Dismuke v. United States, 199

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTONE
Citation56 S.Ct. 400,297 U.S. 167,80 L.Ed. 561
Docket NumberNo. 199,199
Decision Date03 February 1936

297 U.S. 167
56 S.Ct. 400
80 L.Ed. 561



No. 199.
Argued Jan. 7, 1936.
Decided Feb. 3, 1936.

Page 168

Messrs. W. A. Bootle and John J. McCreary, both of Macon, Ga., for petitioner.

Messrs. Homer S. Cummings, Atty. Gen., and Alexander Holtzoff, of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

About June 30, 1933, petitioner filed a claim with the Administration of Veterans' Affairs for allowance of an annuity under the provisions of section 8(a) of the Civil Service Retirement Act of June 16, 1933, 48 Stat. 283, 305, 5 U.S.C.A. § 692d (now 5 U.S.C.A. § 736a), which authorizes payment of annuities, at a specified rate, under circumstances not now material, to retired government employees in the classified civil service who have rendered at least thirty years' service. His claim was rejected by the director of insurance, on the ground that his employment as a field deputy United States marshal from December 16, 1895 to April 30, 1902, which he had counted as a part of his thirty years' service, could not be so included, because field deputy marshals during that time were employees of the marshal appointing them, and not of the United States. Deducting this period, his total service was twenty-four years, which, if established in accordance with the provisions of the act, would entitle him to an annuity at a lower rate, under section 7 of the Act of May 29, 1930, 46 Stat. 468, 474, 5 U.S.C.A. § 697a (now 5 U.S.C.A. §§ 733, 735, 736). On appeal the Board of Veterans' Appeals denied petitioner's application for the same reason.

In the present suit, brought in the District Court under the Tucker Act, to recover accrued installments of the annuity based on the thirty-year period of service, and

Page 169

for a declaratory judgment establishing petitioner's right to such annuity, the court gave judgment for petitioner. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, 76 F.(2d) 715, holding that the District Court was without jurisdiction because the Retirement Act must be construed as committing the adjudication of claims under it solely to administrative officers, to the exclusion of the courts. This Court granted certiorari, 296 U.S. 554, 56 S.Ct. 111, 80 L.Ed. 391, in view of the public importance of the questions involved.

(1) The government urges that the District Court was without jurisdiction to entertain the suit. The Tucker Act of March 3, 1887, 24 Stat. 505, as amended by section 24(20) of the Judicial Code, 36 Stat. 1087, 1093, c. 231, 28 U.S.C. § 41(20), 28 U.S.C.A. § 41(20), permitting suits against the United States, confers on the District Courts jurisdiction 'concurrent with the Court of Claims, of all claims not exceeding $10,000 founded upon * * * any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an executive department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the Government of the United States.'

Section 8(a) of t e Retirement Act declares that, under conditions specified, the employee 'shall be entitled to an annuity * * * payable from the civil service retirement and disability fund.' The provision is mandatory, expressed in terms of the right of the employee, which is inseparable from the correlative obligation of the employer, the United States. The present suit to recover the annuity is thus upon a claim 'founded upon a law of Congress' and is within the jurisdiction conferred upon District Courts, as are suits to recover sums of money which administrative officers are directed by Act of Congress to 'pay' or 'repay.' Medbury v. United States, 173 U.S. 492, 19 S.Ct. 503, 43 L.Ed. 779; McLean v. United States, 226 U.S. 374, 33 S.Ct. 122, 57 L.Ed. 260; United States v. Hvoslef, 237 U.S. 1, 35 S.Ct. 459, 59 L.Ed. 813, Ann.Cas.1916A, 286, and see United States v. American Tobacco Co., 166 U.S. 468, 17 S.Ct. 619, 41 L.Ed. 1081. The declaration that the annuities are payable from the re-

Page 170

tirement fund, which, by section 8 of the Act of May 22, 1920, 41 Stat. 618, as amended, 5 U.S.C.A. § 719, is 'appropriated for the payment of annuities,' amounts to no more than a direction that they shall be charged on the books of the Treasury to the appropriation made for their payment. It does not impair or restrict the obligation to pay.

The Tucker Act declares that it shall not be construed as giving jurisdiction of 'claims for pensions' or 'of cases brought to recover fees, salary, or compensation for official services of officers of the United States.' The government argues that the present suit must be either the one or the other. It does not press the contention that the annuities are 'salary or compensation,' which we think without merit, see Retirement Board v. McGovern, 316 Pa. 161, 174 A. 400, but it insists that the suit is brought to recover a pension. The proviso withholding jurisdiction of suits on claims for pensions was a part of the original Tucker Act, which became law March 3, 1887, long before the enactment of the Retirement Act of May 22, 1920, and at a time when the term 'pensions' commonly referred to the gratuities paid by the government in recognition of past services in the Army or Navy. The annuities payable under the Retirement Act are not gratuities in that sense. The annuitant contributes to them by deductions from his salary or by actual payments into the fund, as in the present case, and the scheme of the act is to provide for payment of annuities, in part at least from contributions by employees, in recognition both of their past services and of services to be performed.

The act itself, in contradistinction to the numerous pension acts, see 38 U.S.C., 38...

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