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LUCKENBACH STEAMSHIP COMPANY v. UNITED STATES

decided: November 23, 1926.

LUCKENBACH STEAMSHIP COMPANY
v.
UNITED STATES



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CLAIMS.

Taft, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, Stone

Author: Van Devanter

[ 272 U.S. Page 534]

 MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was a suit to recover a balance alleged to be due for several barges and tugs, the possession of and title to which were taken over by the United States under the Act of June 15, 1917, c. 29, 40 Stat. 182. The compensation fixed at the time by the President not being satisfactory to the claimant, three-fourths of it was paid, and the claimant, conformably to the Act, sued to recover a further sum which, with what was paid, was alleged to be just compensation. The Court of Claims found that the amount fixed by the President was just and entered judgment for the claimant for the one-fourth remaining unpaid. 59 Ct. Cl. 628. The claimant being still dissatisfied brought the case here.

The judgment was entered April 28, 1924. The claimant seasonably moved for a new trial and included in

[ 272 U.S. Page 535]

     the motion a request for amended findings. While that motion was pending the claimant, becoming apprehensive lest the time allowed for an appeal might be running, filed with the clerk an application for an appeal from the judgment. Thereafter the motion for a new trial, with the request for amended findings, was denied, and the application for an appeal was then brought to the Court's attention and allowed. A little later the claimant applied for an appeal from the order refusing a new trial and amended findings and the court allowed that appeal.

Counsel for the United States insist that neither appeal was effective. Plainly the second was not, for it was from an order which was not appealable. But the first was from the judgment and we think it was well taken. The only infirmity suggested is that the application was premature in that it was made before the motion for a new trial and amended findings was disposed of. It is true that with that motion pending the judgment was not so far final as to cause time to run against the right to appeal, United States v. Ellicott, 223 U.S. 524, 539; but while the application was thus premature it was not a nullity. Evidently it was intended to be pressed only if and when the motion for a new trial and amended findings was denied. The court so regarded it, and therefore gave effect to it after disposing of the pending motion. That this was right is shown in Ex parte Roberts, 15 Wall. 384, 385.

After the record was filed in this Court the claimant moved that the case be remanded to the Court of Claims with directions either to find or refuse to find each of the several matters specified in the request for amended findings, or, in the alternative, to include in the record the motion for a new trial and that request, together with the evidence on which they were based. Consideration of the motion to remand was postponed to the hearing on the merits, and that hearing has been had.

[ 272 U.S. Page 536]

     The presentation of the case on behalf of the claimant has proceeded on the assumption that our power to review is as broad as the power of the Court of Claims to hear and determine in the first instance, and that such a review if not otherwise provided for is vouchsafed by the due process of law clause of the Fifth Amendment. But the assumption is a mistaken one. The Court of Claims is a special tribunal established to hear and determine suits against the United States on claims of specified classes. Except as Congress has consented, there is no right to bring these suits against the United States, and therefore the right arising from the consent is subject to such restrictions as Congress has imposed. McElrath v. United States, 102 U.S. 426, 440. One of these is that the trial shall be by the court without a jury. Another, in force until changed by the Act of February 13, 1925, c. 229, 43 Stat. 936, forbade an appellate review where the decision was against the claimant and the amount in controversy was not in excess of three thousand dollars. Others, still in force, limit the scope of the review where one is permitted. And, apart from the nature of these suits, the well settled rule applies that an appellate review is not essential to due process of law, but is a matter of grace. McKane v. Durston, 153 U.S. 684, 687; Andrews v. Swartz, 156 U.S. 272, 275; Kohl v. Lehlback, 160 U.S. 293, 297, 299; Reetz v. Michigan, 188 U.S. 505, 508; The Francis Wright, 105 U.S. 381, 386; Montana Company v. St. Louis Mining and Milling Company, 152 U.S. 160, 171.

The Constitution, Art. III, sec. 2, declares the appellate jurisdiction of this Court shall be subject to "such exceptions" and be exercised under "such regulations" as Congress may prescribe. This provision was much considered in The Francis Wright, supra, and the views ...


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