312 U.S. 600 (1941), 484, United States v. Cooper Corporation

Docket Nº:No. 484
Citation:312 U.S. 600, 61 S.Ct. 742, 85 L.Ed. 1071
Party Name:United States v. Cooper Corporation
Case Date:March 31, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 600

312 U.S. 600 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 742, 85 L.Ed. 1071

United States


Cooper Corporation

No. 484

United States Supreme Court

March 31, 1941

Argued March 6, 1941




1. While the United States is a juristic person in the sense that it can sue upon its contracts or in vindication of its property rights, the term "person" does not include the sovereign in common usage nor, ordinarily, when employed in statutes. P. 604.

2. The Sherman Antitrust Act, in creating new rights and remedies, allowed two classes of actions -- those made available only to the Government and a right of action for treble damages granted to redress private injury. P. 608.

3. Section 7 of the Act, granting the right of action for treble damages, to "any person" injured in his business or property by "any other person or corporation" by reason of anything forbidden by the Act, does not give the United States a civil action for damages. P. 606 et seq.

The text of the Act, taken in its natural and ordinary sense, makes against the extension of the term "person" to include the United States, and the usual aids to construction support this conclusion.

114 F.2d 413 affirmed.

Certiorari, 311 U.S. 639, to review the affirmance of a judgment of the District Court, 31 F.Supp. 848, dismissing the complaint in an action by the United States to recover treble damages under § 7 of the Sherman Act.

Page 603

ROBERTS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

We took this case because it presents the important question whether the United States may maintain an action for treble damages under § 7 of the Sherman Act.1

The complaint charged the respondents had illegally

Page 604

combined and conspired to fix collusive prices of articles purchased by the United States, alleged the money damage inflicted upon the United States thereby, and sought judgment for three times that amount. The District Court granted a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the United States is not a person as the term is used in § 7 of the Sherman Act.2 The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment.3

Section 7 provides:

Any person who shall be injured in his business or property by any other person or corporation by reason of anything forbidden or declared to be unlawful by this act may sue therefor in any circuit court of the United States in the district in which the defendant resides or is found, without respect to the amount in controversy, and shall recover threefold the damages by him sustained, and the costs of suit, including a reasonable attorney's fee.

The United States is a juristic person in the sense that it has capacity to sue upon contracts made with it or in vindication of its property rights. The Sherman Act, however, created new rights and remedies which are available only to those on whom they are conferred by the Act.4 The precise question for decision, therefore, is whether, by the use of the phrase "any person," Congress intended to confer upon the United States the right to maintain an action for treble damages against a violator of the Act.

Since, in common usage, the term "person" does not include the sovereign, statutes employing the phrase are ordinarily construed to exclude it.5 But there is no hard

Page 605

and fast rule of exclusion. The purpose, [61 S.Ct. 744] the subject matter, the context, the legislative history, and the executive interpretation of the statute are aids to construction which may indicate an intent, by the use of the term, to bring state or nation within the scope of the law.6 The Government admits that often the word "person" is used in such a sense as not to include the sovereign, but urges that, where, as in the present instance, its wider application is consistent with, and tends to effectuate, the public policy evidenced by the statute, the term should be held to embrace the Government. And it strongly urges that all the considerations which moved Congress to confer the right to recover damages upon individuals and corporations injured by violations of the Act apply with equal force to the United States, which, as a large procurer of goods and services, is as likely to be injured by the denounced combinations and monopolies as is a natural or corporate person. We are asked, in this view, so to construe the Act as not to deny to the Government what public policy is thought to require.

Decision is not to be reached by a strict construction of the words of the Act, nor by the application of artificial canons of construction. On the contrary, we are to read the statutory language in its ordinary and natural sense, and, if doubts remain, resolve them in the light not only of the policy intended to be served by the enactment, but, as well, by all other available aids to construction. But it is not our function to engraft on a statute additions which we think the legislature logically might or should have made.7

Page 606

The recent expressions of this court in Tigner v. Texas, 310 U.S. 141, 148-149, warn that it is not for the courts to indulge in the business of policymaking in the field of antitrust legislation. Congress has not left us at large to devise every feasible means for protecting the Government as a purchaser. It is the function of Congress to fashion means to that end, and Congress has discharged this duty from time to time according to its own wisdom. Our function ends with the endeavor to ascertain from the words used, construed in the light of the relevant material, what was in fact the intent of Congress.

1. Without going beyond the words of the section, the use of the phrase "any person" is insufficient to authorize an action by the Government. This conclusion is supported by the fact that, if the purpose was to include the United States, "the ordinary dignities of speech would have led" to its mention by name.8 It is supported also by the collocation of the phrase in the section. The provision is that "any person" injured by violation of the Act "by any other person or corporation" may maintain an action for treble damages against the latter. It is hardly credible that Congress used the term "person" in different senses in the same sentence. Yet, unless it did, the United States would not only be entitled to sue, but would be liable to suit for treble damages. The more natural inference, we think, is that the meaning of the word was, in both uses, limited to what are usually known as natural and artificial persons -- that is, individuals and corporations. In addition, the concluding words of the section give the injured party, as part of his costs, a reasonable attorney's fee -- a provision more appropriate for a private litigant than for the United States.

2. The connotation of a term in one portion of an Act may often be clarified [61 S.Ct. 745] by reference to its use in others.

Page 607

The word "person" is used in several sections other than § 7. In §§ 1, 2, and 3, the phrase designating those liable criminally is "every person who shall" etc. In each instance, it is obvious that, while the term "person" may well include a corporation, it cannot embrace the United States. In § 8, Congress attempted to make clear that the term "person" is to include a corporation. The provision is

that the word "person," or "persons," wherever used in this act, shall be deemed to include corporations and associations existing under or authorized by the laws of either the United States, the laws of any of the Territories, the laws of any State, or the laws of any foreign country.

The very fact, however, that this sweeping inclusion of various entities was thought important to preclude any narrow interpretation emphasizes the fact that, if the United States was intended to be included, Congress would have so provided. We may say in passing that the argument that the United States may be treated as a corporation organized under its own laws -- that is, under the Constitution as the fundamental law -- seems so strained as not to merit serious consideration. It is fair to assume that the term "person," in the absence of an indication to the contrary, was employed by the Congress throughout the Act in the same, and not in different, senses.

3. The scheme and structure of the legislation is likewise important to a proper ascertainment of its purpose and intent. Sections 1, 2, and 3 impose criminal sanctions for violations of the acts denounced in those sections, respectively. Section 4 gives jurisdiction to the federal courts of proceedings by the Government to restrain violations of the Act, and imposes upon United States Attorneys the duty to institute equity proceedings to that end. Section 5 regulates service in such suits. Section 6 authorizes seizure, in the course of interstate transportation, of goods owned under any contract or pursuant to any conspiracy made illegal by the statute.

Page 608

Thus, far the Act deals in detail with the criminal and civil remedies of the Government in vindication of the policy of the legislation. There follows § 7, the only other substantive section giving a civil action for an injury to property rights.

It seems evident that the Act envisaged two classes of actions -- those made available only to the Government, which are first provided in detail, and, in addition, a right of action for treble damages granted to redress private injury. If this be the fair construction of the Act, the Court's task is finished when it gives effect to the purposes of the law, evidenced by the various remedies it affords for different situations. Though the law gave a remedy by way of injunction at the suit of the United States, we were pressed to say that a private person should have the same remedy. We were compelled to answer that Congress had not seen fit so to provide.9 For the like reasons, we cannot...

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