Kaufman v. Societe Internationale Pour Participations Industrielles Et Commerciales

Decision Date07 April 1952
Docket NumberNo. 172,172
Citation343 U.S. 156,72 S.Ct. 611,96 L.Ed. 853
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Irving Moskovitz, New York City, for petitioners.

Mr. David Schwartz, Washington, D.C., for respondents, mCgrath, et al.

Mr. John J. Wilson, Washington, D.C., for respondent, Societe Internationale etc.

Messrs. William P. MacCracken, Urban A. Lavery, and William W. Barron, all of Washington, D.C., for respondent, Remington Rand, Inc.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Acting under § 5(b) of the Trading with the Enemy Act,1 the Alien Property Custodian vested in himself the American assets of Interhandel, a Swiss corporation.2 Interhandel sued in the District Court to recover the assets. The Custodian3 answered alleging that the Swiss corporation was dominated and controlled by officers, agents, and stockholders who were engaged in a conspiracy with German nationals and with the German Government to operate the company's business in their interests while we were at war with Germany. Petitioners, United States citizens who own stock in Interhandel, filed a motion to intervene. They admitted the Custodian's charge that Interhandel was dominated by officers and stockholders who had been engaged in such a conspiracy. They also admitted the right of the Custodian to retain an interest in the seized assets proportional to the stock ownership of enemy stockholders. But petitioners contended that they and other nonenemy stockholders had claims in the corporate assets which it was the corporation's duty to protect. Alleging that the dominant enemy group which had charge of the suit would not press the corporate claim in a manner that would adequately protect the claims of innocent shareholders, petitioners asserted a right to intervene under Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. The District Court denied the motion to intervene, 90 F.Supp. 1011, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, 88 U.S.App.D.C. 296, 188 F.2d 1017. Underlying the claimed right of petitioners to intervene is an important question of the power of the Alien Property Custodian under the Trading with the Enemy Act, namely: What part of the assets of a corporation organized under the laws of a neutral country may the Custodian retain where part of the corporate stock is owned by enemies, part by American citizens, and part by nonenemy aliens? This question was reserved in Clark v. Uebersee Finanz-Korp., 332 U.S. 480, 489—490, 68 S.Ct. 174, 178, 92 L.Ed. 880. To consider it we granted certiorari in this case. 342 U.S. 847, 72 S.Ct. 74, 96 L.Ed. —-.

First. Interhandel is a neutral corporation organized in Switzerland. Prior to 1941, even ownership of its stock and domination by enemy nationals would not have justified seizure of its assets. In order to reach the enemy interests in such neutral corporations, Congress amended the controlling Act in 1941. The background, scope and consequences of that amendment were discussed in Clark v. Uebersee Finanz-Korp., supra. We there held that the 1941 amendment authorized the Custodian to seize and vest in himself all property of any foreign country or national, even that of friendly or neutral nations. At the same time we refused to hold that the 1941 amendment deprived friendly or neutral nations or nationals of a right to have their assets returned if they could prove that they were free of any open or concealed enemy taint. The purpose of the amendment, we found, was 'not to appropriate friendly or neutral assets but to reach enemy interests which masqueraded under those innocent fronts.' Clark v. Uebersee Finanz-Korp., supra, 332 U.S. at page 485, 68 S.Ct. at page 176.

Thus, under the 1941 amendment the nonenemy character of a foreign corporation because it was organized in a friendly or neutral nation no longer conclusively determines that all interests in the corporation must be treated as friendly or neutral. The corporate veil can now be pierced. Enemy taint can be found if there are enemy officers or stockholders; even the presence of some nonenemy stockholders does not prevent seizure of all the corporate assets. But such a governmental seizure requires consideration of the plight of innocent stockholders. For as stated in the Uebersee case, the amendment does not contemplate appropriation of friendly or neutral assets. While Congress has clearly provided for forfeiture of enemy assets, it has used no language requiring us to hold that innocent interests must be confiscated because of the guilt of other stockholders. Nor does any legislative history pointed out persuade us that Congress intended to inflict such harsh consequences upon the innocent. We decline to read such a congressional purpose into the Act.

