United States v. Lee
106 U.S. 196 (1882)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196 (1882)

United States v. Lee

Decided December 4, 1882

106 U.S. 196

Syllabus

1. The doctrine that, except where Congress has provided, the United States cannot be sued examined and reaffirmed.

2. That doctrine has no application to officers and agents of the United States who, when as such holding for public uses possession of property, are sued therefor by a person claiming to be the owner thereof or entitled thereto, but the lawfulness of that possession and the right or title of the United States to the property may, by a court of competent jurisdiction, be the subject matter of inquiry and adjudged accordingly.

3. The constitutional provisions that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor private property taken for public use without just compensation, relate to those rights whose protection is peculiarly within the province of the judicial branch of the government. Cases examined which show that the courts extend protection when the rights of property are unlawfully invaded by public officers.

4. In ejectment, the title relied on by the defense was a certificate of sale of the demanded premises to the United States by the commissioners under the act of Congress for the collection of direct taxes. The certificate was impeached on the ground of the refusal of the commissioners to permit the owner to pay the tax, with interest and costs, before the day of sale, by an agent or in any other way than by payment in person. Held that when the commissioners had established a uniform rule that they would receive such taxes from no one but the owner in person, it avoids such sale and a tender is unnecessary, since it would be of no avail.

5. Bennett v. Hunter, 9 Wall. 324, Tacey v. Irwin, 18 id. 549, and Atwood v. Weems,99 U. S. 183, reexamined and the principle they establish held to apply to a purchase at such a tax sale by the United States as well as by a private person.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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