312 U.S. 584 (1941), 500, United States v. Sherwood

Docket Nº:No. 500
Citation:312 U.S. 584, 61 S.Ct. 767, 85 L.Ed. 1058
Party Name:United States v. Sherwood
Case Date:March 31, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 584

312 U.S. 584 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 767, 85 L.Ed. 1058

United States

v.

Sherwood

No. 500

United States Supreme Court

March 31, 1941

Argued March 6, 7, 1941

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A New York court, acting under authority of § 795 of the New York Civil Practice Act, made an order authorizing a judgment creditor to sue under the Tucker Act, to recover damages from the United States for breach of its contract with the judgment debtor, the order directing that, out of the recovery, the judgment creditor should be entitled to a sum sufficient to satisfy his judgment with interest, costs, etc. The state law cited makes the judgment debtor a necessary party, and authorizes him, in any suit so brought, to attack the validity of the order and of the judgment on which it is founded.

Held:

1. That a suit brought accordingly against the United States and the judgment debtor was not within the jurisdiction of the federal court. P. 588.

2. A court has no jurisdiction of a suit against the United States to which the United States has not consented. P. 587.

3. Jurisdiction of a federal court to award damages for breach of contract by the United States is defined by the Tucker Act, and is restricted to suits against the Government alone; if adjudication of the plaintiff's right to maintain the suit as against a private party is prerequisite to its prosecution against the United States, the suit must be dismissed. P. 588.

4. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not authorize any suit against the United States to which it has not otherwise consented. P. 589.

5. The Act of June 19, 1934, 48 Stat. 1064, 28 U.S.C. 723, authorizing this Court to prescribe rules of procedure in civil actions gave it no authority to modify, abridge or enlarge the substantive

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rights of litigants or to enlarge or diminish the jurisdiction of federal courts. P. 590.

6. The concurrent jurisdiction of the District Court under the Tucker Act does not extend to any suit which could not be litigated in the Court of Claims. P. 590.

7. Waivers of sovereign immunity from suit are strictly construed. P. 590.

112 F.2d 587 reversed.

Certiorari, 311 U.S. 640, to review the reversal of a judgment of the District Court dismissing for want of jurisdiction a suit against the United States and a private party.

STONE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The New York Supreme Court, acting under authority of § 795 of the New York Civil Practice Act, made an order authorizing respondent, as a judgment creditor, to maintain a suit under the Tucker Act of March 3, 1887, 24 Stat. 505, § 24(20) of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 41(20), to recover damages from the United States for breach of its contract with the judgment debtor. The question for decision is whether a United States District Court has jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

The order authorized respondent, who had recovered a judgment against Kaiser in the New York Supreme Court for $5,567.22, to bring suit against the Government to recover for breach of its contract with Kaiser for the construction of a post office building. The order

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directed that, out of the amount recovered, respondent should be entitled to a sum sufficient to satisfy his judgment with interest "as well as costs, disbursements, and expenses which may be allowed by the court."

Respondent brought the present suit against the United States and Kaiser in the District Court for Eastern New York. By his complaint, he set up the judgment and the order of the state court, the breach of contract by the United States, and the consequent damage to Kaiser in the sum of $14,448.49, and prayed judgment in the sum of $10,000. The order of the District Court dismissing the complaint for want of jurisdiction was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 112 F.2d 587, which held that, under Rule 17(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, respondent's "capacity to sue" was governed by the law of New York, which was his domicile, and that the order of the state court had conferred authority upon respondent to maintain the suit, the United States being a "person indebted" within the meaning of § 795 of the Civil Practice Act which sanctions orders by the state court authorizing a suit by a judgment creditor against a "person . . . indebted to the judgment debtor." We granted certiorari, 311 U.S. 640, the question of the jurisdiction of the District Court under the Tucker Act being of public importance.

The United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued, United States v. Thompson, 98 U.S. 486; United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196; Kansas v. United States, 204 U.S. 331; Minnesota v. United States, 305 U.S. 382, 387; [61 S.Ct. 770] Keifer & Keifer v. Reconstruction Finance Corp., 306 U.S. 381, 388; United States v. Shaw, 309 U.S. 495. See cases cited in The Pesaro, 277 F. 473, 474, et seq., and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

Page 587

Minnesota v. United States, supra, 388, and cases cited; cf. Stanley v. Schwalby, 162 U.S. 255, 270. Jurisdiction to entertain suits against the United States to recover damages for breach of contract and certain other specified classes of claims was conferred on the Court of Claims by Act of February 24, 1855, 10 Stat. 612. With additions not now material, the jurisdiction was continued by paragraph First of the Tucker Act of March 3, 1887, 24 Stat. 505, which, as supplemented and reenacted, is now § 145 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 250. Section 2 which, as supplemented and reenacted, is now § 24(20) of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 41(20), confers jurisdiction on the district courts

Concurrent with the Court of Claims, of all claims not exceeding $10,000 founded . . ....

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