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LORD & HEWLETT V. UNITED STATES, 217 U. S. 340 (1910)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lord & Hewlett v. United States, 217 U.S. 340 (1910)

Lord & Hewlett v. United States

No. 162

Argued April 20, 1910

Decided May 2, 1910

217 U.S. 340


An act of Congress appropriating for a competition for plans of a proposed building, the successful ones to be transmitted to Congress, and which does not appropriate for the building itself, creates no obligation on the part of the United States to use the plans of the successful competitor, and so held in regard to the Act of March 2, 1901, c. 805, 31 Stat. 922, 938, providing for competition for building for Department of Agriculture.

Under the Act of February 9, 1903, c. 528, 32 Stat. 806, providing for plans for a building for the Department of Agriculture not to exceed $1,500,000, the Secretary of Agriculture was not obliged to use the successful plans under the competition provided in the Act of March 2, 1901, and, in the absence of a contract to use such plans, the architects submitting them have no claim for fees against the United States.

There is no contract unless the minds of the parties meet, and although there were negotiations in this case, the architects, having declined to accept a contract submitted by the Department of Agriculture, have no contractual claim against the United States.

43 Ct.Cl. 282, affirmed.

The appellants, doing business as architects under the name of Lord & Hewlett, brought this action to recover from the United States the sum of $75,000 as due them on account of certain transactions relating to a public building which the United States proposed to have constructed and used by the Department of Agriculture.

The Court of Claims adjudged, upon the facts found, that the plaintiffs had no cause of action against the United States, and dismissed the claimants' petition.

The material facts are as will be now stated: by the Act of March 2d, 1901, c. 805, Congress appropriated the sum of $5,000, to be immediately available chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 217 U. S. 341

"to enable the Secretary of Agriculture to have prepared, under his direction, plans for a fireproof administrative building, to be erected on the grounds of the Department of Agriculture, in the City of Washington, said plans, and such recommendations thereon as the Secretary of Agriculture may deem necessary, to be transmitted to Congress at its next regular session."

31 Stat. 922, 938.

Thereafter, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department prepared what is described in the record as a "programme and conditions of a competition for a building for the Department of Agriculture." That programme was approved by the Secretary of Agriculture. It recited the purpose to obtain designs for the proposed building by competition between ten architects of good professional standing and citizens of the United States, to be designated by a special commission, and consisting of the Secretary of Agriculture, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, and three named persons not in the service of the government, who should report as to the relative merits of the designs submitted. The programme contained, among other provisions, the following:

"It must be understood, however, that while the ultimate purpose of the competition is the selection of an architect, the act does not provide for a building, but simply for a design to be approved by Congress at the next session, and therefore, while it is to be supposed that the architect or firm of architects whose design shall be placed first in this competition will receive the commission to carry out the work when the building is authorized, it must be understood that the Secretary of Agriculture has no authority at this time to enter into any contract further than is provided for by this programme. The programme sets forth, approximately, the conditions and location of the building, modifications of which may become necessary. If Congress provides for the erection of the building, the selected architect is then to prepare such design or designs as may, in the judgment of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, be necessary to meet the

Page 217 U. S. 342

conditions finally adopted by him. . . . The three members of this commission not in government service shall receive in full compensation for their services, including traveling and subsistence expenses, the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars ($250). . . . A uniform sum of three hundred and fifty dollars ($350) will be paid to each of the competitors invited, with the understanding and agreement that, unless otherwise provided for by act of Congress, the architect or architects whose design shall be placed first will be awarded the commission for carrying out the work at a fee computed on the basis of the schedule of charges adopted by the American Institute of Architects. It must be understood that no claim shall be made upon the United States by any competitor for any fee, percentage, or payment whatever, or for any expense incident to or growing out of his participation in this competition other than is expressly provided for by the terms mentioned herein."

On the twenty-fourth of October, 1901, the appellants, who were among the ten architects selected to furnish necessary designs in competition, received notice from the Secretary of Agriculture that their plans for the building were selected by the commission, and they received and accepted the compensation ($350) which had been fixed by the programme of competition as full compensation for this preliminary work. Subsequently, October 28th, 1901, the Secretary of Agriculture notified Congress that the award had been made to the appellants.

However, the parties, after discussion, concurred in the view that, as the Department proposed a building of increased size and of more expensive materials, the cost would probably amount to $2,500,000, and a bill appropriating that amount was sent to Congress for its consideration and action. B ut Congress took no action on the general subject of a public building for the Agricultural Department until February 9th, 1903, when, without the knowledge of the Secretary of Agriculture, it passed an act entitled, "An Act for the Erection of a chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 217 U. S. 343

Building for the Use and Accommodation of the Department of Agriculture." That act, it may be observed, did not refer to the above Act of 1901, or to anything done under it. It yet provided for a commodious fireproof building on the grounds of the Department of Agriculture for the use of that Department and its Bureaus,

"to be constructed in accordance with plans to be procured, based on accurate estimates, providing for the erection of said building, complete in all of its details, as herein described, and within the total cost of not exceeding the sum herein stipulated, and he is hereby authorized, after procuring such plans, and after due advertisement for proposals, to enter into contracts within the limit of cost hereby fixed, and subject to appropriations to be made by Congress, for the erection of said building complete, including heating and ventilating apparatus, elevators, and approaches, and the removal of the present building or buildings of the Department of Agriculture on said g