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decided: April 7, 1947.



Vinson, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge, Burton; Black took no part in the consideration or decision of this case

Author: Douglas

[ 330 U.S. Page 733]

 MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners are present and former members of the United States Maritime Commission. Respondents are stockholders of Dollar Steamship Lines, Inc., Ltd. (Dollar of Delaware), whose corporate name was changed to American President Lines, Ltd., subsequent to the execution in 1938 of a contract out of which the present litigation arises. By 1937 Dollar of Delaware was in difficult financial straits. The problems confronting it and the various steps taken to remedy the situation need not be recapitulated here.*fn1 It is sufficient for purposes of the various questions presented by this case to say that the Commission and respondents entered into a contract in 1938 by which respondents delivered their common stock in Dollar of Delaware, endorsed in blank, to the Commission; and the Commission released some of respondents from certain obligations and agreed to grant Dollar of Delaware an operating subsidy and to make a loan to it and to obtain for it another loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

[ 330 U.S. Page 734]

     The subsidy was granted and the loans were made. By 1943 American President Lines, Ltd., had fully paid all indebtedness due the United States. Respondents thereupon demanded return of their shares of stock from the then members of the Commission, claiming that the shares had only been pledged as collateral for a debt which had been paid. The members of the Commission refused to surrender the shares, claiming that they had not been pledged under the 1938 contract but transferred outright. Acting on that theory the Commission had indeed offered the shares for sale and had under consideration substantial offers to purchase them.

Thereupon respondents instituted the present suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, see 11 D.C. Code, §§ 301, 305, 306, claiming that petitioners were unlawfully in possession of respondents' stock and illegally withholding it. The prayer was that petitioners be restrained from selling the shares and be directed to return them to respondents. Respondents moved for a preliminary injunction. Petitioners submitted affidavits opposing the motion. After a hearing, the District Court on its own motion dismissed the complaint with prejudice, holding that the suit was against the United States. The Court of Appeals reversed. 81 U. S. App. D.C. 28, 154 F.2d 307. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted because of the importance of the question presented.*fn2

First. The facts asserted in the affidavits support the view that the 1938 contract called for the outright transfer of the shares, not for their pledge. But we put the affidavits to one side for two reasons. In the first place, the function of the affidavits was to oppose the motion for a

[ 330 U.S. Page 735]

     preliminary injunction. The case had not been submitted for decision on the merits. Issue, indeed, had not yet been joined. And the ruling of the District Court, as we read it, was based on the premise that since the Commission had the right to make the contract, the suit was against the United States.*fn3 Hence we do not think the District Court in fact relied on the affidavits in dismissing the complaint. In the second place, although as a general rule the District Court would have authority to consider questions of jurisdiction on the basis of affidavits as well as the pleadings,*fn4 this is the type of case where the question of jurisdiction is dependent on decision of the merits.

The allegations of the complaint, if proved, would establish that petitioners are unlawfully withholding respondents' property under the claim that it belongs to the United States. That conclusion would follow if either of respondents' contentions were established: (1) that the Commission had no authority to purchase the shares or acquire them outright; or (2) that, even though

[ 330 U.S. Page 736]

     such authority existed, the 1938 contract resulted not in an outright transfer ...

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