Co v. Connell, VERMILYA-BROWN

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREED
Citation335 U.S. 377,69 S.Ct. 140,93 L.Ed. 76
PartiesCO., Inc., et al. v. CONNELL et al
Decision Date06 December 1948
Docket NumberVERMILYA-BROWN,No. 22

335 U.S. 377
69 S.Ct. 140
93 L.Ed. 76
VERMILYA-BROWN CO., Inc., et al.

v.

CONNELL et al.

No. 22.
Argued Oct. 15, 1948.
Decided Dec. 6, 1948.
Rehearing Denied March 7, 1949.

See 336 U.S. 928, 69 S.Ct. 652.

Page 378

Mr. Charles Fahy, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Solt. Firstenberg, of New York City, for respondents.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case brings before us for review the applicability of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 52 Stat. 1060, 29 U.S.C.A. § 201 et seq., to employees allegedly engaged in commerce or the production of goods for commerce on a leasehold of the United States, located on the Crown Colony of Bermuda.

The leasehold, a military base, was obtained by the United States through a lease executed by the British Government. This lease was the result of negotiations adequately summarized for consideration by the letters of The Marquess of Lothian, the British Ambassador to the United States, of date September 2, 1940; the reply

Page 379

of Mr. Cordell Hull, then our Secretary of State, of the same date; and the Agreement of March 27, 1941, between the two nations to further effectuate the declarations of the Ambassador in his letter.1

The Fair Labor Standards Act covers commerce 'among the several States or from any State to any place outside thereof.' State means 'any State of the United States or the District of Columbia or any Territory or possession of the United States.' § 3(b) and (c) of the Act.

Certain employees of contractors who had contracts for work for the United States on the Bermuda base brought this suit under § 16(b) of the Act for recovery of unpaid overtime compensation and damages, claimed to be due them for the employer's violation of § 7, requiring overtime compensation. We do not enter into any consideration of the employees' right to recover if the Fair Labor Standards Act is applicable to employment on the Bermuda base, for the complaint was dismissed on defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the applicability depended upon the 'sovereign jurisdiction of the United States,' that the executive and legislative branches of the Government had indicated that such leased reas were not under our sovereign jurisdiction and that this was a political question outside of judicial power. Connell v. Vermilya-Brown Co., D.C., 73 F.Supp. 860. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, holding that the Act applied to the Bermuda base, reversed this judgment and remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings on the merits. 164 F.2d 924. Our affirmance of this judgment approves that disposition of the appeal.

Page 380

On account of the obvious importance of the case from the standpoint of administration, in view of the number of leased areas occupied by the United States, we granted certiorari. 333 U.S. 859, 68 S.Ct. 742.

(1) We shall consider first our power to explore the problem as to whether the Fair Labor Standards Act covers this leased area. Or, to phrase it differently, is this a political question beyond the competence of courts to decide? Cf. Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433, 450, 59 S.Ct. 972, 980, 83 L.Ed. 1385, 122 A.L.R. 695; Colegrove v. Green, 328 U.S. 549, 552, 66 S.Ct. 1198, 1199, 90 L.Ed. 1432. There is nothing that indicates to us that this Court should refuse to decide a controversy between litigants because the geographical coverage of this statute is involved. Recognizing that the determination of sovereignty over an area is for the legislative and executive departments, Jones v. United States, 137 U.S. 202, 11 S.Ct. 80, 34 L.Ed. 691, does not debar courts from examining the status resulting from prior action. De Lima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 1, 21 S.Ct. 743, 45 L.Ed. 1041; Hooven & Allison Co. v. Evatt, 324 U.S. 652, 65 S.Ct. 870, 89 L.Ed. 1252. We have no occasion for this opinion to differ from the view as to sovereignty expressed 'for the Secretary of State' by The Legal Adviser of the Department in his letter of January 30, 1948, to the Attorney General in relation to further legal steps in the present controversy after the judgment of the Court of Appeals. It was there stated:

'The arrangements under which the leased bases were acquired from Great Britain did not and were not intended to transfer sovereignty over the leased areas from Great Britain to the United States.'

