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REX TRAILER CO. v. UNITED STATES

January 9, 1956

REX TRAILER CO., INC
v.
UNITED STATES



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Warren, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Minton, Harlan

Author: Clark

[ 350 U.S. Page 148]

 MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner contends that this action brought by the Government to recover $2,000 on each of five counts of a complaint based on § 26 (b) (1) of the Surplus Property Act of 1944*fn1 places it twice in jeopardy in violation

[ 350 U.S. Page 149]

     of the Fifth Amendment. In an earlier proceeding it had pleaded nolo contendere to a five-count indictment bottomed on the same five transactions and paid fines in the aggregate amount of $25,000. In the present case the District Court granted the Government's motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, 218 F.2d 880. We granted certiorari, 349 U.S. 937, to resolve an asserted conflict between the decisions of the Courts of Appeals.*fn2

At the close of World War II the Government was faced with the problem of disposing of vast quantities of surplus war materials. A large part of this property, valued at many billions of dollars, was needed to satisfy the civilian demand caused by wartime shortages in consumer goods. To facilitate and regulate the orderly

[ 350 U.S. Page 150]

     disposal of this property, Congress passed the Surplus Property Act of 1944, 58 Stat. 765. The stated purposes of this statute included the re-establishment of returning veterans in business, agricultural, or professional life, the discouragement of speculation in surplus property, and the elimination of unusual and excessive profits to speculators. The concern of Congress for returning veterans is emphasized by its 1946 Amendment to the Act, 60 Stat. 168, which gave veterans a priority for the purchase of surplus property, second only to that of the Federal Government, and authorized the Administrator to assign the highest priority to veterans for the purchase of certain items. This legislation thus afforded veterans an opportunity to purchase goods not available elsewhere at a fair price and on good credit terms. The benefits were of great value to the millions of men and women returning to civilian life just after the war.

With this background in mind we may turn to the facts of the present case. In June 1947 the Rex Trailer Company purchased five motor vehicles from the War Assets Administration at Tinker Field, Oklahoma. Rex had only a non-priority right of purchase under the Surplus Property Act; but, by the fraudulent use of the names of five persons possessing veteran priority rights, it was able to purchase the vehicles. Admittedly, the terms of the statute were violated, but the record does not show petitioner's gain from the fraud. The United States limited itself to the recovery of the sum of $2,000 for each of the five overt acts alleged in its complaint.

Petitioner's sole contention is that § 26 (b) (1) provides a criminal penalty and, having once been convicted and fined for the transactions in question, it cannot again be subjected to punishment. The only question for our decision, then, is whether § 26 (b) (1) is civil or penal, for "Congress may impose both a criminal and civil sanction in respect to the same act or omission; for the double

[ 350 U.S. Page 151]

     jeopardy clause prohibits merely punishing twice, or attempting a second time to punish criminally, for the same offense." ...


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