425 U.S. 164 (1976), 74-869, United States v. United Continental Tuna Corp.

Docket Nº:No. 74-869
Citation:425 U.S. 164, 96 S.Ct. 1319, 47 L.Ed.2d 653
Party Name:United States v. United Continental Tuna Corp.
Case Date:March 30, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 164

425 U.S. 164 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 1319, 47 L.Ed.2d 653

United States

v.

United Continental Tuna Corp.

No. 74-869

United States Supreme Court

March 30, 1976

Argued November 3, 1975

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Prior to 1960, the Suits in Admiralty Act authorized suit against the United States in cases involving vessels owned by, possessed by, or operated by or for the United States, if such suit could have been maintained had the vessel been a private one, and provided further that such vessel was employed as a merchant vessel. In 1960, Congress amended the Act by deleting.the latter proviso. The Public Vessels Act authorizes suit against the United States in cases involving "a public vessel of the United States," but bars such a suit by a foreign national unless it appears that his government [96 S.Ct. 1321] allows a United States national to sue in its courts under similar circumstances. Respondent, a Philippine corporation, alleging jurisdiction under both Acts, sued the United States to recover damages resulting from the sinking of its fishing vessel after a collision with a United States naval destroyer. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that, since the destroyer was a "public vessel of the United States," the suit was governed by the Public Vessels Act, that therefore respondent was subject to that Act's reciprocity provision, and that, since there was no such reciprocity, the suit was barred. The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the suit, although involving a public vessel, was maintainable under the Suits in Admiralty Act, as amended in 1960 to delete the "employed as a merchant vessel" proviso, free from the restrictions, including the reciprocity requirement, imposed by the Public Vessels Act.

Held: Claims within the scope of the Public Vessels Act remain subject to its terms after the 1960 amendment to the Suits in Admiralty Act, and, since respondent's claim falls within the Public Vessels Act, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that that Act's reciprocity provision did not apply. Pp. 166-182.

(a) The Court of Appeals' interpretation of the 1960 amendment to the Suits in Admiralty Act would render the Public Vessels Act's restrictions ineffectual, and would effectively nullify

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specific congressional policy judgments made when the latter Act was enacted, by enabling litigants to bring suits previously subject to that Act under the Suits in Admiralty Act. Pp. 166-169.

(b) The legislative histories of the Public Vessels Act, the Suits in Admiralty Act, and, in particular, the 1960 amendment to the latter, indicate clearly that Congress did not intend to authorize the wholesale evasion of the restrictions specifically imposed by the Public Vessels Act on suits for damages caused by public vessels, but deleted the "employed as a merchant vessel" proviso merely to remove uncertainty a to the proper forum in which to bring a maritime claim against the United States, especially a contract claim, where it had been uncertain whether it should be brought on the admiralty side of a district court under the Suits in Admiralty Act or Public Vessels Act or in the Court of Claims under the Tucker Act. Pp. 170-181.

499 F.2d 774, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 182. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent, a Philippine corporation owned largely by Americans, brought this suit against the United States in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, alleging jurisdiction under the Suits in Admiralty Act, 41 Stat. 525, as amended, 46 U.S.C. § 741 et seq., and the Public Vessels Act, 43 Stat. 1112, as amended, 46 U.S.C. § 781 et seq. It sought recovery

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for damages resulting from the sinking of its fishing vessel the MV Orient, after a collision with the U.S.S. Parsons, a naval destroyer of the United States.

Upon the United States' motion for summary judgment, the District Court held that, since the naval destroyer was a "public vessel of the United States," the suit was governed by the provisions of the Public Vessels Act. See 46 U.S.C. § 781. In particular, the court held that respondent was subject to the Act's reciprocity provision, which bars any suit by a foreign national under the Act unless it appears that his government, "under similar circumstances, allows nationals of the United States to sue in its courts." § 785. Finding no such reciprocity, the District Court dismissed the complaint.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed on the ground that respondent's action, although involving a public [96 S.Ct. 1322] vessel, is maintainable under the Suits in Admiralty Act without reference to the reciprocity provision of the Public Vessels Act. 499 F.2d 774 (1974). We granted certiorari, 420 U.S. 971 (1975), and we now reverse.