Nothing in this opinion is intended to intimate that we have any different view from that expressed for the Secretary of State. In the light of the statement of the Department of State, we predicate our views on the issue presented upon the postulate that the leased area is under the sovereignty of Great Britain and that it is not territory

Page 381

of the United States in a political sense, that is, a part of its national domain.

(2) We have no doubt that Congress has power in certain situations, to regulate the actions of our citizens outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States whether or not the act punished occurred within the territory of a foreign nation. This was established as to crimes directly affecting the Government in United States v. Bowman, 260 U.S. 94, 43 S.Ct. 39, 67 L.Ed. 149. This Court there pointed out, 260 U.S. at page 102, 43 S.Ct. at page 42, that clearly such legislation concerning our citizens could not offend the dignity or right of sovereignty of another nation. See Blackmer v. United States, 284 U.S. 421, 437, 52 S.Ct. 252, 254, 76 L.Ed. 375; Skiriotes v. State of Florida, 313 U.S. 69, 73, 78, 61 S.Ct. 924, 927, 929, 85 L.Ed. 1193. A fortiori civil controls may apply, we think, to liabilities created by statutory regulation of labor contracts, even if aliens may be involved, where the incidents regulated occur on areas under the control, though not within the territorial jurisdiction or sovereignty of the nation enacting the legislation.2 This is implicitly conceded by all parties. This power is placed specifically in Congress by virtue of the authorization for 'needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States'. Constitution, Art. IV, § 3, cl. 2.3 It does not depend upon sovereignt in the political or any sense over the territory. So the Administrator of the Wage-Hour Division has issued a statement of general policy or interpretation that directs all officers and agencies of his division to apply this Act to the Canal Zone, admittedly territory over which we do not have sovereignty. C.F.R., 1947 Supp., tit. 29, pp. 4392—93.

Page 382

(3) In this view of the relationship of our government to a leased area, the terms of this particular lease become important. Reference, note 1, supra, has been made to the United States Statutes where the title documents are readily available. It is unnecessary to print them here in full. In the margin are extracts that indicate their meaning as to the control intended to be granted. 4 Under

Page 383

this agreement we have no doubt that the United States is authorized by the lessor to provide for maximum hours and minimum wages for employers and employees within the area, and the question of whether the Fair Labor Standards Act applies is one of statutory construction, not legislative power.

(4) At the time of the enactment of the Act, June 25, 1938, the United States had no leased base in Bermuda. This country did have a lease from the Republic of Cuba of an area at Guantanamo Bay for a coaling or naval station 'for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations.' The United States was granted by the Cuban lease substantially the same rights as it has in the Bermuda lease.5 The time limits of the grant were redefined on June 9, 1934, as extending until agreement for abrogation or unilateral abandonment by

Page 384

the United States. A similar arrangement existed in regard to the Panama Canal Zone.6 Further, in the Philippine Independence Acts of January 17, 1933, and March 24, 1934, provisions existed looking toward the retention of military and other bases in the Philippine Islands. 47 Stat. 761, §§ 5 and 10; 48 Stat. 456, §§ 5 and 10, 48 U.S.C.A. §§ 1232, 1235, 1240.7 A Convention between the governments of Nicaragua and the United States of America, proclaimed June 24, 1916, 39 Stat. 1661, gave the United States for 99 years 'sovereign authority' over certain islands in the

Page 385

Caribbean Sea.8 None of these international arrangements were discussed in reports or the debates concerning the scope of the Fair Labor Standards Act. After the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act and during World War II, a number of bases for military operations were leased by the United States not only on territory of the British Commonwealth of Nations but on that of other sovereignties also. The provisions of these leases paralleled in many respects the Bermuda lease. 9

Neither this lack of specific reference in the legislative history to leased areas, however, nor the fact that the particular Bermuda base was acquired after the passage of the Act seems to us decisive of its coverage. 'The reach of the act is not sustained or opposed by the fact that it is sought to bring new situations under its terms.'10 The Sherman Act of 1890, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1—7, 15 note, a date when we had no insular possessions, was held by its use of the word 'Territory' in its § 3 to be applicable in Puerto Rico, a dependency acquired by the Treaty of Paris in 1898, 30 Stat. 1754.11 The answer as to the scope of the Wage-Hour Act lies in the purpose of Congress in defining its reach.

