Clark v. Allen
331 U.S. 503 (1947)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Clark v. Allen, 331 U.S. 503 (1947)

Clark v. Allen

No. 626

Argued April 11, 1947

Decided June 9, 1947

331 U.S. 503

Syllabus

1. The provisions of Article IV of the Treaty of 1923 with Germany, which assures to German heirs of "any person" holding realty in the United States the right to inherit the same, to sell it within three years, to withdraw the proceeds, and to be exempt from discriminatory taxation, prevail over any conflicting provision of California law -- unless the provisions of the Treaty have been superseded or abrogated. Pp. 331 U. S. 507-508.

2. So far as the right to inherit realty is concerned, the Treaty has not been abrogated or superseded -- although the right to sell it and withdraw the proceeds may have been abrogated -- and the Federal Government has discretionary power to vest the property in itself, subject to certain rights of the owners. Pp. 331 U. S. 508-514.

Page 331 U. S. 504

(a) The outbreak of war does not necessarily suspend or abrogate treaty provisions. P. 331 U. S. 508.

(b) The national policy expressed in the Trading with the Enemy Act, as amended by the First War Powers Act, is not incompatible with the right of inheritance of realty granted German aliens under Article IV of the Treaty. Pp. 331 U. S. 510-512.

(c) The Treaty of Berlin, which accorded the United States all rights and advantages specified in the Joint Resolution of July 2, 1921, vesting in the United States absolute title to property of German nationals then held by the United States, did not abrogate the right of German heirs under the 1923 Treaty with Germany to inherit realty in this country. Pp. 331 U. S. 512-514.

(d) There is no evidence that the political departments of the Government have considered that the collapse and surrender of Germany put an end to such provisions of the 1923 Treaty as survived the outbreak of war or the obligations of either party in respect to them. P. 331 U. S. 514.

3. The provisions of Article IV of the Treaty of 1923 with Germany, which assures to German nationals the power to dispose of their personal property in this country, does not cover personalty located in this country which an American citizen undertakes to leave to German nationals, but it does cover personalty in this country which a German national undertakes to dispose of by will. Pp. 331 U. S. 514-516, 331 U. S. 517.

4. Section 259 of the California Probate Code as it existed in 1942, which made the right of nonresident aliens to acquire personal property dependent upon the reciprocal rights of American citizens to do so in the countries of which such aliens are inhabitants or citizens, is not unconstitutional as an invasion by the the field of foreign affairs reserved to the Federal Government. Pp. 331 U. S. 516-517.

156 F.2d 653 reversed in part and affirmed in part.

A resident of California having bequeathed her entire estate to certain German nationals after the declaration of war on Germany, and, the Alien Property Custodian having vested in himself all their right, title, and interest in the estate pursuant to Executive Order 9788, 11 Fed.Reg. 11981, issued under the Trading with the Enemy Act, as amended by the First War Powers Act, a District Court

Page 331 U. S. 505

held that the Custodian was entitled to the entire net estate, and that the executor and the California heirs-at-law had no interest in the estate. 52 F.Supp. 850. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the District Court was without jurisdiction of the subject matter. 147 F.2d 136. This Court granted certiorari, 325 U.S. 846, and reversed. 326 U. S. 490. The Circuit Court of Appeals then held for the executor and California heirs-at-law. 156 F.2d 653. This Court granted certiorari, 329 U.S. 706, and substituted the Attorney General as successor to the Alien Property Custodian. 329 U.S. 691. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the District Court, p. 331 U. S. 518.

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