entitled, under another statute (22 Stat. at L. 473, chap. 97, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1071), to a credit of six years, seven months, and twenty-one days, reaching the maximum pay of $3,500.00 on May 19, 1885.

The reading of the statute is not altogether clear, and we are to arrive at the meaning of Congress by such aids as may be legitimately resorted to in order to determine the effect and purpose of the lawmaking power in the language used. The statute is part of a voluminous act to reorganize and increase the efficiency of the personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States. In the title, the language used looks to the future; it contemplates a readjustment of rank and pay. It is true that the title of the act may not control the plain language of the enacting clauses, but, nevertheless, we may look to the declared scope and purpose of the act as evidenced by its title whenever it becomes necessary, in view of the use of language incapable by itself of exact construction. Church of Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 462 , 36 S. L. ed. 226- 229, 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 511.

Chief Justice Marshall, in United States v. Fisher, 2 Cranch, 358-386, 2 L. ed. 304-313, said:

But it is urged that the plain meaning of this statute includes officers in the situation of the claimant, and requires a readjustment of their pay for years past. The language used is 'all officers that have been or may be appointed to the Navy from civil life,' and it is claimed that unless this construction is given to the act, violence is done to its terms, and to the rights intended to be conferred upon the claimant and other officers similarly situated. The proviso directs credit on the date of appointment. It is argued that this means as of the date of appointment. If this be true, it is in conflict with the first clause of the act, which makes increased pay begin on June 30th. The effect of this construction of the proviso, when read with the first clause of the act, is thus perti- [191 U.S. 545, 553]   nently pointed out in the majority opinion of the court of claims:

But quite as important, in our view, is the declared purpose for which the credit is to be given 'computing their pay.' Does it not do violence to this expression of purpose to give the law a retrospective effect? The purpose for which the five years' service is to be credited cannot be ignored. It is thus that the object of the act is to be accomplished, and it is not declared to be with a view of readjusting the pay of officers within the classes named, or giving to them, as Congress might, a gratuity for past services, but the credit is solely given for the purpose of 'computing their pay,' and this is to be read in the light of the purview of the statute wherein its operation is declared to be effective from the beginning of the coming fiscal year. [191 U.S. 545, 554]   But it is said that the declared policy of the act includes not only those to be hereafter appointed, but also those who have been appointed to the Navy from civil life. It will be presumed that Congress, in passing this legislation, had in mind the law already in force regulating the subject, and we find in 1556 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1068), that civil engineers in the Navy are to be paid according to the length of their service, with increase of pay through three periods of five years each, and after fifteen years of service they are to receive the maximum amount of pay. If the act under consideration is to be read, as we think it should be, to have reference to the pay of naval officers beginning with the next fiscal year 'on and after June thirtieth,' it would increase the pay of those who had not reached the maximum pay by continuous service by giving to such officers, for the purpose of computing their pay thereafter, a credit for the five years' service or so much thereof as would enable such officer to reach the maximum pay. This construction gives force to the declared purpose of the act to begin its operation at the beginning of the coming fiscal year, and benefits those officers named in the proviso who have not already, by continuous service, been advanced in pay to the maximum compensation fixed by law. Congress must be presumed to have had before it, in framing this legislation, the statute already in force, fixing the pay of naval officers by advancing them every five years through three such periods to maximum pay. It enacted, in the statute under consideration, that the officers named, appointed or to be appointed from civil life, should have such credit on the date of appointment for one purpose,-'computing their pay.' In the light of the operation of the act as declared in the first clause to begin on the 30th of June following, we think this was meant, so far as it applied to officers theretofore appointed, and who were not receiving maximum pay, to give them a credit of the term of five years' advancement toward full pay for the purpose of computing compensation after the beginning of the coming fiscal year. [191 U.S. 545, 555]   While the question is not free from difficulty, we cannot escape the conclusion that had Congress intended that this credit should be given not only for the purpose of computing future pay, but with a view to readjusting past compensation, and giving gratuities for years past, it would have declared its purpose in more distinct terms.

The construction here given is consistent with the declared purpose of the act; it gives to the law a future, not a retrospective, operation, and, in our judgment, carries out the expressed purpose of Congress in passing the law.

Judgment of the Court of Claims affirmed.

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