444 U.S. 460 (1980), 78-1175, Hatzlachh Supply Co., Inc. v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 78-1175
Citation:444 U.S. 460, 100 S.Ct. 647, 62 L.Ed.2d 614
Party Name:Hatzlachh Supply Co., Inc. v. United States
Case Date:January 21, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 460

444 U.S. 460 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 647, 62 L.Ed.2d 614

Hatzlachh Supply Co., Inc.

v.

United States

No. 78-1175

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 21, 1980

Argued December 5, 1979

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF CLAIMS

Syllabus

Held: The United States may be held liable in an action under the Tucker Act for breach of an implied contract of bailment when goods are lost while held by the United States Customs Service following their seizure for customs violations.

(a) Title 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c), which excepts from the Government's tort liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) any claim arising in respect of the detention of merchandise by any customs officer, does not foreclose a remedy on an implied-in-fact contract of bailment. Although the section excludes certain claims from the statutory waiver of immunity from tort liability, it does not limit or otherwise affect immunity waivers contained in other statutes such as the Tucker Act, which invests the Court of Claims with jurisdiction to render judgment "upon any claim against the United States founded . . . upon any express or implied contract with the United States." Neither does § 2680(c)'s legislative history support the view that it was intended to declare the immunity of the United States from express or implied contracts with customs officers that would, or might, otherwise be within the Court of Claims' jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, but, on the contrary, it appears that, in exempting from the FTCA those claims described in § 2680(c), Congress did not further intend to disturb other existing statutory remedies.

(b) The fact that individual customs officers are subject to tort liability for negligent loss of goods does not preclude a contractual remedy against the Government, neither the existence nor lack of a tort remedy being relevant to determining whether there is an implied-in-fact contract of bailment upon which the United States is liable pursuant to its waiver of sovereign immunity under the Tucker Act.

217 Ct.Cl. 423, 579 F.2d 617, vacated and remanded.

Page 461

Per curiam opinion.

PER CURIAM.

We granted certiorari in this case to consider whether the United States may be held liable for breach of an implied contract of bailment when goods are lost while held by the United States Customs Service (USCS) following their seizure for customs violations. 441 U.S. 942 (1979). The Court of Claims granted the Government's motion for summary judgment, finding that petitioner had failed to state a claim upon which the court could grant relief. 217 Ct.Cl. 423, 579 F.2d 617 (1978). We vacate the Court of Claims' judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

Petitioner imported camera supplies and other items which USCS seized upon their arrival in port and declared forfeited for customs violations. On petitioner's appropriate procedure for relief, USCS agreed to return the forfeited materials upon petitioner's payment of a $40,000 penalty. When the shipment was returned to petitioner, however, merchandise valued in excess of $165,000 was missing. Petitioner brought suit under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491, for the value of the missing merchandise,1 alleging breach of an implied contract of bailment.2

The Court of Claims initially conceded that

the statutes cited by the plaintiff, along with the action of the USCS in agreeing to return the seized goods upon payment of a $40,000 fine by Hatzlachh, could make a strong case for the existence of an implied-in-fact contract properly to preserve [100 S.Ct. 649] and redeliver all the goods to Hatzlachh.

217 Ct.Cl. at 428, 579

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F.2d at 620. The court noted, however, that 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c) excepts from the tort liability of the Government under the Federal Tort Claims Act any claim "arising in respect of . . . the detention of any goods or merchandise by any officer of customs." Because, in its view, this provision would bar a tort claim for the loss that occurred in this case, the court thought that it

would certainly be a trespass on congressional prerogatives for this court now to hold that, by seizing subject to forfeiture certain merchandise, the Government assented to, or agreed to be bound by, an implied-in-fact contract to return the merchandise whole.

217 Ct.Cl. at 430, 579 F.2d at 621. The Court of Claims accordingly declined to find an implied-in-fact contract, remarking that it could not "judicially allow by the back door a claim which was, rather clearly and explicitly, legislatively barred at the front." Ibid.

We cannot agree with the Court of Claims that § 2680(c) is such a major obstacle to awarding judgment against the Government on an implied contract. Section 2680, which is entitled "Exceptions," declares that "[t]he provisions of this chapter . . . shall not apply to" certain kinds of claims, which are then described. Among the excepted claims are those specified in § 2680(c) -- claims "arising in respect of . . . the detention of any goods or merchandise" by any customs officer. The section, although excluding certain claims from the statutory waiver of immunity from tort liability,3 does

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not limit or otherwise affect immunity waivers contained in other statutes such as the Tucker Act, which invests the Court of Claims with jurisdiction to render judgment "upon any claim against the United States founded . . . upon any express or implied contract with the United States."

Neither does its legislative history support the view that § 2680(c), first passed in 1946 as part of the Federal Tort Claims Act, was intended to declare the immunity of the United States from express or implied contracts with customs officers that would, or might, otherwise be within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims under the Tucker Act. On the contrary, it appears that, in exempting from the Tort Claims Act those claims described in § 2680(c), Congress did not further intend to disturb other existing statutory remedies. H.R.Rep. No. 2245, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., 10 (1942); S.Rep. No. 1196, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., 7 (1942); H R. Rep. No. 1287, 79th Cong., 1st Sess., 6 (1945); S.Rep. No. 1400, 79th Cong., 2d Sess., 33 (1946); Tort Claims Against the United States: Hearings on S. 2690 before a Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 76th Cong., 3d Sess., 38 (1940); Tort Claims: Hearings on H.R. 5373 and H.R. 6463 before the House Committee on the Judiciary, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., 28, 44 (1942).4 Nothing in these [100 S.Ct. 650] sources, nor anything else

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called to our attention, indicates that the Tort Claims Act withdrew to any extent existing remedies for the breach of express or implied contracts. Others have read the statute and its legislative history to this effect. See 2 L. Jayson, Personal Injury: Handling Federal Tort Claims § 256 (1979); Gellhorn & Schenck, Tort Actions Against the Federal Government, 47 Colum.L.Rev. 722, 729-730 (1947); Gottlieb, The Federal Tort Claims Act -- A Statutory Interpretation, 35 Geo.Law J. 1, 45 (1946); Comment, The Federal Tort Claims Act, 42...

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