Honda v. Clark - 386 U.S. 484 (1967)
U.S. Supreme Court
Honda v. Clark, 386 U.S. 484 (1967)
Honda v. Clark
Argued February 14, 1967
Decided April 10, 1967
386 U.S. 484
This suit was brought by 4,100 citizens or residents of the United States who were depositors, holding "yen certificates," in the Yokohama Specie Bank (YSB). In 1943, the Alien Property Custodian had vested as enemy property the assets of YSB located in the United States. In 1946, Congress provided in § 34 of the Trading with the Enemy Act for the payment from the vested assets to American citizen or resident creditors of persons whose property was vested. After some 7,500 yen certificate holders filed claims for payment, the Attorney General (successor to the Custodian) determined that the debts were payable in yen and that the proper conversion rate was the postwar rate of 361.55 yen to the dollar, rather than the prewar 4.3 rate. In 1958, all YSB claimants were advised of this decision, were told to submit their original certificates within 45 days, were informed that a full schedule of claimants would be made pursuant to § 34(f) of the Act, after which aggrieved claimants could file suit in the District Court, and that they could at once redeem their certificates at the postwar rate from YSB's successor in Japan. Petitioners took no action, and their claims were disallowed as abandoned. In 1961, a final schedule under § 34(f), which did not include petitioners' claims, was prepared and sent to all claimants, including petitioners, who were advised that, under § 34(f), they could, if aggrieved, file suit in the District Court within 60 days of the mailing of the schedule. Within 60 days, a suit (Abe v. Kennedy) was brought on behalf of those claimants listed on the schedule to challenge the rate of exchange ruling. This suit was held in abeyance pending determination of the same issue in a suit involving yen certificates of another bank. The lower courts upheld the postwar rate in the latter case (Aratani v. Kennedy), and, after this Court granted certiorari, the Attorney General entered into a compromise settlement in both cases, in Abe at approximately the prewar rate without interest. Upon the final disposition of the Abe case, and before the dismissal of certiorari in Aratani, petitioners filed this suit, asking for similar treatment. The Attorney General denied their claims because they were not included in the class represented in the Abe suit and they had not brought suit within the 60-day
Held: Since the statutory scheme of § 34, which as modeled on the Bankruptcy Act, was intended to provide a fair and equitable distribution of vested enemy assets to American residents or citizens, the limitations period was tolled during the pendency of the Abe litigation, and petitioners' right to bring their suit was not foreclosed. Pp. 386 U. S. 494-502.
(a) The Bankruptcy Act presents a compelling analogy in § 5n, which provides that
"claims not filed within the time hereinabove prescribed may nevertheless be filed within such time a the court may fix or for cause shown extend, and, if duly proved, shall be allowed against an surplus remaining in such case."
(b) The 60-day limitation serves only as a means of expediting the distribution of vested assets to creditors, and here there are no other creditors, a surplus remains in the fund, and the Attorney General is a mere stakeholder. P. 386 U. S. 498.
(c) Since petitioners filed their suit immediately upon settlement of the Abe case, they did not interfere with the speed or manner in which this litigation was conducted. Pp. 386 U. S. 499-500.
(d) In this case, where the public treasury is not directly affected, it is consistent with the overall congressional purpose to apply a traditional equitable tolling principle, aptly suited to the facts of this case and nowhere eschewed by Congress, to preserve petitioners' cause of action. Pp. 386 U. S. 500-502.
123 U.S.App.D.C. 12, 356 F.2d 351, reversed and remanded.