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US v. ARCHIBALD MCNEIL & SONS CO , 267 U.S. 302 (1925)

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United States Supreme Court


No. 444

Argued: January 9, 1925Decided: March 2, 1925

[267 U.S. 302, 303]   Mr. Alfred A. Wheat, of New York City, and the Attorney General, for the United States.

[267 U.S. 302, 304]   Mr. George Demming, of Philadelphia, Pa., for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Seeking to recover $17,422.32 as compensation for 3,840.9 tons of bituminous coal, defendant in error, a [267 U.S. 302, 305]   Connecticut corporation, instituted this action against the United States by filing statement of claim in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

It alleged:

That jurisdiction of the action arises under the Fifth Amendment and the tenth section of the Lever Act. 40 Stat. 276, 279, c. 53 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 3115 1/8 ii).

That the coal in question had been shipped from the mines under valid contracts during the first part of October, 1919, was owned by the claimant, and prior to October 30, 1919, was at Port Richmond piers, Philadelphia, or at Port Reading piers, New Jersey.

That 'by virtue of the authority conferred by the aforesaid act of Congress, the President of the United States, acting by and through the Fuel Administrator at Port Richmond piers, Philadelphia, or at Port Reading piers, New Jersey, commandeered and requisitioned' this coal during November and December, 1919. 'The said coal was commandeered and requisitioned from or through the Commissioner of the Tidewater Coal Exchange, the superintendent of transportation of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, the shipping and freight agent of the United States Railroad Administration at Port Reading terminal piers, New Jersey, the Bituminous Coal Distribution Committee, the Regional Coal Committee, the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, the Port Reading Railroad Company, the federal treasurer at Port Reading terminal piers of the United States Railroad Administration, and the Jamison Coal & Coke Company, the vendors of the said coal to the plaintiff. All of the aforesaid coal was received, accepted, retained and used by the United States of America, and used in the operation of various railroads, to wit: Boston & Maine Railroad, Maine Central Railroad-which said use was a public use connected with the common defense.'

That the fair and reasonable value of the coal was $4.536 per ton f. o. b. the mines; that nothing has been [267 U.S. 302, 306]   paid to claimant on account of said coal so commandeered and requisitioned, and it should have judgment for the value thereof with interest.

A motion by the United States, to dismiss the action upon the ground that the claimant was a citizen of Connecticut and therefore the court lacked jurisdiction, was overruled. Thereupon the United States interposed a demurrer, and set up that the court had no jurisdiction of the cause; that the statement of claim showed no cause of action; that under the Lever Act District Courts of the United States have jurisdiction of actions only after determination by the President of the value of the property taken, expression of dissatisfaction by the owner, and payment of 75 per centum of the determined amount; that the complaint sets forth a diversion of coal under section 25 of the Lever Act (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Am. Supp. 1919, 3115 1/8 q), not a requisition under section 10, and that the remedy, if any, was to sue the Agent designated by the President under section 206(a) of the Transportation Act 1920, c. 91, 41 Stat. 456, 461 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1923, 10071 1/4 cc). This was overruled and the United States answered.

It was stipulated by counsel that 'a jury trial being waived, the issues of fact in this case may be tried and determined by the court without the intervention of a jury, in accordance with sections 649 and 700 of the United States Revised Statutes (Comp. St. 1587, 1668).' The cause was heard by the court upon the pleadings and evidence. What purports to be a transcript of the latter is printed; but it was not made part of the record by bill of exceptions. The trial judge filed an opinion and entered judgment for the claimant. No special findings were asked or made.

The cause is here by direct writ of error. The parties agree that only the question of jurisdiction is open. For the United States it is said 'the court below was without jurisdiction to render the judgment, and that is the sole question presented.' [267 U.S. 302, 307]   As the record contains no bill of exceptions, upon this direct writ of error we can review only questions of law apparent on the face of the pleadings in so far as they directly relate to the court's jurisdiction. Insurance Company v. Folsom, 18 Wall. 237; Law v. United States (January 5, 1925) 266 U.S. 494 , 45 S. Ct. 175, 69 L. Ed. --; Judicial Code, 238 (Comp. St. 1215).

Jurisdiction was invoked under the Lever Act. The claim is for something alleged to have been commandeered or requisitioned by the President, as provided by section 10, and this section confers jurisdiction without qualification upon District Courts to hear and determine controversies directly resulting from such action. Houston Coal Co. v. United States, 262 U.S. 361, 365 , 43 S. Ct. 612. Proceedings in the district where the seizure actually occurred are not forbidden, and seem entirely appropriate.

The allegations of the complaint were sufficient to set out a substantial claim under a federal statute. Accordingly, there was jurisdiction in the court to pass upon the questions so presented. Binderup v. Pathe Exchange, 263 U.S. 291, 305 , 44 S. Ct. 96.


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