Rex Trailer Company, Inc. v. United States

PETITIONER: Rex Trailer Company, Inc.
RESPONDENT: United States

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

ARGUED: Dec 05, 1955
DECIDED: Jan 09, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Rex Trailer Company, Inc. v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1955 in Rex Trailer Company, Inc. v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 46, Rex Trailer Company Incorporated versus United States of America.

Mr. Dongus.

Gustave H. Dongus:

May it please the Court.

This case is here on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and presents the question whether the prohibition against double jeopardy in the Fifth Amendment bars the Government's recovery from petitioner of the statutory sum of $2000 provided in section 26 (b) (1) of the Surplus Property Act of 1944 pertaining surplus property by a fraud when on the admitted facts the Government had no loss.

The statute involved here substance -- in substance provides that every person who shall use or engage in any fraudulent trick, scheme or device for the purpose of securing or obtaining surplus property --

William O. Douglas:


Gustave H. Dongus:

-- shall pay to the United States the sum of $2,000 for each such Act and double the amount of any damage which the United States may have sustained by reason thereof, together with the cause for them to sue.

In addition, the -- I may point out that the statute under subsections 2 and 3 provide two alternative remedies to the Government; namely, that the United States may recover, as liquidated damage, twice the consideration agreed to be paid or as a further alternative, the Government may keep the property or rather recover the property and keep the consideration was --which has been paid.

Now, those two alternative remedies are not involved in this case.

What is involved is this flat sum of $2000.

The facts alleged in the Government's complaint and in the petitioner's answer on which the case was submitted by motions for summary judgment are briefly these.

The Government's complaint contained five separate counts.

Count one alleged that in June 1947, at Tinker Field in Oklahoma, petitioner did cause a named individual to make a false statement of a material fact in writing to the War Assets Administration for the purpose of obtaining a certain described motor truck.

The false statements were statements qualifying the persons -- the person's name in each of the counts as a veteran for priority right to purchase.

Counts two through five are identical with count one, as except, as to the name of the person involved and the description of the motor vehicles.

Judgment was asked for $2000 on each count or a total of $10,000.

Petitioner in its answer pleaded that the Government's action was to recover a statutory penalty and was not for the collection of any obligation or indebtedness owing to the United States or for the recovery of any damage suffered by the United States.

And the petitioner had previously been indicted in the District Court -- Federal District Court in Oklahoma in this --in five counts on this very same five transactions.

And that he had pleaded nolo contendere in the criminal action.

And that the court had imposed a total fine of $25,000 and which fine was paid by the petitioner.

The petitioner had then further alleged in his answer that the trucks in question were advertised, offered for sale by the War Assets Administration at a fixed price.

And that under the terms of the sale, certain Government agencies, individuals were given the priority right to purchase.

That the federal agencies had a higher priority than certified veterans.

And that this petitioner had a nonpriority right to purchase, as a dealer in certain types of machinery.

The answer further alleged that respondent was not damaged, as the Government was not damaged, did not suffer any loss because of the sale of the trucks and had received the full advertised offering price and if the trucks hadn't been sold to the petitioner or others, it would have been sold at the same price to other priority or nonpriority purchasers.

And concluded was the allegation that the complaint seeks to recover a further penalty in addition to the criminal fine previously paid by petitioner, thereby, placing it in double jeopardy, contrary to the Fifth Amendment.

The Government's motion for summary judgment on the pleadings was sustained that petitioner was denied.

And judgment was entered against petitioner in the sum of $10,000 or $2000 on each of the five counts.

That judgment was affirmed by the court below which held that the provision in section 26 (b) (1) for the payment of this $2000 was compensatory and not penal in nature and therefore petitioner's defense of double jeopardy was no bar to this action.

Now, the statute itself distinguishes between the sum of $2000 and the double damages which are recoverable.