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UNITED STATES EX REL. WELCH v. FARLEY

February 1, 1937

UNITED STATES ex rel. WELCH
v.
FARLEY, Postmaster General



The opinion of the court was delivered by: COX

Plaintiff was appointed July 23, 1929, as a railway mail clerk, now classified as a railway postal clerk, and has been employed in a post office known prior to June 14, 1934, as a class B terminal. He seeks mandamus to require the Postmaster General to classify him in grade 5 of the railway mail service as of July 1, 1933, with salary in that grade from July 1, 1934; or, judgment under the Declaratory Judgment Act 28 U.S.C.A. § 400 that he is entitled to be so classified and to receive the salary of that grade since July 1, 1934.

The plaintiff has demurred to defendant's answer which does not deny any essential fact set out in the petition. Questions of law only are presented involving construction of statutes.

 The plaintiff has rendered continuous and satisfactory service; and, excet for the legislation hereinafter considered, he would have been automatically promoted to grade 4 on July 1, 1932, and to grade 5 on July 1, 1933.

 The Legislative Appropriation Act for 1933, approved June 30, 1932 (47 Stat. 403), in section 201 of pt. 2, Tit. 2, commonly known as the Economy Act, suspended during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1933, "all provisions of law which confer upon civilian or noncivilian officers or employees of the United States * * * automatic increases in compensation by reason of length of service or promotion," and provided that "this section shall not be construed to deprive any person of any increment of compensation received through an automatic increasein compensation prior to July 1, 1932."

 It may be noted that by the express terms of section 201 only "increases in compensation by reason of length of service or promotion" are suspended. The act apparently does not purport to suspend promotion in rank or grade.

 Section 201 (Economy Act [ 5 U.S.C.A. § 673 note]) was continued in force during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1934, by section 4 (a), chapter 212, of the Act of March 3, 1933 (47 Stat. 1513 [ 5 U.S.C.A. § 673 note]), and by section 4 (a), title 2, chapter 3, of the Act of March 20, 1933 (48 Stat. 13 [ 5 U.S.C.A. § 673 note]); so that the economy period, during which automatic increases in compensation were suspended, extended from July 1, 1932, to June 30, 1934, inclusive.

 By the Independent Office Appropriation Act for the fiscal year 1935, approved March 28, 1934, section 24, subdivision (1) (48 Stat. 522), section 201 (Economy Act), supra, was amended by inserting at the end thereof, "This section shall not apply during the fiscal year * * * 1935. * * * This amendment shall not authorize the payment of back compensation." After this amendment of the Economy Act, the Postmaster General, by letter of May 7, 1934, called upon the Comptroller General for a ruling upon the following interpretation placed upon the amended act: "It is the opinion of the Post Office Department that an employee on July 1, 1934, should be assigned to the salary grade he would have reached had not the automatic promotions been temporarily suspended, although it is understood that the employee would not be entitled to any back compensation."

 In reply, the Comptroller General, on May 24, 1934, ruled, contrary to this interpretation of the Post Office Department, that section 201, in suspending automatic increases in compensation, completely suspended the operation of all federal statutes authorizing such increases; so that no service during the economy period could be included in computing longevity of service for the purpose of promotion to higher grade or rank (13 Comp.Gen.Dec. 384).

 Congress disapproved this ruling or decision of the Comptroller General as clearly appears from the report of June 13, 1934, of the House Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads, No. 1983, 73d Congress, 2d Session, and the action of Congress thereon. That report, setting out in full the objectionable decision of the Comptroller General, recommended, and Congress embodied in the Act of June 27, 1934 (48 Stat. 1265), amending the Economy Act, the provision that in administering section 201 (Economy Act), as amended, "all service rendered by postal and other officers and employees prior to July 1, 1932, and subsequent to June 30, 1932, shall be credited to the officers or employees and such officers or employees promoted to the grade to which they would have progressed had section 201 [Economy Act] * * * not been enacted."

 Clearer or more definite language could not have been used. By express command of the statute all service rendered within as well as prior to the economy period shall be credited to officers and employees and they shall be promoted to the grade to which they would have progressed had section 201 (Economy Act) not been enacted.

 This provision, enacted to clarify and make certain "the purpose and intent of Congress" (Cong.Rec. 73d Congress, Vol. 78, No. 134, p. 12112), preserves to officers and employees automatic promotions in grade or rank, authorized by law, free from any adverse effect of the Economy Act. The character of that act is thus conclusively fixed as an act temporarily denying increase in compensation, but in to wise restricting progress in grade or rank resulting from longevity of service.

 While the passage of the Act of June 27, 1934, supra, was under consideration by Congress, a statute was enacted on June 14, 1934 (48 Stat. 962, 39 U.S.C.A. 618a), commonly referred to as the Terminal Reclassification Act, wherein it is provided that "the clerks in said terminal railway post offices shall be classified as railway postal clerks and progress successively to grade 4 * * * provided * * * that no employee in ...


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