357 U.S. 155 (1958), 29, United States v. Central Eureka Mining Co.

Docket Nº:No. 29
Citation:357 U.S. 155, 78 S.Ct. 1097, 2 L.Ed.2d 1228
Party Name:United States v. Central Eureka Mining Co.
Case Date:June 16, 1958
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 155

357 U.S. 155 (1958)

78 S.Ct. 1097, 2 L.Ed.2d 1228

United States

v.

Central Eureka Mining Co.

No. 29

United States Supreme Court

June 16, 1958

Argued January 7, 1958

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CLAIMS

Syllabus

In 1942, the War Production Board issued an order requiring nonessential gold mines, including those of respondents, to cease operating, but the Government did not occupy, use, or take physical possession of the gold mines or the equipment connected with them. The purpose of the order was to conserve equipment and manpower for essential war uses. Claiming that the order amounted to a taking of their right to mine gold during the life of the order, respondents sued the Government in the Court of Claims for compensation.

Held:

1. The Special Jurisdictional Act of July 14, 1952, granting the Court of Claims jurisdiction to hear and determine actions brought within a year from that date on the claims of owners or operators of gold mines for losses allegedly resulting from the War Production Board's order, "notwithstanding any statute of limitations, laches, or lapse of time," was no more than a waiver of defenses based on the passage of time. It was not a congressional mandate to award compensation for losses resulting from the order. Pp. 162-165.

2. The Board's order did not constitute a taking of private property for public use within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment, and respondents are not entitled to compensation. Pp. 165-169.

134 Ct.Cl. 1, 130, 138 F.Supp. 281, 146 F.Supp. 476, reversed.

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BURTON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the interest of national defense, the War Production Board, in 1942, issued its Limitation Order L-2081 ordering nonessential gold mines to close down. This litigation was instituted in the Court of Claims to recover compensation from the United States for its alleged taking, under such order, of respondents' rights to operate their respective gold mines. Two issues are now presented. First, whether the Act of July 14, 1952,2 granting jurisdiction to the Court of Claims to entertain the claims arising out of L-208, was a mandate to that court to award compensation for whatever losses were suffered as a result of L-208, or whether it amounted merely to a waiver by the United States of defenses based on the passage of time. For the reasons hereafter stated, we hold that it was the latter. We, therefore, reach the second question -- whether L-208 constituted a taking of private property for public use within the meaning of the Fifth

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Amendment.3 For the reasons hereafter stated, we hold that it did not.

Early in 1941, it became apparent to those in charge of the Nation's defense mobilization that we faced a critical shortage of nonferrous metals, notably copper, and a comparable shortage of machinery and supplies to produce them. Responsive to this situation, the Office of Production Management (OPM) and its successor, the War Production Board (WPB), issued a series of Preference Orders. These gave the producers of mining machinery and supplies relatively high priorities for the acquisition of needed materials. They also gave to those mines, which were deemed important from the standpoint of defense or essential civilian needs, a high priority in the acquisition of such machinery. Gold mines were classified as nonessential, and eventually were relegated to the lowest priority rating. These orders prevented the mines operated by respondents from acquiring new machinery or supplies, so that, by March of 1942, respondents were reduced to using only the machinery and supplies which they had on hand.

[78 S.Ct. 1099] Soon thereafter, a severe shortage of skilled labor developed in the nonferrous metal mines. This was due in part to the expanding need for nonferrous metals, and in part to a depletion of mining manpower as a result of the military draft and the attraction of higher wages paid by other industries. It became apparent that the only reservoir of skilled mining labor was that which remained in the gold mines. Pressure was brought to bear on the WPB to close down the gold mines with the expectation that many gold miners would thus be attracted to the nonferrous mines.