I

It is undisputed that, before 1960, suits involving public vessels could not be maintained under the Suits in Admiralty Act. The Act then authorized suits involving vessels owned by, possessed by, or operated by or for the United States as follows:

[I]n cases where if such vessel were privately owned or operated, or if such cargo were privately owned and possessed, a proceeding in admiralty could be maintained at the time of the commencement of the action herein provided for, a libel in personam may be brought against the United States . . . provided that such vessel is employed as a merchant vessel. . . .

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41 Stat. 525, 46 U.S.C. 742 (1958 ed.) (emphasis added).1 In 1960, however, Congress amended this provision of the Suits in Admiralty Act by deleting the proviso, italicized above, that the vessel must be "employed as a merchant vessel." 74 Stat. 12. Reading the amended provision literally, the Court of Appeals held that suits involving public vessels could now be brought under the Suits in Admiralty Act free from the restrictions imposed by the Public Vessels Act. The court reached this result in spite of its acknowledgment that

such a conclusion permits the [Public Vessels Act's] reciprocity provision to be circumvented in a manner neither explicitly authorized nor perhaps contemplated by Congress.

499 F.2d at 778.

The Court of Appeals' result would permit circumvention of not only the reciprocity requirement, but also several other significant limitations imposed upon suits brought under the Public Vessels Act. Under 46 U.S.C. § 784, for example, officers and members of the crew of a public vessel may not be subpoenaed in connection with any suit authorized by the Public Vessels Act without the consent of the Secretary of the Department, the commanding officer, or certain other persons. In time of war, the Secretary of the Navy can obtain a stay of any suit brought under the Public Vessels Act when it appears that prosecution of the suit would tend to interfere with naval operations. 10 U.S.C. §§ 7721-7730. And under the Public Vessels Act, unlike under the Suits in Admiralty Act, interest on judgments does not accrue prior to the time of judgment. Compare 46 U.S.C. § 782 with 46 U.S.C. § 745.

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Under the Court of Appeals' interpretation of the 1960 amendment to the Suits in Admiralty Act, circumvention of these restrictive provisions of the Public Vessels Act would not be limited to a handful of cases. Since there is virtually no reason for a litigant to prefer to have his suit governed by the provisions of the Public Vessels Act,2 the import of the Court of Appeals' interpretation is to render the restrictive provisions of the Public Vessels Act ineffectual in practically every case to which they would otherwise have application. If Congress had intended that result, it might just as well have repealed the Public Vessels Act altogether.

The Public Vessels Act was not amended in 1960, and, as the Court of Appeals [96 S.Ct. 1323] recognized, the 1960 amendment to the Suits in Admiralty Act contains no language expressly permitting claims previously governed by the Public Vessels Act to be brought under the Suits in Admiralty Act, free from the restrictive provisions of the Public Vessels Act. What amounts to the effective repeal of those provisions is urged as a matter of implication. It is, of course, a cardinal principle of statutory construction that repeals by implication are not favored. See, e.g., Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases, 419 U.S. 102, 133 (1974); Amell v. United States, 384 U.S. 158, 165-166 (1966); Silver v. New York Stock Exchange,

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373 U.S. 341, 357 (1963); United States v. Borden Co., 308 U.S. 188, 198-199 (1939). The principle carries special weight when we are urged to find that a specific statute has been repealed by a more general one. See, e.g., Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535, 550-551 (1974); Bulova Watch Co. v. United States, 365 U.S. 753, 758 (1961); Rodgers v. United States, 185 U.S. 83, 87-89 (1902).

To be sure, the principle of these cases is not precisely applicable in this case -- for here the argument is not that the Public Vessels Act can no longer have application to a particular set of facts, but simply that its terms can be evaded at will by asserting jurisdiction under another statute. We should, however, be as hesitant to infer that Congress intended to authorize evasion of a statute at will as we are to infer that Congress intended to narrow the scope of a statute. Both types of "repeal" -- effective and actual -- involve...

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