UNITED STATES V. NEW YORK, N.H. & HARTFORD R. CO., 355 U. S. 253 (1957)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. New York, N.H. & Hartford R. Co., 355 U.S. 253 (1957)

United States v. New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Co.

No. 45

Argued November 20, 1957

Decided December 16, 1957

355 U.S. 253


Pursuant to § 322 of the Transportation Act of 1940, the Government paid, upon presentation and prior to audit bills presented by respondent railroad, for transporting government property in 1944. On post-audit, the Government found that it had been overcharged, and, upon refusal of respondent to refund the amount of the overcharge, deducted the amount from a bill for transportation services rendered by respondent in 1950. Respondent then sued the Government under the Tucker Act for the full amount of the 1950 bill. In its answer, the Government admitted the 1950, bill but claimed credit for the 1944 overcharge and its payment of the difference by check. Respondent then admitted receipt of the check, but claimed that the remainder of the 1950 bill was due and unpaid.

Held: respondent has the burden of proving that its 1944 charges were computed at lawful and authorized rates, and it is entitled to recovery only if it satisfies that burden. Pp. 355 U. S. 254-264.

(a) It is clear from the legislative history of § 322 that both Congress and the railroads contemplated that the Government's protection against overcharges available under the pre-audit practice should not be diminished, and that the burden of the carriers to establish the correctness of their charges was to continue unabridged. Pp. 355 U. S. 255-260.

(b) The burden of the carrier to establish the lawfulness of its charges is the same under § 322 as it was under the superseded practice, under which payment was withheld until the carrier established the correctness of its charges. Pp. 355 U. S. 260-262.

(c) Conventional principles of contractual setoff should not govern the determination of the carrier's burden of proof in this action merely because the complaint frames an action for recovery of the full amount of the 1950 bill, rather than the amount deducted therefrom. Pp. 355 U. S. 262-263.

236 F.2d 101, reversed and remanded.

Page 355 U. S. 254

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