UNITED STATES v. PFITSCH.

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256 U.S. 547 (41 S.Ct. 569, 65 L.Ed. 1084)

UNITED STATES v. PFITSCH.

No. 246.

Argued: March 22, 1921.

Decided: March 22, 1921

Restored to Docket for Reargument on Question of Jurisdiction April 11, 1921.

Reargued and Submitted April 25, 1921.

Decided June 1, 1921.

The Attorney General, for the United States.

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Mr. Justice BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Pursuant to section 10 of the Lever Act (Act Aug. 10, 1917, c. 53, 40 Stat. 276, 279 Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 3115 1/8 ii) the President requisitioned for the army on April 18, 1918, a radial drill belonging to Pfitsch. The Board of Appraisers of the War Department found its then value to be $3,979.50, and awarded him that amount as compensation. Pfitsch declared this amount was unsatisfactory, and insisted that the value was greater, and that he was entitled also to interest from the date of the taking. On February 5, 1919, the government paid him an amount equal to 75 per centum of the award. Thereupon this suit was brought by him in the District Court of the United States for Southern New York to recover the balance alleged to be due. The case was tried, by agreement, without a jury. The court found the value to be $4,550, and entered judgment for the part then unpaid, together with interest from the date of taking, at the rate of 6 per cent. on the amounts from time to time unpaid. The government brought the case here by direct writ of error and assigned as the only error that interest should not have been allowed.

The preliminary question arises whether this court has jurisdiction on direct writ of error. The answer to be given to it depends upon the nature of the jurisdiction conferred upon the District Court by section 10 of the Lever Act. If the jurisdiction is to be exercised in the manner provided by section 24, paragraph 20, of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 991), which confers upon the District Court jurisdiction concurrent with the court of Claims a direct writ of error lies from this court. J. Homer Fritch, Inc., v. U. S., 248 U. S. 458, 39 Sup. Ct. 158, 63 L. Ed. 359. If however, the jurisdiction is the ordinary jurisdiction of the District Court, the writ of error should have gone, in the first instance, from the Circuit Court of Appeals under section 128 of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1120). The nature of the jurisdiction of the District Court is of importance, not only because of the question directly involved, but because the answer given to it will determine incidentally whether plaintiffs who proceed under section 10 are entitled to a trial by jury; for section 24, paragraph 20, of the Judicial Code declares that 'all suits brought and tried under the provisions of this paragraph shall be tried by the court without a jury.' See United States v. McGrane (C. C. A.) 270 Fed. 761; Filbin Corporation v. United States (D. C.) 266 Fed. 911.

Section 10 provides that the President may requisition foods, feeds, fuels, and other war supplies with the necessary storage facilities, and that he shall ascertain and pay just compensation for them. But if any person is not satisfied with the President's award he is to receive 75 per cent. of the award and for the balance claimed 'shall be entitled to sue the United States * * * and jurisdiction is hereby conferred on the United States District Courts to hear and determine all such controversies.' Three later sections of the act which provide for requisitioning other classes of property—section 12 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 3115 1/8 jj), relating to factories, mines, and pipe lines; section 16 (section 3115 1/8 ll), to distilled spirits; and section 25 (section 3115 1/8 q), to coal or coke plants or businesses—make provision for suits against the United States to recover just compensation in terms materially different from that in section 10. Each of those three sections provides in identical terms that a person dissatisfied with the President's award 'shall be entitled to sue the United States * * * in the manner provided by section twenty-four, paragraph twenty, and section one hundred and forty-five of the Judicial Code.' The latter of these sections of the Judicial Code confers jurisdiction upon the Court of Claims to adjudicate claims against the United States, and the former confers upon the District Courts jurisdiction concurrent with the Court of Claims in cases which do not involve more than $10,000. Thus, while section 12, 16 and 25 of the Lever Act, in terms, confers jurisdiction concurrently upon the Court of Claims and the District Courts sitting as a Court of Claims, section 10, in terms, confers jurisdiction to hear all cases arising under it upon the District Courts alone. The question presented to us is whether this exclusive jurisdiction granted the District Courts by section 10 is to be exercised in accordance with the law governing the usual procedure of a District Court in actions at law for money compensation or by the provisions of the law governing the exceptional jurisdiction concurrent with the Court of Claims where it sits without a jury.

The legislative history of the Lever Act establishes that the difference of the jurisdictional provision in section 10 from those of sections 12, 16, and 25 was the result, not of inadvertence, but of deliberate action in the face of opposition. The jurisdictional provision of section 10, as introduced into the House of Representatives and as originally passed by it, was in the precise form in which it was enacted into law. 65th Cong. 1st Sess. House Rept. 75; 55 Cong. Rec. 4113. When the bill reached the Senate from the House, the Senate committee reported an amendment striking out the House provision and substituting a provision which made section 10 in this respect identical with sections 12, 16, and 25; that is, the senate committee's amendment provided that suits under section 10 should be brought against the United States 'in the manner provided by section twenty-four, paragraph twenty, and section one hundred and forty-five of the Judicial Code.' 55 Cong. Rec. 4626. This would have conferred concurrent jurisdiction upon the Court of Claims and the District Court sitting as a Court of Claims. As so amended, section 10 was passed by the Senate; but the House refused to concur in this amendment. And this disagreement, with eight others relating to section 10, was sent to the conference committee. 55 Cong. Rec. 5473. The House conferees recommended receding from objections to the eight other Senate amendments of this section, but they insisted upon the objection to the change of the jurisdictional provision. 55 Cong. Rec. 5733-5737. The Senate conferees recommended receding from its amendment to the jurisdictional provision and that the original House provision be restored. 55 Cong. Rec. 5709. In reporting for the House conferees, Mr. Lever said of this amendment:

'Amendment 30. This amendment gives jurisdiction, in suits to recover just compensation under section 10 of the House Bill, to the Court of Claims in addition to the United States District Courts. The Senate recedes.' 65th Congress, 1st Sess. House Report No. 117, p. 14; 55 Cong. Rec. 5737.