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As a part of this conservation program, WPB, on October 8, 1942, issued Limitation Order L-2084 now before us. That order was addressed exclusively to the [78 S.Ct. 1100] gold mining industry, which it classified as nonessential. It directed each operator of a gold mine to take steps immediately to close down its operations and, after seven

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days, not to acquire, use or consume any material or equipment in development work. The order directed that, within 60 days, all operations should cease, excepting only the minimum activity necessary to maintain mine buildings, machinery and equipment, and to keep the workings safe and accessible. Applications to the

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WPB were permitted to meet special needs and several exceptions were made under that authority. Small mines were defined and exempted from the order. The WPB did not take physical possession of the gold mines. It did not require the mine owners to dispose of any of their machinery or equipment.

On November 19, 1942, Order L-208 was amended to prohibit the disposition of certain types of machinery or

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supplies without the permission of an officer of the WPB. Each mine operator was required to submit an itemized list of all such equipment held in inventory and to indicate which items he would be willing to sell or rent.5 On August 31, 1943, L-208 was further amended to permit disposition of equipment, without approval [78 S.Ct. 1101] of the WPB, to persons holding certain preference ratings.6 The order, thus amended, remained in effect until revoked on June 30, 1945.7

The first legal action against the Government arising out of L-208 was brought in the Court of Claims in 1950. It was there alleged that the order had amounted to a taking of the complainant's right to mine gold during the life of the order. The Government demurred, taking its present position that the order was merely a lawful regulation of short supplies relevant to the war effort. The court sustained the demurrer, holding that the damages were not compensable. Oro Fina Consolidated Mines, Inc. v. United States, 118 Ct.Cl. 18, 92 F.Supp. 1016. Accord, Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Co. v. United States,

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120 Ct.Cl. 307. Somewhat later, the instant action was brought in the Court of Claims by the Idaho Maryland Mines Corporation. Relying on the Oro Fina decision, the Government again demurred. This time, however, the court overruled the demurrer on the ground that this complaint contained detailed allegations which, if true, in its opinion demonstrated that L-208 was an arbitrary order without rational connection with the war effort. On that basis, the court authorized a commissioner to hear this case and several similar ones, solely to determine the Government's liability, leaving determination of the amount of recovery, if any, to further proceedings. 122 Ct.Cl. 670, 104 F.Supp. 576.8 The commissioner heard the cases and filed his report. The Court of Claims, with two judges dissenting, held that the six respondents now before us were entitled to just compensation. 134 Ct.Cl. 1, 53, 56, 138 F.Supp. 281, 310, 312.9 A new trial was denied. 134 Ct.Ct. 130, 146 F.Supp. 476. We granted the Government's petition for certiorari in order to consider the important constitutional issue presented. 352 U.S. 964.

Before reaching the merits, we face the suggestion of respondents that the Special Jurisdictional Act of July 14, 1952, 66 Stat. 605, did more than waive the statute

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of limitations and the defense of laches. Respondents contend that this Act was a congressional mandate to the Court of Claims to award compensation to such of the respondents as established any loss which was, in fact, caused by L-208. We conclude that the language of the Act and its legislative history demonstrate that it was no more than a waiver of defenses based on the passage of time.

The entire Act reads as follows:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the United States Court of Claims be, and hereby is, given jurisdiction to hear, determine, and render judgment, notwithstanding any statute of limitations, laches, or lapse of time, on the claim of any owner or operator of a gold mine or gold placer operation for losses incurred allegedly because of the closing or curtailment or prevention of operations of such mine or placer operation as a result of the restrictions imposed by War Production Board Limitation Order L-208 during the effective life thereof: Provided, That actions on such claims shall be brought within one year from the date this Act becomes effective.

The Act thus contains no language prejudging the validity of the claims on their merits. On the other hand, it expressly permits the filing of actions, based on L-208, within one year from the taking effect of the Act, "notwithstanding any statute of limitations, laches, or lapse of time. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.) That this was the motivating purpose of Congress is further indicated by the fact that the statute of limitations had recently run against many of these claims by the time the Court of Claims, in the instant case, upheld the claim on the pleadings

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of the Idaho Maryland Mines Corporation. 122 Ct.Cl. 670, 104 F.Supp. 576. This was explained to Congress as follows in the House Report recommending passage of the bill:

At the present time, many other claimants who may have as good a right for an adjudication of their claims as does the Idaho...

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