Page 386

(5) The point of statutory construction for our determination is as to whether the word 'possession,' used by Congress to bound the geographical coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, fixes the limits of the Act's scope so as to include the Bermuda base. The word 'possession' is not a word of art, descriptive of a recognized...

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96 practice notes
  • In re West Coast Cabinet Works, No. 44249-W
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • August 4, 1950
    ...Boteler, supra) were rendered before the word "trustee" was inserted in said Section. It was said in Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell, 1948, 335 U.S. 377, at page 386, 69 S.Ct. 140, at page 145, 93 L.Ed. 76: "Words generally have different shades of meaning,7 and are to be construed if reasona......
  • Coalition of Clergy v. Bush, No. CV 02-570 AHM (JTLX).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • February 21, 2002
    ...status of Guantanamo Bay, and this court has no basis, much less authority, to ignore their determination. Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell, 335 U.S. 377, 380, 69 S.Ct. 140, 93 L.Ed. 76 (1948). ("[T]he determination of sovereignty over an area is for the legislative and executive In addition t......
  • Al Odah v. U.S., No. 02-5251.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 11, 2003
    ...jurisdiction' is equivalent to sovereignty." Id. at 1425. The Supreme Court reached the same conclusion in Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell, 335 U.S. 377, 381, 69 S.Ct. 140, 142-43, 93 L.Ed. 76 (1948). In holding that a naval base in Bermuda, controlled by the United States under a lease with ......
  • Ali v. Trump, No. 18-5297
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • May 15, 2020
    ..."determination of [American] sovereignty over an area is for the legislative and executive departments." Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell , 335 U.S. 377, 380, 69 S.Ct. 140, 93 L.Ed. 76 (1948).4 Qassim v. Trump , 938 F.3d 375, 376 (D.C. Cir. 2019) (Millett, Pillard, and Edwards, JJ., concurring......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
96 cases
  • In re West Coast Cabinet Works, No. 44249-W
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • August 4, 1950
    ...Boteler, supra) were rendered before the word "trustee" was inserted in said Section. It was said in Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell, 1948, 335 U.S. 377, at page 386, 69 S.Ct. 140, at page 145, 93 L.Ed. 76: "Words generally have different shades of meaning,7 and are to be construed if reasona......
  • Coalition of Clergy v. Bush, No. CV 02-570 AHM (JTLX).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • February 21, 2002
    ...status of Guantanamo Bay, and this court has no basis, much less authority, to ignore their determination. Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell, 335 U.S. 377, 380, 69 S.Ct. 140, 93 L.Ed. 76 (1948). ("[T]he determination of sovereignty over an area is for the legislative and executive In addition t......
  • Al Odah v. U.S., No. 02-5251.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 11, 2003
    ...jurisdiction' is equivalent to sovereignty." Id. at 1425. The Supreme Court reached the same conclusion in Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell, 335 U.S. 377, 381, 69 S.Ct. 140, 142-43, 93 L.Ed. 76 (1948). In holding that a naval base in Bermuda, controlled by the United States under a lease with ......
  • Ali v. Trump, No. 18-5297
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • May 15, 2020
    ..."determination of [American] sovereignty over an area is for the legislative and executive departments." Vermilya-Brown Co. v. Connell , 335 U.S. 377, 380, 69 S.Ct. 140, 93 L.Ed. 76 (1948).4 Qassim v. Trump , 938 F.3d 375, 376 (D.C. Cir. 2019) (Millett, Pillard, and Edwards, JJ., concurring......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Guarantee Clause in Constitutional Law
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 2-3, September 1949
    • September 1, 1949
    ...it is political,it is sufficient to point out that the guarantee was not held to be political in Texas v. White and Coyle v. Smith. 70 69 S. Ct. 140 (1948), discussed by Ralph F. Fuchs, "Administrative Determination and Personal in the Present Supreme Court," 24 Indiana Law Journal 163 (194......

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