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MARGOLIN v. UNITED STATES, 269 U.S. 93 (1925)

U.S. Supreme Court

MARGOLIN v. UNITED STATES, 269 U.S. 93 (1925)

269 U.S. 93

No. 254.

Argued Oct. 5, 1925.
Decided Nov. 16, 1925.

Act Sept. 2, 1914, 13, as added by Act Oct. 6, 1917, 2, and amended by Act May 20, 1918, 1 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 514kk), providing for Bureau of War Risk Insurance, as already amended by Act June 12, 1917 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 514a-514i), providing that payment to attorney for assistance in preparing an execution of papers necessary in presenting claim to Bureau of War Risk Insurance or Veterans' Bureau, its successor, under Act Aug. 9, 1921, 3 ( Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1923, 967 1/4 b), should not exceed $3, is not limited in its application solely to clerical work and filling out forms or affidavits of claim, so as to permit an additional charge for useful investigation and preparatory work.

Miss Susan Brandeis and Mr. Benjamin S. Kirsh, both of New York City, for petitioner.

[269 U.S. 93, 97]   Mr. Assistant Attorney General Donovan, for the United States.

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

An act of Congress approved September 2, 1914 (38 Stat. 711, c. 293 ( Comp. St. 514a-514j)), provided for a Bureau of War Risk Insurance in the Treasury Department, directed it to insure American vessels, their freight, passage money, and cargoes against war risks, and further authorized it to prescribe necessary rules and regulations. This was amended by Act June 12, 1917, c. 26, 40 Stat. 102 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 514a-514i), so as to provide insurance for masters, officers and crews of American vessels; and the following new section was added:

An act approved October 6, 1917 (40 Stat. 398, c. 105 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 514a et seq.)), again amended the original act, provided for Divisions of Marine and Seamen's Insurance and of Military and Naval Insurance, made definite provision for insuring members of the military and naval forces, and added another new section:

An act approved May 20, 1918 (40 Stat. 555, c. 77, 1 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 514kk)), amended section 13, above quoted, so that it should provide:

An act approved August 9, 1921. (42 Stat. 147, c. 57), provided for the establishment of the Veterans' Bureau, with 'the functions, powers, and duties conferred by existing law upon the Bureau of War Risk Insurance.' Section 3 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1923, 967 1/4 b).

Petitioner was found guilty under an indictment which charged that he unlawfully received fifteen hundred dollars as a fee and compensation for services in preparing and presenting to the United States Veterans' Bureau an affidavit executed by Yetta Cohen in support of her claim [269 U.S. 93, 101]   for insurance money provided for by the act approved October 6, 1917, and amendments thereto. The trial court imposed a fine of two hundred and fifty dollars and its judgment was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 3 F.(2d) 602.

It appears that Yetta Cohen retained petitioner, a member of the bar, to press allowance of her claim as a beneficiary designated in a policy issued to her nephew under the War Risk Insurance Act. He corresponded with the Veterans' Bureau, made one trip from New York to Washington where he examined records and interviewed officials, and prepared the necessary papers. It may be assumed that his services were useful and of some substantial value. For them he demanded two thousand dollars and received fifteen hundred. The exceptions raise the questions whether section 13, Act of May 20, 1918, forbids an attorney from charging more than $3 for any services rendered a beneficiary in respect of a claim under the War Risk Insurance Act when no action in court has been instituted, and whether if so construed that section offends the Fifth Amendment.

Petitioner claims that the inhibition against receiving any sum greater than $3 relates solely to the clerical work of filling out the form or affidavit of claim and does not apply to useful investigation and preparatory work such as he did. He insists that this view is supported by the reports of the committees of the Senate and House of Representatives which recommend passage of the bill, also by a communication from the Secretary of the Treasury, incorporated therein. See S. R. 429 and H. R. 471, 65th Cong., 2d Sess.

We find no reason which would justify disregard of the plain language of the section under consideration. It declares that any person who receives a fee or compensation in respect of a claim under the act, except as therein provided, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor. The [269 U.S. 93, 102]   only compensation which it permits a claim agent or attorney to receive where no legal proceeding has been commenced is $3 for assistance in preparation and execution of necessary papers; and the history of the enactment indicates plainly enough that Congress did not fail to choose apt language to express its purpose.

The validity of section 13, construed as above indicated, we think, is not open to serious doubt. Calhoun v. Massie, 253 U.S. 170 , 40 S. Ct. 474.

The judgment of the court below must be


Mr. Justice BRANDEIS took no part in the consideration or determination of this cause.

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