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STEVER-WOLFORD, INC. v. UNITED STATES

October 12, 1961

STEVER-WOLFORD, INC.
v.
UNITED STATES of America



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WOOD

This is a suit against the United States for damages resulting from a mail truck running into plaintiff's garage. The question presented is whether the applicable statute of limitations has extinguished the plaintiff's statutory right to sue the United States. The question involves interpretation of the following statute, and application of the facts of this case thereto.

The Act of June 25, 1948, 62 Stat. 971, as amended September 8, 1959, 73 Stat. 472, 28 U.S.C. 2401(b), 1960 Supp., provides in part as follows:

 '(b) A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless action is begun within two years after such claim accrues or within one year after the date of enactment of this amendatory sentence, whichever is later, or unless, if it is a claim not exceeding $ 2,500, it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or within one year after the date of enactment of this amendatory sentence, whichever is later.'

 The accident which is the subject of this suit occurred on or about April 8, 1958. The plaintiff expended the sum of $ 153 to repair its garage, so that its claim does not exceed $ 2500. Therefore, under the terms of the above-quoted statute, the plaintiff's claim had to be 'presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency' by September 8, 1960 -- one year after the date of enactment of the quoted sentence.

 It is admitted that by November 13, 1958, the plaintiff, Stever-Wolford, Inc., had submitted claim forms to Postmaster Brown of the Upper Darby Post Office. *fn1" Thus, the plaintiff complied with the statute by presenting its claim writing to the appropriate Federal agency within the one year period.

 However, the Post Office Department denied plaintiff's claim, and plaintiff brought this suit on December 19, 1960. The time period for bringing suit on a claim which has been originally submitted to a Federal agency and denied by the agency is also set forth in Section (b) of the statute quoted above. That section goes on to provide as follows:

 The parties disagree as to when the Post Office Department mailed notice of final disposition of plaintiff's claim.

 The Government contends that the plaintiff's claim was 'finally disposed of' by letter dated February 27, 1959, addressed to Stever-Wolford, Inc., indicating that the claim had been disallowed because it should have been submitted by the plaintiff's insurers. On June 12, 1959, a letter to the same effect was sent to plaintiff's counsel. That letter reads in pertinent part as follows:

 'On February 27, 1959, the Stever-Wolford, Inc., was notified that its claim was disallowed since it had been fully reimbursed by its insurer and that claim should be submitted by the insurance company under its right of subrogation * * *

 'If you also represent the insurance company, you may have your client submit a claim in its own name and right in accordance with the ruling in United States v. Aetna Casualty Co., 338 U.S. 366 (70 S. Ct. 207, 94 L. Ed. 171). Standard Form 95 and POD Form 2188, the Department's subrogation receipt, are transmitted herewith.

 'The claim form must be signed by an officer of the company authorized to execute claims in its behalf.

 'When these papers are returned properly executed the matter will be given prompt attention.' (Emphasis supplied.)

 We think it clear from the wording of this letter alone that it was not 'final disposition' of the claim in question. The obvious purpose of the statutory language, allowing six months from the 'final disposition' of a claim by an agency within which to bring suit, is to prevent persons who are informed that their claims are no longer being considered and have been denied by an agency from procrastinating for more than six months before ...


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