Luckenbach Co v. United States

Decision Date23 November 1926
Docket NumberNo. 32,32
Citation272 U.S. 533,47 S.Ct. 186,71 L.Ed. 394
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. C. C. Daniels and Peter S. Carter, both of New York City, for appellant.

The Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General Galloway, for the United States.

Mr. Justice VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was a suit to recover a balance alleged to be due for several barges and tugs, the possession and title to which were taken over by the United States under the Act of June 15, 1917, c. 29, 40 Stat. 182. The compensation fixed at the time by the President not being satisfactory to the claimant, three-fourths of it was paid, and the claimant, conformably to the act, sued to recover a further sum which, with what was paid, was alleged to be just compensation. The Court of Claims found that the amount fixed by the President was just and entered judgment for the claimant for the one-fourth remaining unpaid. 59 Ct. Cl. 628. The claimant, being still dissatisfied, brought the case here.

The judgment was entered April 28, 1924. The claimant seasonably moved for a new trial and included in the motion a request for amended findings. While that motion was pending the claimant, becoming apprehensive lest the time allowed for an appeal might be running, filed with the clerk an application for an appeal from the judgment. Thereafter the motion for a new trial, with the request for amended findings, was denied, and the application for an appeal was then brought to the court's attention and allowed. A little later the claimant applied for an appeal from the order refusing a new trial and amended findings, and the court allowed that appeal.

Counsel for the United States insist that neither appeal was effective. Plainly the second was not, for it was from an order which was not appealable. But the first was from the judgment, and we think it was well taken. The only infirmity suggested is that the application was premature, in that it was made before the motion for a new trial and amended findings was disposed of. It is true that with that motion pending the judgment was not so far final as to cause time to run against the right to appeal. United States v. Ellicott, 223 U. S. 524, 539, 32 S. Ct. 334, 56 L. Ed. 535. But, while the application was thus premature, it was not a nullity. Evidently it was intended to be pressed only if and when the motion for a new trial and amended findings was denied. The court so regarded it, and therefore gave effect to it after disposing of the pending motion. That this was right is shown in Ex parte Roberts, 15 Wall. 384, 385, 21 L. Ed. 131.

After the record was filed in this court, the claimant moved that the case be remanded to the Court of Claims, with directions either to find or refuse to find each of the several matters specified in the request for amended findings, or, in the alternative, to include in the record the motion for a new trial and that request, together with the evidence on which they were based. Consideration of the motion to remand was postponed to the hearing on the merits, and that hearing has been had. The presentation of the case on behalf of the claimant has proceeded on the assumption that our power to review is as broad as the power of the Court of Claims to hear and determine in the first instance, and that such a review, if not otherwise provided for, is vouchsafed by the due process of law clause of the Fifth Amendment. But the assumption is a mistaken one. The Court of Claims is a special tribunal established to hear and determine suits against the United States on claims of specified classes. Except as Congress has consented, there is no right to bring these suits against the United States, and therefore the right arising from the consent is subject to such restrictions as Congress has imposed. McElrath v. United States, 102 U. S. 426, 440, 26 L. Ed. 189. One of these is that the trial shall be by the court without a jury. Another, in force until changed by the Act of February 13, 1925, c. 229, 43 Stat. 936, forbade an appellate review where the decision was against the claimant and the amount in controversy was not in excess of $3,000. Others, still in force, limit the scope of the review where one is permitted; and, apart from the nature of these suits, the well-settled rule applies that an appellate review is not essential to due process of law, but is matter of grace. McKane v. Durston, 153 U. S. 684, 687, 14 S. Ct. 913, 38 L. Ed. 867; Andrews v. Swartz, 156 U. S. 272, 275, 15 S. Ct. 389, 39 L. Ed. 422; Kohl v. Lehlback, 160 U. S. 293, 297, 299, 16 S. Ct. 304, 40 L. Ed. 432; Reetz v. Michigan, 188 U. S. 505, 508, 23 S. Ct. 390, 47 L. Ed. 563; The Francis Wright, 105 U. S. 381, 386, 26 L. Ed. 1100; Montana Co. v. St. Louis Mining & Milling Co., 152 U. S. 160, 171, 14 S. Ct. 506, 38 L. Ed. 398.

The Constitution (article 3, § 2) declares the appellate jurisdiction of this court shall be subject to 'such exceptions' and be exercised under 'such regulations' as Congress may prescribe. This provision was much considered in The Francis Wright, supra, and the views there expressed are particularly apposite here. The court said (page 386 (26 L. Ed. 1100)):

'Authority to limit the jurisdiction necessarily carries with it authority to limit the use of the jurisdiction. Not only may whole classes of cases be kept out of the jurisdiction altogether, but particular classes of questions may be subjected to re-examination and review, while others are not. To our minds it is no more unconstitutional to provide that issues of fact shall not be retried in any case, than that neither issues of law nor fact shall be retried in cases where the value of the matter in dispute is less than $5,000. The general power to regulate implies power to regulate in all things. The whole of a civil law appeal may be given, or a part. The constitutional requirements are all satisfied if one opportunity is had for the trial of all parts of a case. Everything beyond that is matter of legislative discretion, not of constitutional right.'

Save in special cases not needing present mention, Congress never has provided for a general review by this court of cases coming from the Court of Claims. On the contrary-and probably because that court is composed of five judges, all usually hearing cases together, and the concurrence of three being necessary to a decision in any case-Congress has pursued the policy of permitting only a limited review on questions of law; and the procedural rules applicable to such cases which this court has promulgated under congressional authorization always have recognized that policy. The rules in force when this case was before the Court of Claims are copied in the margin.1 Others promulgated since and equally recognizing the same policy, are also copied there.2

This court uniformly has regarded the legislation and rules as confining the review to questions of law shown by the record when made up as the rules direct. Bills of exception are not recognized in either the legislation or the rules; nor is there other provision for bringing the evidence into the record or including therein the various rulings involved in applying to the evidence presented the rules which mark the line between what properly may be considered and what must be rejected. As long ago as Mahan v. United States, 14 Wall. 109, 111, 20 L. Ed. 764, this court said of the rules that they could not be examined 'with- out seeing that the purpose was to bring nothing here for review but questions of law, leaving the Court of Claims to exercise the functions of a jury in finding facts, equivalent to a special verdict, and with like effect.' Other cases establish that where the findings are ambiguous, contradictory or silent in respect of a material matter, or appear on their face ill-founded in point of law, the case may and should be remanded for corrected or additional findings, but that the mere assertion on the part of a complaining party that they are against the evidence or not supported by it, or give too much or too little weight to particular evidence, affords no ground for so remanding the case, because that is to be done only where the need for correction or addition is apparent either on the face of the findings or when they are examined in connection with the pleadings. United States v. Adams, 6 Wall. 101, 110, 112, 18 L. Ed. 792; Moore v. United States, 91 U. S 270, 23 L. Ed. 346; United States v. Smith, 94 U. S. 214, 218, 219, 24 L. Ed. 115; United States v. Clark, 96 U. S. 37, 38, 39, 24 L. Ed. 696; McClure v. United States, 116 U. S. 145, 6 S. Ct. 321, 29 L. Ed. 572; Union Pacific R. Co. v. United States, 116 U. S. 154, 6 S. Ct. 325, 29 L. Ed. 584; same case, 116 U. S. 402, 6 S. Ct. 631, 29 L. Ed. 677; District of Columbia v. Barnes, 197 U. S. 146, 150, 25 S. Ct. 401, 49 L. Ed. 699; Brothers v. United States, ...

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