It is plain, then, that Congress had this question presented to its attention in a most precise form. It had the issue clearly drawn between granting for the adjudication of cases arising under this section concurrent jurisdiction in the Court of Claims and the District Courts without a trial by jury, or of establishing an exclusive jurisdiction in the District Courts of which the right to a jury trial is an incident. The first alternative was rejected, and the reason given for this rejection in the statement of the House conferees is that the proposed amendment would confer jurisdiction upon the Court of Claims. It is difficult to conceive of any rational ground for rejecting the clear and explicit amendment made by the Senate, except to accord a trial by jury. All difficulties of construction vanish if we are willing to give to the words of section 10, deliberately adopted, their natural meaning.

Furthermore, it is significant that this is not the only occasion upon which Congress has provided for suits against the United States exclusively in the District Courts. Section 1 of the War Risk Insurance Act of May 20, 1918, c. 77, 40 Stat. 555, provides that suits upon insurance policies 'may be brought against the United States in the District Court of the United States in and for the district in which such beneficiaries or any one of them resides.' The Act of March 4, 1919, c. 125, § 3, 40 Stat. 1348 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 3115 1/8 kk 3), which authorizes the President to requisition storage facilities for wheat, provides, in the words of section 10 of the Lever Act, that 'jurisdiction is hereby conferred on the United States District Courts to hear and determine all such controversies.' And section 2 of the Act of July 11, 1918, c. 145, 40 Stat. 898 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp, 1919, § 514e), permits suits against the United States on marine insurance 'in the District Court of the United States, sitting in admiralty.'

A survey of the war legislation permitting the seizure of property discloses that congress has established three distinct jurisdictions for the purpose of suit against the United States for compensation. In 17 instances 1 it definitely provided by reference to the appropriate sections of the Judicial Code for concurrent jurisdiction in the Court of Claims and the District Courts sitting as a court of claims. In the four instances above set forth it conferred jurisdiction only on the District Courts. In four instances it conferred jurisdiction only on the Court of Claims. 2 The established rule of statutory construction should lead us to give effect in every practicable manner to the distinctions which Congress has seen fit to make. Compare Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Lederer, 252 U. S. 523, 533, 40 Sup. Ct. 397, 64 L. Ed. 698. And where it designates a jurisdiction in which the trial will be with a jury instead of one where the trial will be by the court alone, it is our duty to give effect to its designation.

The writ of error is dismissed for want of jurisdiction in this court.

Dismissed.

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1

Statutes which provide for suits for compensation against the United States in both the District Courts and the Court of Claims in the manner provided by section 24, par. 20, and section 145 of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. §§ 991, 1136): Act March 4, 1917, c. 180, 39 Stat. 1193; the Naval Emergency Fund Act; Act June 15, 1917, c. 29, 40 Stat. 183 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 3115 1/16 d), Emergency Shipping Fund Act; Act Aug. 10, 1917, c. 53, §§ 12, 16, 25, 40 Stat. 279, 282, 284 (sections 3115 1/8 jj, 3115 1/8 ll, 3115 1/8 q); Act Oct. 6, 1917, c. 79, 40 Stat. 353, 371, 372 (section 2804bbbb), land for ordnance proving ground and for naval construction; Act March 1, 1918, c. 19, 40 Stat. 438, 439 (section 8146t), Shipping Board Housing; Act April 22, 1918, c. 62, 40 Stat. 535 (sections 3115 1/16 d, 3115 1/16 dd), shipping Board trolleys or interurban railways; Act April 26, 1918, c. 64, 40 Stat. 537, 538 (section 2804bbbbb), land for ordnance proving ground; Act May 16, 1918, c. 74, § 2, 40 Stat. 551 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 3115 5/6 b), land for war housing; Act July 1, 1918, c. 114, § 5, par. 'd,' 40 Stat. 720 (section 3115 1/16 c), contracts for ships, war materials, factories, etc.; Act July 8, 1918, c. 139, § 1, 40 Stat. 826 (section 6933c), Buildings for War Dept. in District of Columbia; Joint Res. July 16, 1918, c. 154, 40 Stat. 904, telegraph systems; Act July 18, 1918, c. 157, § 14, 40 Stat. 916 (section 3115 1/16 jj), dry docks, wharves, warehouses, terminals; Act of Oct. 5, 1918, c. 181, § 3, 40 Stat. 1010 (section 3115 1/8 sss), minerals, ores, mines, smelters, etc.; Act Nov. 21, 1918, c. 212, § 1, 40 Stat. 1048 (section 839c), buildings for Department of Agriculture in District of Columbia.

2

Statutes which provide for suits for compensation against the United States only in the Court of Claims; Act Oct. 6, 1917, c. 106, § 10, 40 Stat. 422 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 3115 1/2 ee), patents; Act July 1, 1918, c. 114, 40 Stat. 705 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 9465), patents used by United States; Act March 21, 1918, c. 25, § 3, 40 Stat. 454 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 3115 3/4 c), railroads; Act March 2, 1919, c. 94, § 2, 40 Stat. 1273 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, § 3115 14/15 b), war contracts, etc.