282 U.S. 481 (1931), 39, Russian Volunteer Fleet v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 39
Citation:282 U.S. 481, 51 S.Ct. 229, 75 L.Ed. 473
Party Name:Russian Volunteer Fleet v. United States
Case Date:February 24, 1931
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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282 U.S. 481 (1931)

51 S.Ct. 229, 75 L.Ed. 473

Russian Volunteer Fleet

v.

United States

No. 39

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1931

Argued December 12, 1930

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CLAIMS

Syllabus

1. When the United States expropriates the property of an alien friend, the Fifth Amendment requires that it pay just compensation equivalent to the full value of the property contemporaneously with the taking. P. 489.

2. This constitutional right of the alien does not depend upon whether the government of his country renders compensation to our citizen in like cases or upon whether that government is recognized as such by our own. P. 491.

3. The Act of June 15, 1917, which provided for war-time expropriation of ships, etc., and for payment of just compensation, expressly entitling the property owner, if dissatisfied with the amount fixed by the President, to accept 75% thereof and to sue the United States in the Court of Claims under Jud.Code § 145 for such further sum as will make up just compensation, should not be construed as limited, with respect to alien suitors, by Jud.Code § 155, which provides that

Aliens who are citizens or subjects of any government which accords to citizens of the United States the right to prosecute claims against such government in its courts shall have the privilege of prosecuting claims against the United States in the Court of Claims, whereof such court, by reason of their subject matter and character, might take jurisdiction.

So held in the case of a Russian corporation where the property was taken under the 1917 Act after the recognition by the United, states of the Provisional Government of Russia, successor to the

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Imperial Government of that country, and where the suit was brought after the overthrow of the Provisional Government, which has no recognized successor. P. 491.

4. Where a statute presents no difficulty if read according to its terms, a condition that would raise a grave questions of it constitutionality should not be implied. P. 492.

68 Ct.Cls. 32 reversed.

Certiorari, 281 U.S. 711, to review a judgment of the Court of Claims rejecting a claim for want of jurisdiction.

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HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner brought this suit against the United States in the Court of Claims to recover just compensation for the requisitioning by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, under authority

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delegated to it by the President, of contracts for the construction of two vessels. The Court of Claims dismissed the petition for the want of jurisdiction. 68 Ct.Cls. 32. This Court granted a writ of certiorari. 281 U.S. 711.

The petition, filed in October, 1924, alleged that the petitioner "is a corporation duly organized under, and by virtue of, the Laws of Russia;" that, in January, 1917, the petitioner became the assignee for value of certain contracts for the construction of two vessels by the Standard Shipbuilding Corporation of New York; that, in August, 1917, the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, acting under the authority conferred by the Act of June 15, 1917 (c. 29, 40 Stat. 183) and by the Executive Order of the President of the United States made on July 11, 1917, requisitioned these contracts, and the vessels being constructed thereunder, for the use of the United States; that the United States thereby became liable to the petitioner for the payment of just compensation; that, in August, 1919, the petitioner submitted its affidavit of claim, and vouchers in support; that, in March, 1920, the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation fixed the just compensation of the petitioner at a total amount of $1,412,532.35; that the value of the contracts taken from the petitioner was $4,000,000, to which the petitioner was entitled after allowing all proper credits and offsets, and that

citizens of the United States are and at the time of and since the commencement of this suit have been accorded the right to prosecute claims against the Russian Government in the Court of that Government.

In May, 1927, the petitioner filed motions to issue commissions to take testimony in Germany and France; the defendant objected, and the motions were overruled. The petitioner then gave notice of the taking of testimony in Washington, D.C., whereupon the defendant moved to quash the notice upon the ground that the

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court was without jurisdiction of the subject matter of the proceeding. On the submission of that motion, the petition was dismissed. The Court of Claims held that, as the United States government had not recognized the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in Russia, the petitioner was not entitled to maintain its suit in view of § 155 of the Judicial Code (U.S.C. Tit. 28, § 261). That section is as follows:

Sec. 155. Aliens who are citizens or subjects of any Government which accords to citizens of the United States the right to prosecute claims against such Government in its courts shall have the privilege of prosecuting claims against the United States in the Court of Claims, whereof such court, by reason of their subject matter and character, might take jurisdiction.

The court said that the reference to citizens or subjects of "any government" meant such [51 S.Ct. 231] governments as were recognized by the proper...

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