United States v. King

Decision Date19 May 1969
Docket NumberNo. 672,672
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. John P. KING
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

William D. Ruckelshaus, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Neil B. Kabatchnick, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Colonel John P. King, respondent, was retired from the Army for longevity (length of service) over his objection that he should have been retired for physical disability. Had his retirement been based on disability, Colonel King would have been entitled to an exemption from income taxation allowed by § 104(a)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U.S.C. § 104(a)(4). He brought this action in the Court of Claims alleging that the Secretary of the Army's action in rejecting his disability retirement was arbitrary, capricious, not supported by evidence, and therefore unlawful, and asked for a judgment against the United States for an amount of excess taxes he had been compelled to pay because he had been retired for longevity instead of disability. The Court of Claims agreed with the United States that the claim as filed was basically one for a refund of taxes and was therefore barred by King's failure to allege that he had filed a timely claim for refund as required by 26 U.S.C. § 7422(a). In this situation, the court suggested to counsel that it might have jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act and requested that briefs and arguments on this point be submitted to the court. This was done. The Court of Claims, in an illuminating and interesting opinion by Judge Davis, reached the conclusion that the court could exercise jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201. In so holding, the court thereby rejected the Government's contentions that the Declaratory Judgment Act does not apply to the Court of Claims and that the court's jurisdiction is limited to actions asking for money judgments. By thisr uling the court expressly declined to follow a long line of its own decisions beginning with Twin Cities Properties, Inc. v. United States, 81 Ct.Cl. 655 (1935). As the opinion of Judge Davis showed, the question of whether the Court of Claims has jurisdiction to issue declaratory judgments is both substantial and important. We granted certiorari to decide that question.

The Court of Claims was established by Congress in 1855. Throughout its entire history up until the time that this case was filed, its jurisdiction has been limited to money claims against the United States Government. In 1868 this Court held that 'the only judgments which the Court of Claims (is) authorized to render against the government * * * are judgments for money found due from the government to the petitioner.' United States v. Alire, 6 Wall. 573, 575, 18 L.Ed. 947. In United States v. Jones, 131 U.S. 1, 9 S.Ct. 669, 33 L.Ed. 90; this Court reaffirmed this view of the limited jurisdiction of the Court of Claims, and held that the passage of the Tucker Act in 1887 had not expanded that jurisdiction to equitable matters. More recently, in 1962, it was said in the prevailing opinion in Glidden Co. v. Zdanok, 370 U.S. 530, 557, 82 S.Ct. 1459, 1476, 8 L.Ed.2d 671, on a point not disputed by any of the other members of the Court that '(f)rom the beginning (the Court of Claims) has been given jurisdiction only to award damages * * *.' No amendment purporting to increase the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims has been enacted since the decision in Zdanok.

The foregoing cases decided by this Court therefore clearly show that neither the Act creating the Court of Claims nor any amendment to it grants that court jurisdiction of this present case. That is true because Colonel King's claim is not limited to actual, presently due money damages from the United States. Before he is entitled to such a judgment he must establish in some court that his retirement by the Secretary of the Army for longevity was legally wrong and that he is entitled to a declaration of his right to have his military records changed to show that he was retired for disability. This is essentially equitable relief of a kind that the Court of Claims has held throughout...

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