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In reality, these cases of so-called quasi-contract are instances of “absolute” liability imposed by the courts in the absence of either breach of genuine contract or tort in the sense of fault. 67
The use of the unfortunate expression Quasi-Contract is largely due to two things:
1. The history of remedial law, as summarized ante by Keener.
2. The unwillingness of judges to admit that they, by their decisions, make or change rules of substantive law.
As to the advantage of discarding the fiction of a contract:
Lawyers would be forced to think about the validity of results heretofore blindly accepted.68 Courts would then examine more carefully into alleged reasons of public policy for imposing absolute liability. In some instances the reasons might be found insufficient. And in such instances the courts might refuse to continue to impose liability, unless fault, or breach of genuine contract, could be established, as it sometimes might be.
We have heretofore said that cases falling under the general head of Absolute Liability can be subdivided as follows: Class I — Cases
where recovery has heretofore been enforced in an action of tort; Class 2 -- Cases where recovery has heretofore been enforced in an action of contract.69 But this division, temporarily adopted for reasons of convenience, is open to the objection that it is based upon procedure - a mode of classification which it is the purpose of this paper to discourage. Now that the general nature of the cases included under Class 2 has been explained, it is possible to substitute a better basis of classification. Such a basis is found in the following statement, given here in the words of a legal friend:
“It may be suggested that cases of absolute liability may be divided into two classes on a basis which is not founded on procedure although most of the cases in one subdivision would have been enforced at common law by actions of tort, and most of the cases in the other subdivision by actions of assumpsit. The distinction is between (1) cases where the law imposes an obligation upon the defendant to compensate a plaintiff for something which has injured the plaintiff, though there has been no moral fault on the part of the defendant, and (2) cases where the law requires the defendant to restore to the plaintiff a benefit received from him or its value. In one case the plaintiff's injury, in the other the defendant's benefit, is the gist of the action. The latter class of cases will include most, though not all, of the cases generally classified as quasicontractual."
67 “Obligation may arise from Quasi-Contract. This is a convenient term for a multifarious class of legal relations which possess this common feature, that without agreement, and without delict or breach of duty on either side, A has been compelled to pay or provide something for which X ought to have paid or made provision, or X has received something which A ought to receive. The law in such cases imposes a duty upon X to make good to A the advantage to which A is entitled. . . .” ANSON, CONTRACTS, 12 ed., 8.
68 “Lawyers and judges fall into habits of mental indolence and take for granted the absolute correctness of legal rules, and apply them mechanically.” Judge Swayze, 25 Yale L. J. 14.
60 See ante, 243, 256.
THE EXPANSION OF AMERICAN
has increased in favor of extending governmental control over affairs we once thought sacredly private. There is a desire, even a clamor, for public regulation, state or national, in matters which before the Civil War the nation conceived concerned only the persons directly interested. More accurately stated, we have come to see that in most problems it is not a few people who are interested, but all the people. And all the people must be represented in some way and their interest in the settling of a particular dispute or the solution of a given problem must be considered. So we have seen commissions to regulate railroads and public utilities, commissions to regulate banks, commissions to regulate insurance, commissions to regulate the relations of labor with employers and employment.
Now we have come to a stage where we must not only build anew, but also keep in order the structures existing. Already there has arisen the fear that these public bodies, set to solve given problems, may develop into tyrannous institutions, amenable to no law and subject only to the doubtful safeguards of political action.
There is a body of law, the writer believes, which is well developed and which is capable of dealing with these questions. It is here contended that in American administrative law there are safeguards which answer the nascent popular fear referred to. The object of this argument is to show that administrative law has developed in such a way that commissions, bureaus, and bodies of like type fall into a perfectly organized, perfectly defined place. As we have learned to use these commissions, they have made their own law. Put epigrammatically, it is here contended that administrative law has expanded coincidentally with administrative machinery.
