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U.S. Supreme Court

Carpenter v. United States, 84 U.S. 17 Wall. 489 489 (1873)

Carpenter v. United States

84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 489


One who enters into possession of land in virtue of an agreement or understanding that he is to be a purchaser of it cannot be held liable for use and occupation if the purchase be actually concluded.

In July, 1863, Major Hunt, of the Corps of Engineers, entered into negotiations with one Carpenter, owner of an island in Narragansett Bay, for the purchase of it by the United States for military uses, and a parol contract for the purchase and sale was then formally concluded, the terms being approved by the Secretary of War. The price, as stipulated, was $21,000. In August following, the officers of the government, with the consent of Carpenter, entered into possession of the island and began to prepare for fortifying it. The possession then taken they have ever since retained. Upon examination, however, it was found and so reported by the Attorney General that under an Act of May 1, 1820, [Footnote 1] an executive department had by law no authority to purchase land on account of the government. Consequently the verbal arrangement with Carpenter remained unconsummated, until 1866. On the 12th of June of that year, Congress made an appropriation for the purchase of sites then occupied, and proposed to be occupied for sea-coast defense, and on the 7th of August next following, the purchase money of the island ($21,000) was paid to Carpenter, and accepted by him without any claim for interest or rents, so far as it appeared, and he delivered a deed for the property to the United States. In this state of things, Carpenter now, December 7, 1867, filed a petition in the Court of Claims claiming compensation from the United States for the use and occupation of the island from the time the United States officers, with his consent, took possession, after the verbal

Page 84 U. S. 490

arrangement to purchase, until the deed was made and the purchase money was paid -- that is, from August, 1863, to August, 1866.

The question was whether, upon the case stated, an action for use and occupation could be sustained.

The Court of Claims, as appeared by its opinion, [Footnote 2] considered that the law (i.e., the statute of 11 George II, chapter 19, § 14) which gives the action for use and occupation always required that some contract of demise should subsist -- in other words, that the relation of landlord and tenant must be established; [Footnote 3] that there was no such relationship here. That independently of this, the claim rested on an implied contract, but that where there was an express contract to buy, a contract to pay rent could not arise by mere inference. Relying on these views, and citing the English case of Kirtland v. Pounsett, [Footnote 4] it accordingly decreed a dismissal of the petition. From that decree the claimant appealed.

Page 84 U. S. 493

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