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U.S. Supreme Court

United States Fidelity v. Kenyon, 204 U.S. 349 (1907)

United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company v. Kenyon

No. 173

Argued January 18, 1907

Decided February 25, 1907

204 U.S. 349


Under the Act of August 13, 1894, 28 Stat. 278, as construed in the light of the act passed the same day, 28 Stat. 282, and of the act amending the latter passed January 24, 1905, 33 Stat. 811, in suits brought in the name of the United States for the benefit of materialmen and laborers on bonds given in pursuance of the act, the United States is a real litigant, and not a mere nominal party, and the Circuit Court of the United States has jurisdiction of such suits without regard to the value of the matter in dispute.

By an Act of Congress approved August 13, 1894, entitled "An Act for the Protection of Persons Furnishing Materials and Labor for the Construction of Public Works," it was provided:~ That hereafter any person or persons entering into

Page 204 U. S. 350

a formal contract with the United States for the construction of any public building, or the prosecution and completion of any public work, or for repairs upon any public building or public work, shall be required, before commencing such work, to execute the usual penal bond, with good and sufficient sureties, with the additional obligations that such contractor or contractors shall promptly make payments to all persons supplying him or them labor and materials in the prosecution of the work provided for in such contract, and any person or persons making application therefor, and furnishing affidavit to the department under the direction of which said work is being, or has been, prosecuted, that labor or materials for the prosecution of such work has been supplied by him or them, and payment for which has not been made, shall be furnished with a certified copy of said contract and bond, upon which said person or persons supplying such labor and materials shall have a right of action, and shall be authorized to bring suit in the name of the United States for his or their use and benefit against said contractor and sureties, and to prosecute the same to final judgment and execution: Provided, That such action and its prosecutions shall involve the United States in no expense. Sec. 2. Provided, that in such case the court in which such action is brought is authorized to require proper security for costs in case judgment is for the defendant.

28 Stat. 278, c. 280.

On the same day -- August 13, 1894 -- Congress passed an act providing that whenever any recognizance, stipulation, bond, or undertaking conditioned for the faithful performance of any duty, or for doing or refraining from doing anything in such recognizance, stipulation, bond, or undertaking specified is, by the laws of the United States, required or permitted to be given with one or more sureties, it should be lawful to accept such instrument from a corporation having power to guarantee the fidelity of persons holding positions of public or private trust, and to execute and guarantee bonds and undertakings in judicial proceedings. The act provided that

Page 204 U. S. 351

any surety company doing business under the provisions of that act

"may be sued in respect thereof in any court of the United States which has now or hereafter may have jurisdiction of actions or suits upon such recognizance, stipulation, bond, or undertaking, in the district in which such recognizance, stipulation, bond, or undertaking was made or guaranteed, or in the district in which the principal office of such company is located."

28 Stat. 279, § 5, c. 282.

Proceeding under the above acts the United States, in 1899, made a written contract with one Churchyard to furnish labor, materials, tools, and appliances for the construction of a public building, taking from him the required bond with the United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company, a corporation, as surety.

The present action, brought in the circuit court on that bond, was by the United States, "suing herein for the benefit and on behalf of James S. Kenyon," who furnished a contractor, for use in the construction of the proposed government building, materials of the value of $66.05 for which the latter neglected and refused to pay. Damages to the amount of $500 were claimed in the declaration.

The defendant, the United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company, pleaded that it did not owe the sum demanded. The plaintiff introduced testimony, but the defendant introduced none, and it appearing upon the face of the declaration that the value of the matter in dispute was less than $2,000, it moved that the action be dismissed for want of jurisdiction in the circuit court. That motion was denied, and judgment for $206.47 was entered against the Fidelity & Guaranty Company for the use and benefit of Kenyon. United States v. Churchyard, 132 F. 82.

Page 204 U. S. 354

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