United States v. Goltra Goltra v. United States, Nos. 191

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREED
Citation85 L.Ed. 776,312 U.S. 203,61 S.Ct. 487
Docket NumberNos. 191,192
Decision Date03 February 1941
PartiesUNITED STATES v. GOLTRA et al. GOLTRA et al. v. UNITED STATES

312 U.S. 203
61 S.Ct. 487
85 L.Ed. 776
UNITED STATES

v.

GOLTRA et al. GOLTRA et al. v. UNITED STATES.

Nos. 191, 192.
Argued Jan. 9, 1941.
Decided Feb. 3, 1941.

Page 204

Messrs. Robert H. Jackson, Atty. Gen., and Charles Fahy, Asst. Sol. Gen., of Washington, D.C., for the United States.

Messrs. Herman J. Galloway, of Washington, D.C., and Frederick W. P. Lorenzen, of New York City, for Goltra and others.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appeal brings here the correctness of the ruling by the Court of Claims which allows interest on a claim against the appellant, the United States. The cross appeal raises an issue that the compensation awarded is inadequate because the court failed to consider certain evidence as to the value for lease or use of the property involved.1 The judgment was entered upon a petition filed under authority of a private jurisdictional act, quoted in the margin. 2

Page 205

This controversy had its inception on March 25, 1923. At that time Edward F. Goltra was the lessee of four tug boats and 19 steel barges belonging to the United States. While tied up for the winter on the Mississippi at the Port of St. Louis, they were repossessed, because of an alleged breach of the lease, by Colonel Ashburn, Chief of the Inland and Coastwise Waterways Service, under orders from the Acting Secretary of War. Apparently some unloading facilities were also seized. In several court proceedings to recover possession Mr. Goltra was defeated.3 It would be futile to examine as to whether these adjudications determined all or any controversies between the parties, since the jurisdictional act opened the doors of the Court, 'notwithstanding the lapse of time or the bar of any statute of limitations or previous court decisions.' Suing under this special legislation Mr. Goltra4 sought damages for the wrongful taking of the fleet and facilities and recovered $350,000 with six per cent interest from March 25, 1923, to the date of payment. The Government assigns error only to the allowance of interest and the executors only to the refusal to consider certain proffered evidence.

By a contract of 1919, with a supplement of 1921, Mr. Goltra leased the fleet of river boats for governmentally

Page 206

supervised operation as common carriers on the Mississippi and its tributaries from the Chief of Engineers as lessor. The lessor was acting for the War Department, the executive agency in charge of the boats. The term of the lease was five years from the delivery of the first unit of the fleet, which occurred on July 15, 1922. All net earnings were sequestered during the term for application upon the purchase of the fleet at cost or appraised value as detailed in the lease, with provision for subsequent installment payments over sixteen years. Section eight provided for termination by the lessor upon the lessee's noncompliance 'in his judgment with any of the terms and conditions' and for the return to the lessor of the plant, barges and towboats.

On March 4, 1921, the Secretary of War consented, in accordance with the lease, that Mr. Goltra's tariffs should be 80 per cent of the prevailing rail tariffs. This consent was withdrawn in May, 1922, before the delivery of the boats, and a consent limited to specific articles substituted. A control over the amount of grain to be carried was delegated to the Federal Manager of the Mississippi-Warrior River Service, a government corporation which operated a competing line. The enterprise got under way in the summer of 1922 and was immediately entangled in the ordinary vicissitudes of river transportation. The towboats had mechanical deficiencies; the open barges were not suitable for grain or other perishables; low water seriously interfered with navigation. After a few months towing by one tug, the fleet went into winter quarters late in the fall. Before business was resumed, Mr. Goltra was notified on March 4, 1923, by the Secretary of War that the lease was terminated and he was directed to turn over the towboats, barges and unloading facilities to Colonel Ashburn. Obedience to this order was refused and on March 25, 1923, Colonel Ashburn, under orders from the Acting

Page 207

Secretary of War, took possession of the fleet without the consent of Mr. Goltra or his employees, for the use and benefit of the United States.

The seizure was without the knowledge of the Chief of Engineers, who was the lessor empowered by its terms to terminate the lease, and that officer had not reached any conclusion to the effect that Mr. Goltra had in any manner failed in his obligations under the contract. Subsequently, in April, the Chief of Engineers terminated the lease pursuant to section eight. The action did not represent his judgment but was done under direction of his superior, the Secretary of War.

The Court of Claims fixed the damages as of the time of seizure, with interest to the date of payment 'not as interest but as a part of just compensation.'

Interest. By statute,5 derived from the Act of March 3, 1863, 12 Stat. 766, no interest is allowed on any claim up to the time of the rendition of judgment by the Court of Claims. This accords with the traditional immunity of the Government from the burden of interest unless it is specifically agreed upon by contract or imposed by legislation.6 Without controverting this general rule, the executors find authority for the allowance of interest in the provision of the jurisdictional act for 'just compensation * * * for certain vessels and unloading apparatus taken, whether tortiously or not * * *, for the use and befefit of the United States.' Their argument is that the words 'just compensation' have within themselves the same legal significance of interest on the award or damages from the date of the taking as has been given to these same words

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in the Fifth Amendment. They further urge that this interpretation is required by the phrase in the act 'for the use and benefit of the United States' and the accepted finding that Colonel Ashburn's taking was for that purpose. In support of this position, the ruling of this Court in Seaboard Air Line Railway Company v. United States7 and subsequent similar authority8 is relied upon.

