BROWN V. UNITED STATES, 113 U. S. 568 (1885)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Brown v. United States, 113 U.S. 568 (1885)

Brown v. United States

Argued January 13, 1885

Decided March 2, 1885

113 U.S. 568


In case of ambiguity in a statute, contemporaneous and uniform executive construction is regarded as decisive.

The provisions of the Act of August 3, 1861, ch. 42, § 23, 12 Stat. 291, relating to the retirement of officers of the navy, having been uniformly held, by the officers charged with their execution, to be applicable to warrant officers, are now held to be so applicable.

The Act of July 15, 1870, 16 Stat. 321, did not abolish the furlough pay list, and an order after the passage of that act retiring a naval officer on furlough pay was made in pursuance of law.

The administrator of a retired naval officer cannot, in order to recover from the United States an increase in the compensation of his intestate, take advantage of an alleged defect in the proceedings by which he was retired, and which he acquiesced in without objection during his lifetime.

§ 1588 Rev.Stat. does not apply to officers retired on furlough pay.

Officers of the navy on the retired list are not entitled to longevity pay.

James Brown, the intestate of the appellant, was a boatswain in the United States Navy. The petition in this case was filed against the United States by the administratrix of his estate in

Page 113 U. S. 569

the Court of Claims to recover a balance of pay which she alleged was due to Brown at his death. The Court of Claims found the following facts:

Brown, the decedent, was appointed a boatswain in the Navy of the United States, January 4, 1862. On October 22, 1872, the Naval Retiring Board, before which he had been ordered by the Secretary of the Navy under the provisions of § 23 of the Act of August 3, 1861, 12 Stat. 291, reported that he was incapacitated from performing the duties of his office, and that there was no evidence that such incapacity was the result of any incident of the service. He was accordingly, upon the day last mentioned, by order of the President, retired on furlough pay. From October 22, 1872, to June 30, 1875, Brown received pay at the rate of $900 per annum, and from July 1, 1875, to June 6, 1879, at the rate of $500 per annum. On the day last named, he died.

The court further found that the Acts of August 3, 1861, 12 Stat. 290, and of December 21, 1861, 12 Stat. 329, were soon after their enactment construed by the President and Navy Department to include warrant officers, and under that construction it had been the uniform practice of the President to place warrant officers on the retired list, and large numbers of these officers had been so retired. No protest or objection was made by Brown during his lifetime, either to his retirement or rate of pay. The accounting officers of the Treasury had uniformly held that longevity pay to retired officers was not authorized by § 1593 of the Revised Statutes.

From these findings of fact the Court of Claims deduced, as a conclusion of law, that Brown was legally placed on the retired list, and had received the full amount of pay allowed him by law, and was not entitled to recover, and entered judgment dismissing the petition. The appeal of the petitioner brings that judgment under review.

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