Matson Navigation Co. v. United States
284 U.S. 352 (1932)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Matson Navigation Co. v. United States, 284 U.S. 352 (1932)

Matson Navigation Co. v. United States

No. 137

Argued December 9, 1931

Decided January 4, 1932

284 U.S. 352

Syllabus

1. Section 154 of the Judicial Code, which forbids prosecution in the Court of Claims of any claim for which suit is

"pending in any other court . . . against any person who at the time when the cause of action . . . arose, was, in respect thereto, acting . . . under the authority of the United States,"

is inapplicable where the other suit is against the United States, and not against its agent. P. 284 U. S. 355.

2. Where the words of a statute are plain, they may not be added to or altered, in construction, to effect a purpose not apparent on its face or from its legislative history. P. 284 U. S. 356.

3. Under the Suits in Admiralty Act, §§ 1 and 2, jurisdiction of maritime causes of action against the United States, arising out of the operation of merchant vessels for it, is vested exclusively in the district courts. Id.

4. After vessels had been requisitioned by the Shipping Board under the Act of June 15, 1917, the Board and the owner entered into a charter contract providing that the vessels should remain in the service of the United States, to be employed as it might determine, but that the owner should operate them, furnish crew and equipment, and pay for provisions, wages, etc. The United States agreed to pay the owner for certain expenses of maintenance and operation, and ship hire at a rate established by the Board for vessels of like description, with liberty in the owner to terminate the charter if the rate should be less than a specified minimum. It agreed also to reimburse the owner for any proper increases in wages over a specified standard.

Held:

(1) That the making of the contract worked an abandonment of the requisition and a release of the owner's right to just compensation under the Act of 1917, and that a cause of action of the owner based on the contract provision for recovery of increased wage payments could not be entertained by the Court of Claims, under Jud.Code § 145, as a claim for just compensation. P 284 U. S. 357.

(2) That the contract was maritime, and the cause of action within the admiralty jurisdiction. P. 284 U. S. 358.

5. A claimant in the Court of Claims has the burden of alleging and proving a cause of action within its jurisdiction. P. 284 U. S. 359.

Page 284 U. S. 353

6. As the present suit is against the United States upon a maritime cause of action growing out of the operation of ships for the government, the Court of Claims is without jurisdiction if the vessels in question were operated as merchant vessels, and as the petition does not allege that they were otherwise operated, it fails to state a cause of action within the jurisdiction of that court. P. 284 U. S. 359.

7. Want of jurisdiction of the subject matter may be considered, and appropriate judgment given at any stage of the proceedings, either here or below. Id.

8. Section 2 of the Merchant Marine Act of June 5, 1920, which repealed the Emergency Shipping Fund Provision of the Act of June 15, 1917, and imposed upon the Shipping Board the duty of carrying out contracts and making settlement, but preserved to every suitor

"the same right to sue the United State as he would have had if the decision and been made by the President of the United States under the acts hereby repealed,"

did not purport to enlarge existing remedies or establish a new procedure for the enforcement of maritime obligations which, like the present, are embraced within the Suits in Admiralty Act. P. 284 U. S. 359.

72 Ct.Cls. 210 affirmed.

Certiorari, post, p. 600, to review a judgment dismissing a claim for want of jurisdiction.

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