In the Seaboard case, section 10 of the Lever Act, 40 Stat. 279, authorizing the taking by eminent domain of property for the public use on payment of just compensation was under examination. It contains no specific provision for interest. This Court held that a taking under the authority of section 10 required the just compensation 'provided for by the Constitution' and that such compensation is payable 'as of the time when the owners were deprived of their property.'9 This case, however, and the others cited in the preceding paragraph, involve the requisitioning or taking of property by eminent domain under authority of legislation. The distinction between property taken under authorization of Congress and property appropriated without such authority has long been recognized.10 Acts of government officials in taking property without authorization of Congress confer no right of recovery upon the injured citizen.11 There are two instances of Congressional ratification of takings which turned tortious acts into the exercise of the power of

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eminent domain and placed upon the Government the duty to make 'just compensation,' including sums in the nature of interest. These are United...

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72 practice notes
  • United States v. Certain Parcels of Land, No. 13204.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 3, 1955
    ...of the doctrine of equitable estoppel. See Goltra v. United States, 96 F.Supp. 618, 119 Ct.Cl. 217, modified and affirmed, 1941, 312 U.S. 203, 61 S.Ct. 487, 85 L.Ed. 776. The later need of the Navy for the property was a contingency which neither party could reasonably be required to Though......
  • Shaw v. Library of Congress, No. 82-1019
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • November 13, 1984
    ...525 (1947). 35 E.g., United States v. Alcea Band of Tillamooks, 341 U.S. 48, 71 S.Ct. 552, 95 L.Ed. 738 (1951); United States v. Goltra, 312 U.S. 203, 61 S.Ct. 487, 85 L.Ed. 776 36 United States v. North Am. Transp. & Trading Co., 253 U.S. 330, 40 S.Ct. 518, 64 L.Ed. 935 (1920). 37 Id. at 3......
  • Wickham Contracting Co., Inc. v. Local Union No. 3, Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO, AFL-CI
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • January 29, 1992
    ...Intent to deny recovery of prejudgment interest may be obvious from the language of the statute itself. See United States v. Goltra, 312 U.S. 203, 207, 211, 61 S.Ct. 487, 490, 492, 85 L.Ed. 776 (1941) (statute governing plaintiff's claim against the United States provided no interest until ......
  • United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co United States v. Potter United States v. Erreca United States v. James Stevinson United States v. Stevinson United States v. 8212 Securities Co, Nos. 4
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1950
    ...Government assumes a liability by statute, interest is not allowable unless specific provision is made for it. United States v. Goltra, 312 U.S. 203, 207, 61 S.Ct. 487, 490, 85 L.Ed. 776; United States v. Thayer-West Point Hotel Co., 329 U.S. 585, 588, 67 S.Ct. 398, 399, 91 L.Ed. 521. A dif......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
72 cases
  • United States v. Certain Parcels of Land, No. 13204.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 3, 1955
    ...of the doctrine of equitable estoppel. See Goltra v. United States, 96 F.Supp. 618, 119 Ct.Cl. 217, modified and affirmed, 1941, 312 U.S. 203, 61 S.Ct. 487, 85 L.Ed. 776. The later need of the Navy for the property was a contingency which neither party could reasonably be required to Though......
  • Shaw v. Library of Congress, No. 82-1019
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • November 13, 1984
    ...525 (1947). 35 E.g., United States v. Alcea Band of Tillamooks, 341 U.S. 48, 71 S.Ct. 552, 95 L.Ed. 738 (1951); United States v. Goltra, 312 U.S. 203, 61 S.Ct. 487, 85 L.Ed. 776 36 United States v. North Am. Transp. & Trading Co., 253 U.S. 330, 40 S.Ct. 518, 64 L.Ed. 935 (1920). 37 Id. at 3......
  • Wickham Contracting Co., Inc. v. Local Union No. 3, Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO, AFL-CI
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • January 29, 1992
    ...Intent to deny recovery of prejudgment interest may be obvious from the language of the statute itself. See United States v. Goltra, 312 U.S. 203, 207, 211, 61 S.Ct. 487, 490, 492, 85 L.Ed. 776 (1941) (statute governing plaintiff's claim against the United States provided no interest until ......
  • United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co United States v. Potter United States v. Erreca United States v. James Stevinson United States v. Stevinson United States v. 8212 Securities Co, Nos. 4
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1950
    ...Government assumes a liability by statute, interest is not allowable unless specific provision is made for it. United States v. Goltra, 312 U.S. 203, 207, 61 S.Ct. 487, 490, 85 L.Ed. 776; United States v. Thayer-West Point Hotel Co., 329 U.S. 585, 588, 67 S.Ct. 398, 399, 91 L.Ed. 521. A dif......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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