Menu

3

0 Comment

Federal Crop Insurance Corp v. Merrill (1947)332 U.S. 380CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF IDAHOSyllabus1. The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, a wholly government owned corporation created by the Federal Crop Insurance Act to insure producers of wheat against crop losses due to unavoidable causes, including drought, promulgated and published in the Federal Register regulations specifying the conditions on which it would insure wheat crops, including a provision making “spring wheat which has been reseeded on winter wheat acreage” ineligible for insurance.  Without actual knowledge of this provision, a wheat grower applied to the Corporation’s local agent for insurance on his wheat crop, informing the local agent that most of it was being reseeded on winter wheat acreage, but this information was not included in the written application.  The Corporation accepted the application subject to the terms of its regulations.  Most of the crop on the reseeded acreage was destroyed by drought.Held:  the Corporation is not liable for the loss on the reseeded acreage.  Pp. 381-386. [332 U.S. 381]2. Having been published in the Federal Register, the Wheat Crop Insurance Regulations are binding on all who seek to come within the Federal Crop Insurance Act, regardless of lack of actual knowledge of the regulations.  P. 385.67 Idaho 196, 174 P.2d 834, reversed.The Supreme Court of Idaho affirmed a judgment against the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation for loss of a wheat crop which had been reseeded on winter wheat acreage.  67 Idaho 196, 174 P.2d 834.  This Court granted certiorari.  331 U.S. 798.  Reversed, p. 386.MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.Key excerpts from Justice Frankfurter’s Majority opinion:“….The case no doubt presents phases of hardship.  We take for granted that, on the basis of what they were told by the Corporation’s local agent, the respondents reasonably believed that their entire crop was covered by petitioner’s insurance.  And so we assume that recovery could be had against a private insurance company.  But the Corporation is not a private insurance company.  It is too late in the day to urge that the Government is just another private litigant, for purposes of charging it with liability, whenever it takes over a business theretofore conducted by private enterprise or engages in competition with private ventures.{1}  Government is not partly public or partly private, depending upon the governmental pedigree of the type of a particular activity or the manner [332 U.S. 384] in which the Government conducts it.  The Government may carry on its operations through conventional executive agencies or through corporate forms especially created for defined ends.  See Keifer & Keifer v. Reconstruction Finance Corp., 306 U.S. 381, 390.  Whatever the form in which the Government functions, anyone entering into an arrangement with the Government takes the risk of having accurately ascertained that he who purports to act for the Government stays within the bounds of his authority.  The scope of this authority may be explicitly defined by Congress or be limited by delegated legislation, properly exercised through the rulemaking power.  And this is so even though, as here, the agent himself may have been unaware of the limitations upon his authority.  See, e.g., Utah Power & Light Co. v. United States, 243 U.S. 389, 409; United States v. Stewart, 311 U.S. 60, 70, and see generally In re Floyd Acceptances, 7 Wall. 666.If the Federal Crop Insurance Act had, by explicit language, prohibited the insurance of spring wheat which is reseeded on winter wheat acreage, the ignorance of of such a restriction, either by the respondents or the Corporation’s agent, would be immaterial, and recovery could not be had against the Corporation for loss of such reseeded wheat.  Congress could hardly define the multitudinous details appropriate for the business of crop insurance when the Government entered it.  Inevitably “the terms and conditions” upon which valid governmental insurance can be had must be defined by the agency acting for the Government.  And so, Congress has legislated in this instance, as in modern regulatory enactments it so often does, by conferring the rulemaking power upon the agency created for carrying out its policy.  See § 516(b), 52 Stat. 72, 77, 7 U.S.C. § 1516(b).  Just as everyone is charged with knowledge of the United States Statutes at Large, [332 U.S. 385] Congress has provided that the appearance of rules and regulations in the Federal Register gives legal notice of their contents.  49 Stat. 502, 44 U.S.C. § 307.Accordingly, the Wheat Crop Insurance Regulations were binding on all who sought to come within the Federal Crop Insurance Act, regardless of actual knowledge of what is in the Regulations or of the hardship resulting from innocent ignorance.  The oft-quoted observation in Rock Island, Arkansas & Louisiana R. Co. v. United States, 254 U.S. 141, 143, that “Men must turn square corners when they deal with the Government” does not reflect a callous outlook.  It merely expresses the duty of all courts to observe the conditions defined by Congress for charging the public treasury.  The “terms and conditions” defined by the Corporation, under authority of Congress, for creating liability on the part of the Government preclude recovery for the loss of the reseeded wheat no matter with what good reason the respondents thought they had obtained insurance from the Government.  Indeed, not only do the Wheat Regulations limit the liability of the Government as if they had been enacted by Congress directly, but they were, in fact, incorporated by reference in the application,{2} as specifically required by the Regulations.{3} [332 U.S. 386]….”