MR. JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.
The United States entered into a contract with the petitioner Clifford F. MacEvoy Company whereby the latter agreed to furnish the materials and to perform the work necessary for the construction of dwelling units of a Defense Housing Project near Linden, New Jersey, on a cost-plus-fixed-fee basis. Pursuant to the Miller Act,
MacEvoy thereupon purchased from James H. Miller & Company certain building materials for use in the prosecution of the work provided for in MacEvoy's contract with the Government. Miller in turn purchased these materials from the respondent, Calvin Tomkins Company. Miller failed to pay Tomkins a balance of $12,033.49. There is no allegation that Miller agreed to perform or did perform any part of the work on the construction project.
Within ninety days from the date on which Tomkins furnished the last of the materials to Miller, Tomkins gave written notice to MacEvoy and the surety of the existence and amount of Tomkins' claim for materials furnished to Miller. Tomkins as use-plaintiff then instituted this action against MacEvoy and the surety on the payment bond. The District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim against them. 49 F.Supp. 81. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judgment. 137 F.2d 565. We granted certiorari because of a novel and important question presented under the Miller Act. 320 U.S. 733.
Specifically the issue is whether under the Miller Act a person supplying materials to a materialman of a Government contractor and to whom an unpaid balance is due from the materialman can recover on the payment bond executed by the contractor. We hold that he cannot.
The Heard Act,
The Miller Act, while it repealed the Heard Act, reinstated its basic provisions and was designed primarily to eliminate certain procedural limitations on its beneficiaries.
"Provided, however, That any person having direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor but no contractual relationship express or implied with the contractor furnishing said payment bond shall have a right of action upon the said payment bond upon giving written notice to said contractor within ninety days from the date on which such person did or performed the last of the labor
The Miller Act, like the Heard Act, is highly remedial in nature. It is entitled to a liberal construction and application in order properly to effectuate the Congressional intent to protect those whose labor and materials go into public projects. Fleisher Engineering Co. v. United States, 311 U.S. 15, 17, 18; cf. United States v. Irwin, 316 U.S. 23, 29, 30. But such a salutary policy does not justify ignoring plain words of limitation and imposing wholesale liability on payment bonds. Ostensibly the payment bond is for the protection of "all persons supplying labor and material in the prosecution of the work" and "every person who has furnished labor or material in the prosecution of the work" is given the right to sue on such payment bond. Whether this statutory language is broad enough to include persons supplying material to materialmen as well as those in more remote relationships we need not decide. Even if it did include such persons we cannot disregard the limitations on liability which Congress intended to impose and did impose in the proviso of § 2 (a). However inclusive may be the general language of a statute, it "will not be held to apply to a matter specifically dealt with in another part of the same enactment. .. . Specific terms prevail over the general in the same or another statute which otherwise might be controlling." Ginsberg & Sons v. Popkin, 285 U.S. 204, 208.
The proviso of § 2 (a), which had no counterpart in the Heard Act, makes clear that the right to bring suit on a payment bond is limited to (1) those materialmen, laborers and subcontractors who deal directly with the prime contractor and (2) those materialmen, laborers and sub-subcontractors who, lacking express or implied contractual relationship with the prime contractor, have direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor and who give
The ultimate question in this case, therefore, is whether Miller, the materialman to whom Tomkins sold the goods and who in turn supplied them to MacEvoy, was a subcontractor within the meaning of the proviso. If he was, Tomkins' direct contractual relationship with him enables Tomkins to recover on MacEvoy's payment bond. If Miller was not a subcontractor, Tomkins stands in too remote a relationship to secure the benefits of the bond.
The Miller Act itself makes no attempt to define the word "subcontractor." We are thus forced to utilize ordinary judicial tools of definition. Whether the word includes laborers and materialmen is not subject to easy solution, for the word has no single exact meaning.
It is apparent from the hearings before the subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary leading to the adoption of the Miller Act that the participants had in mind a clear distinction between subcontractors and materialmen. In opening the hearings, Representative Miller, the sponsor of the bill that became the Miller Act, stated in connection with the various proposed bills that "we would like to have the reaction and opinion of members in reference to those bills that deal with the general subject of requiring a bond for the benefit of laborers and materialmen who deal with subcontractors on public works."
Practical considerations underlying the Act likewise support this conclusion. Congress cannot be presumed, in the absence of express statutory language, to have intended to impose liability on the payment bond in situations where it is difficult or impossible for the prime contractor to protect himself. The relatively few subcontractors who perform part of the original contract represent in a sense the prime contractor and are well known to him. It is easy for the prime contractor to secure himself against loss by requiring the subcontractors to give security by bond, or otherwise, for the payment of those who contract directly with the subcontractors. United States v. American Surety Co., supra, 204; Mankin v. United States, supra, 540. But this method of protection is generally inadequate to cope with remote and undeterminable liabilities incurred by an ordinary materialman, who may be a manufacturer, a wholesaler or a retailer.
The judgment of the court below is
Sen. Burke said in the Senate that "This bill would amend that law by requiring an additional bond, a payment bond, for the protection of materialmen and laborers, subcontractors, and all who put forth their labor or furnish materials or incur expenditures in connection with the work." 79 Cong. Rec. 13382.