In outlining this conception, it must be said at the threshold
that such law is of general application; it concerns all the governmental machinery. Just as in government we study the functions of each bit of machinery, so in administrative law we should study the law which creates it, which governs its exercise, which limits its function, and which repairs the wrong it does when it goes amiss. In an attempt to formulate some systematic method of approach to these questions the following propositions will serve as the general divisions of the argument:
First. That administrative law is the law applicable to the transmission of the will of the state, from its source to the point of its application.
Second. That this transmission involves all the so-called "three powers” — legislative, executive, and judicial.
Third. That in many instances the differentiation of these three functions is impossible, and instead of using the general governmental machinery we erect a specialized instrument.
Fourth. That in such cases the special instrument, in the first instance, excludes the general machinery from its field.
And thereafter the study of administrative law must branch out into specialized investigation of the particular general machinery or special instrument in which the student is interested.
First. Administrative law is the law applicable to the transmission of the will of the state, from its source to the point of
its application. We look backward a moment at the definitions of administrative law already formulated.
The word “administrative" will bear some examination. It has been called a synonym of “executive."1 But its content has
1 changed with the powers of the bodies to which it was applied. The Interstate Commerce Commission, it has been suggested, acts in a legislative, or administrative, capacity, but not judicially.? Yet even when this was said, there was an unusually able opinion in which it was stated that this Commission “is an administrative body . . . lawfully created, and lawfully exercising powers which
1 Brazell v. Zeigler, 26 Okla. 826, 110 Pac. 1052 (1910).
Missouri, K. & T. R. Co. o. Interstate Commerce Commission, 164 Fed. 645 (1908).
are quasi-judicial”; 8 and instances might be multiplied of similar contradictions. The confusion seems to be upon the subject of administrative power or function. There is little or no dispute either as to what constitutes an administrative body or as to the nature of administrative law. It seems to be assumed that the one is an executive arm of the government creating it and that the other deals with the safeguarding of private rights from such executive, and with the protection of such officials in fulfilling their task. To the first idea we owe a fear, rapidly growing in the public mind and not unknown even to legal thought (as Mr. Dicey's comment upon the Arlidge case revealed), that expansion of governmental activity along these lines means bureaucracy; and to the second, that the law may not supply the protection which political activity, as we know from bitter experience, does not afford.
There is a long and fascinating history connected with these conceptions, which is here outlined. Curiously, the relation of it
3 Interstate Commerce Commission v. Cincinnati, New Orleans, etc. Ry. Co., 64 Fed. 981, 982 (1894).
• ERNST FREUND, CASES ON ADMINISTRATIVE Law, Introduction, 3: “The chief concern of administrative law (as contrasted with political science), on the other hand, as of all other branches of civil law, is the protection of private rights, and its subjectmatter is therefore the nature and mode of exercise of administrative power and the system of relief against administrative action."
1 GOODNOW, COMPARATIVE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW, 7-8: “Administrative law is that part of the law which governs the relations of the executive and administrative authorities of the government”; which deals with the organization of these administrative bodies and the like, and which supplements thereby constitutional law.
And again, GOODNOW, PRINCIPLES OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW IN THE UNITED STATES, 12: “Further, the adoption of the principle of the separation of powers, which was made theoretically a part of American public law, has done much to make the executive or administrative authorities, generally, independent of the legislative authority.” (Italics ours.) It will be noted no distinction is made between executive and administrative action. The corollary proposition is stated ibid., at page 15: “Authorities mainly political control administration; and authorities mainly administrative influence politics.” The writer believes this theory unduly narrows the field.
6 A. V. Dicey, “Development of Administrative Law in England,” 31 L. QUART. Rev. 148, á propos of Local Government Board o. Arlidge, (1915) A. C. 120, establishing that a department required to exercise judicial functions need not adopt the procedure of courts.
“It may lead to the result,” he writes at page 151, “that a government department which is authorized by statute to exercise a judicial or quasi-judicial authority may, or rather must, exercise it in accordance, not with the procedure of the law courts, but with the rules which are found to be fair and convenient in the transaction of the business with which the department is officially concerned.”