Olson v. United States Spruce Production Corp. - 267 U.S. 462 (1925)


U.S. Supreme Court

Olson v. United States Spruce Production Corp., 267 U.S. 462 (1925)

Olson v. United States Spruce Production Corporation

No. 128

Argued March 5, 6, 1925

Decided March 16, 1925

267 U.S. 462

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON

Syllabus

1. Where a federal statute excludes jurisdiction in state well as federal courts, judgment of a district court dismissing the case for that reason is not reviewable here directly under Jud.Code § 238. P. 267 U. S. 467.

2. The Dent Act, which provides for adjustment of certain classes of claims against the United States through the Secretary of War and by suit in the Court of Claims, did not purport to confer jurisdiction on that court over a suit against the United States Spruce Production Corporation, which, though a federal agency, is a corporation of the State of Washington. P. 267 U. S. 466.

3. An action against the Spruce Corporation to recover for work done, materials furnished or destroyed, and profits lost in consequence of a government requisition prior to the Dent Act held within the jurisdiction of the state court and of the district court on removal, whatever the merits. Id.

Reversed.

Error to a judgment of the district court dismissing an action for want of jurisdiction as a federal court.

Page 267 U. S. 466

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case comes here directly from the district court by a writ of error and a certificate that the action was dismissed upon the ground that the Court had no jurisdiction.

The suit was begun in a Court of the State of Oregon and removed. It was brought against the corporation described in Clallam County v. United States, 263 U. S. 341, to recover for work done, materials furnished or destroyed, and profits lost, during the year 1918 in consequence of a requisition by the government that the plaintiffs should devote their logging camp to the production of airplane timber alone. The declaration is long, and suggests throughout an effort to state a case under the Dent Act of March 2, 1919, c. 94, 40 Stat. 1272, and to account for this suit by the fact that the plaintiffs' claim under that Act was disallowed. The assurances and promises relied upon seem to have been the assurances and promises of successive agents of the United States that the United States would pay for what the plaintiffs were asked to do.

The Court below seems to have regarded the Dent Act as giving the only remedy in cases like this, although the supposed cause of action arose before that Act was passed, and, according to the certificate, treated the statute as excluding jurisdiction elsewhere. If the suit were against the United States, as no Court has jurisdiction over the

Page 267 U. S. 467

United States except when it is granted, the ruling might have been correct. But this suit is against a corporation of the State of Washington, brought originally in a court of Oregon to enforce a supposed liability in contract. Even if a statute of the United States created a bar, it would be unusual if the act went to the jurisdiction, rather than to the merits, Fauntleroy v. Lum, 210 U. S. 230, 210 U. S. 235, and if the statute went further, it would be more likely to exclude jurisdiction in all other courts, rather than merely in courts of the United States as such. If the statute excluded jurisdiction in state as well as United States courts, the case could not be certified under § 238 of the Judicial Code. Fore River Shipbuilding Co. v. Hagg, 219 U. S. 175, 219 U. S. 178. But the Dent Act does not contemplate suits against corporations in the Court of Claims, and we perceive no ground for the ruling as certified. It well may be that the Court was right in deciding that the allegations were not sufficient to justify a suit against the corporation, and our judgment is without prejudice to a judgment dismissing the case upon the merits. But it was error to decide that there was a want of jurisdiction, and therefore the judgment must be reversed.

Judgment reversed.



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