Mahon v. United States, 17

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation96 L.Ed. 26,72 S.Ct. 17,342 U.S. 25
Docket NumberNo. 17,17
Decision Date05 November 1951

Mr. Paul M. Goldstein, for Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.

Mr. Leavenworth Colby, Washington, D.C., for respondents.

Mr. Justice JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a seaman, brought this suit in admiralty alleging in the first count a cause of action based on negligence and unseaworthiness, while in the second count he sought maintenance and cure. He alleged the actionable wrongs to have taken place in November and December of 1945, but he did not file his libel until January 22, 1948.

The Act which gives to seamen employed by the United States on government-owned vessels the same rights as those employed on privately owned and operated American vessels provides that claims like those of the petitioner, '* * * if administratively disallowed in whole or in part * * *,' may be enforced pursuant to the provisions of the Suits in Admiralty Act.1 That Act in turn provides that any suit thereunder '* * * shall be brought within two years after the cause of action arises * * *.'2 Courts of Appeals have rendered conflicting decisions as to whether the date of injury or the date of disallowance of the claim commences the period of limitation. The District Court dismissed this petitioner's complaint on the ground set up by the Government that it was not filed within two years from the dates of his injuries.3 The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed on the same ground, adhering to its view expressed in an earlier case, and, it subsequently developed, in agreement with the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.4

The contention of the petitioner is that he could not sue until his claim had been administratively disallowed, and that he had no 'cause of action' until he could sue. Accordingly, he argues that the period of limitations cannot start to run until his claim has been adminis- tratively disallowed because only then does his 'cause of action' arise. In his support he points to Thurston v. United States, 179 F.2d 514, in which the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in accord with his present contentions.

We find ourselves unable to agree with petitioner and the Ninth Circuit, for we think it clear that the proper construction of the language used in the Suits in Admiralty Act is that the period of limitation is to be computed from the date of the injury. It was enacted several years before suits such as the present, on disallowed claims, were authorized. Certainly during those years the limitation depended upon the event giving rise to the claims, not upon the rejection. When later the right to sue was broadened to include such claims as this, there was no indication of any change in the limitation contained in the older Act. While, as the court below pointed out, legislation for the benefit of seamen is to be construed liberally in their favor, it is equally true that statutes which waive immunity of the United States from suit are to be construed strictly in favor of the sovereign.5 Since no time is fixed within which the seaman is obliged to present his claim, under petitioner's position he would have it in his power, by delaying its filing, to postpone indefinitely commencement of the running of the statute of limitations and thus to delay indefinitely knowledge by the Government that a claim existed. We cannot construe the Act as giving claimants an option as to when they will choose to start the period of limitation of an action against the United States. Accordingly, we hold that the statute of limitations runs from the date...

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290 cases
  • Villarino v. Comm'r: Soc. Sec. Admin., CASE NO. CV F 12-1225 LJO BAM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • August 3, 2012
    ...586, 61 S.Ct. 767 (1941). Waivers of immunity must be "construed strictly in favor of the sovereign," McMahon v. United States, 342 U.S. 25, 27, 72 S.Ct. 17, 19, 96 L.Ed. 268 (1951), and not "enlarge[d] . . . beyond what the language requires," Eastern Transp. Co. v. United States, 272 U.S.......
  • Julian v. Rigney, Case No. 4:13-cv-00054
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    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
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    ...Library of Congress v. Shaw, 478 U.S. 310, 318 (1986) (citing Ruckelshaus v. Sierra Club, 463 U.S. 680, 685-86 (1983); McMahon v. United States, 342 U.S. 25, 27 (1951); Eastern Transportation Co. v. United States, 272 U.S. 675, 686 (1927)) (internal quotation marks omitted). E. Fair Credit ......
  • Miami-Dade County, Fla. v. U.S., Civ. No. 01-1930.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • September 30, 2004
    ...118 L.Ed.2d 255 (1992). Waivers of sovereign immunity must be narrowly construed in favor of the sovereign. McMahon v. United States, 342 U.S. 25, 27, 72 S.Ct. 17, 96 L.Ed. 26 (1951); United States v. Idaho, 508 U.S. 1, 113 S.Ct. 1893, 123 L.Ed.2d 563 (1993). This principle applies fully to......
  • Tolbert v. Gallup Indian Med. Ctr.
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    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • August 17, 2021
    ...... beyond what the language requires.’ ") (alterations in U.S. Dep't of Energy v. Ohio )(first quoting McMahon v. United States, 342 U.S. 25, 27, 72 S.Ct. 17, 96 L.Ed. 26 (1951) ; then quoting E. Transp. Co. v. United States, 272 U.S. 675, 686, 47 S.Ct. 289, 71 L.Ed. 472 (1927) ). The disc......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Sovereign Immunity and State Regulation of Federal Facilities and Tribes
    • United States
    • The Clean Water Act and the Constitution. Legal Structure and the Public's Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment Part I
    • April 20, 2009 166. 20. Orff v. United States, 545 U.S. 596, 601-02 (2005); Department of Energy , 503 U.S. at 612 (citing McMahon v. United States, 342 U.S. 25, 27 (1951)); Block , 461 U.S. at 287; Alaska , 38 F.3d at 1072 (quoting and citing Nordic Village, Inc. , 503 U.S. at 34); Fostvedt , 978 F.2d......
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    • Environmental Law Vol. 49 No. 3, June 2019
    • June 22, 2019 166. (95) Orff v. United States, 545 U.S. 596, 601-02 (2005); U.S. Dep't of Energy, 503 U.S. at 615 (quoting McMahon v. United States, 342 U.S. 25, 27 (1951)); Block, 461 U.S. at 287; Babbitt, 38 F.3d at 1072 (quoting Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. at 34); Fostvedt, 978 F.2d at 1202 (cit......

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