Our holding is that when the Government seizes assets of a corporation organized under the laws of a neutral country, the rights of innocent stockholders to an interest in the assets proportionate to their stock holdings must be fully protected. This holding is not based on any technical concept of derivative rights appropriate to the law of corporations. It is based on the Act which enables one not an enemy as defined in § 2 to recover any interest, right or title which he has in the property vested. The innocent stockholder may not have title to corporate assets, but he does an interest which Congress has indicated should not be confiscated merely because some others who have like interests are enemies.

Second. Section 9(a) of the Trading with the Enemy Act authorizes Interhandel to maintain this action for the recovery of all its assets because it has alleged that it is not enemy dominated. Alleging that they and others are nonenemy stockholders, petitioners charge that it is Interhandel's corporate duty to assert a claim for the return of their proportionate interests in the assets even though other stockholders who dominate the corporation are found to be enemies. Petitioners further allege that the corporate management refuses to assert such a claim, but continues to claim only a return of all assets on the theory that whatever return is obtained must be divided among enemy and nonenemy shareholders in proportion to their stock holdings. This position is taken, petitioners charge, because the suit is being controlled by the very stockholders on whose account the Custodian seized the property and whose interests will be worthless if they are found to be enemies. Petitioners allege that this enemy corporate management, fearing confiscation of its enemytainted interests, is about to settle the corporate claim with the Custodian for an amount less than the value of the nonenemy part of the assets. Should this be done, it is said the enemy management contemplates dividing the proceeds proportionately among enemy and nonenemy stockholders, thus violating the Act in two ways: (1) by depriving nonenemy stockholders of part of their property, and (2) by returning assets to foreign enemy stockholders.

A mere narration of the allegations shows that petitioners' fears are by no means fanciful. Indeed, the Government agrees with the dominant corporate management that the interests of enemy and nonenemy stockholders should be treated alike. The United States wishes to sell the entire assets of Interhandel. And it is argued that if nonenemy stockholders are to be given a chance in court (which right is challenged), they should be limited to individual suits for money judgments against the Custodian. Petitioners claim a proportional right or interest in the specific assets of Interhandel and that they may not be driven to accept their share of whatever price the Government may happen to get from a sale of these valuable assets. In order to play safe, petitioners have filed a separate suit in a Federal District Court. But we think the questions involved in disputes like this can be more appropriately resolved in the corporate actions authorized by § 9(a) than by resort to a multiplicity of separate actions. In such suits the nonenemy stockholder in his own right may assert his nonenemy character in order to protect his own interest from the enemy taint caused by other stockholders. Courts trying such corporate actions have adequate equitable power and procedural flexibility to protect all interests, even when the corporate recovery is not for the benefit of all stockholders but only for those who are nonenemies.

In view of our holding that Congress has recognized that nonenemy stockholders of nonenemy foreign corporations have a severable interest in corporate assets seized by the Custodian, it follows that the allegations of these petitioners entitle them to intervene. These allegations, if true, show that petitioners' interests may be inadequately represented and that they may be bound by a judgment in this corporate action. This brings the claim of intervention squarely within Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.4


Mr. Justice CLARK took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Mr. Justice REED, with whom The CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice MINTON join, dissenting.

The Court holds that 'when the Government seizes assets of a corporation organized under the laws of a neutral country, the rights of innocent stockholders to an interest in the assets proportionate to their stock holdings must be fully protected.' Such a holding opens wide one door of escape from war damage claims of the United States and its citizens against foreign corporations, organized and controlled by enemies in neutral territory. As the opinion does not indicate whether the alleged nonenemy stockholder must bear the burden of proving his character, we assume that this burden rests on the claimant stockholder in an enemy-tainted corporation. Even so, the difficulty of rebutting an individual's self-serving evidence as to his neutrality is...

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    ...of Treasury, supra, 424 F.2d at 841-42, 845. The majority likewise distorts Kaufman v. Societe Internationale pour Participations Industrielles et Commerciales, S.A., 343 U.S. 156, 72 S.Ct. 611, 96 L.Ed. 853 (1952). It is quite true, as the majority states, that in that case "the Supreme Co......
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1 books & journal articles
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    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 169 No. 3, February 2021
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