CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.
Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo
MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the court.
The petitioner served as an enlisted man in the Philippine Scouts under successive enlistments from October 1, 1901, until October 31, 1931, at which time, upon proper
application, he was, by order of the Secretary of War acting for the President, placed on the retired list of the army with the rank of master sergeant in pursuance of the Act of March 2, 1907, c. 2515, 34 Stat. 1217, which provides:
"When an enlisted man shall have served thirty years either in the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps, or in all, he shall, upon making application to the President, be placed upon the retired list, with seventy-five per centum of the pay and allowances he may then be in receipt of, . . ."
A voucher for the retired pay and allowances for the month of November, 1931, was presented to the army disbursing officer for Manila, who, without making payment, forwarded it to the Comptroller General through the respondent Coleman, Chief of Finance, with a request for "an advance decision as to the legal authority for payment." The Comptroller General, on January 19, 1932, rendered a decision holding that "the retirement of enlisted men of the Philippine Scouts is not authorized even by the remotest implication of the laws," and advising the disbursing officer that he was not authorized to pay the voucher, which would be retained in the files of the office of the Comptroller General.
Petitioner thereupon brought this suit in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to enjoin the Comptroller General from interfering with the respondent Coleman, Chief of Finance, or with any finance or disbursing officer of the army, to prevent payment to petitioner of the retired pay and allowances due for the month of November and subsequent months; and to enjoin and command the Comptroller General to return forthwith to the disbursing officer the voucher then being retained in the files of his office. The bill further sought to enjoin and command respondent Coleman, Chief of Finance, to pay or cause to be paid to petitioner such retired pay and
allowances for November and subsequent months. Motions of respondents to dismiss the bill were denied by the supreme court of the District, and thereupon respondents filed separate answers. A motion to strike these answers and for a decree in favor of petitioner was granted by the supreme court of the District. Final decree against respondents followed in accordance with the prayer of the bill.
Upon appeal to the court of appeals of the District, this decree was reversed and the cause remanded to the supreme court of the District with instructions to dismiss the bill. 62 App.D.C. 259; 66 F.2d 564. The holding of that court rested upon the view that mandamus would not lie against the Comptroller General to determine the right of a retired member of the Philippine Scouts to receive retirement pay and allowances, because the question of his status was disputed in good faith on the merits; and that neither mandamus nor injunction should issue "in a case of doubtful inference from statutes of uncertain meaning, for in such circumstances the duty sought to be controlled is regarded as involving the character of judgment or discretion."
No appearance is made here by respondent Coleman, and no brief filed or argument made in his behalf. The Solicitor General, however, has filed a comprehensive brief (in which the Judge Advocate General of the War Department joins) urging the correctness of the petitioner's contention and uniting with him in challenging the decision below. The Comptroller General, contending that the decision is right and should be affirmed, states the point of inquiry to be whether the Chief of Finance and the Comptroller General can be compelled by mandatory injunction, the one to pay or cause to be paid the voucher in ...