1. A certified question (U.S.C. Title 28, § 346) need not be
answered when objectionable because of its generality and when an
answer is not necessary for the decision of the case. P.
281 U. S.
2. In an action on a war risk insurance contract, the judgment
should not include installments maturing after the action began and
as to which there was no supplemental petition, nor should it
include installments to mature in the future. P. 281 U. S.
3. Interest on the installments is not allowable.
4. Costs cannot be awarded against the United States in such
actions. P. 281 U. S. 344
Answers to questions certified by the circuit court of appeals
in relation to a judgment of the district court against the United
States in an action on a war risk insurance contract.
MR. JUSTICE BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.
The deceased enlisted in the army April 2, 1917, and was
discharged March 18, 1918. He obtained insurance for $10,000,
payable in the event of death or total permanent disability at the
rate of $57.50 per month. Act of October 6, 1917, 40 Stat. 398,
409. The contract was in force when he was discharged. He presented
to the Veterans' Bureau a claim for permanent total disability
Page 281 U. S. 340
that date. It was rejected December 29, 1926. He died January 7,
April 23, his mother, as administratrix, brought this action in
the United States court for Nebraska to recover on account of his
disability from the date of discharge to the time of his death. 38
U.S.C. § 445. July 6, she intervened as beneficiary to recover
installments maturing after his death. There was a verdict on
which, October 31, 1928, judgment was entered in her favor as
administratrix for.$6,095 and as beneficiary for $3,905. Later the
district court entered a supplemental judgment that, as
beneficiary, she was then entitled to $1,265 on account of the
installments falling due before the original judgment; that the
balance, $2,640, should be paid at the rate of $57.50 per month
commencing November 1, 1928; that she have interest on all
installments from the dates on which they became due to the date of
judgment, and thereafter interest on the amount of the judgment,
and that she recover costs. The United States appealed. The circuit
court of appeals certified the four questions which are given
below. 28 U.S.C. § 346.
"1. Upon the facts stated [in the certificate], does the United
States, as matter of law, stand in the position of one who has gone
into the business of insurance, and must therefore be assumed to
have accepted the ordinary incidents of suits in such
Apparently, this question was suggested by language in our
decision in Standard Oil Co. v. United States,
267 U. S. 76
267 U. S. 79
While the answer sought might aid in the determination of the
proper application of that opinion, it is not necessary for the
decision of the case. The question is one of objectionable
generality. United States v. Mayer, 235 U. S.
, 235 U. S. 66
need not be answered.
"2. May judgment be entered against the United States for the
amounts of insurance installments maturing after the action was
Page 281 U. S. 341
Undoubtedly, when one's right to recover is established by
judgment, the Veterans' Bureau will pay him installments maturing
in his favor after the commencement of the action. It therefore is
a matter of no practical importance whether the installments
maturing between date of intervention and entry of the judgment be
included. But the certificate does not disclose any supplemental
petition in respect of such installments, and the judgment should
not include them. Hamlin, Hale & Co. v. Race,
422; Carter-Crume Co. v. Peurrung,
99 F. 888, 890.
Section 514, Tit. 38, U.S.C., *
if the designated beneficiary does not survive the insured or dies
prior to receiving all of the 240 installments, or all such as are
payable and applicable, the present value of the monthly
installments thereafter payable shall be paid to the estate of the
insured. A judgment for the designated beneficiary for all
installments thereafter to mature would not protect the United
States against a claim by the estate of the insured for any
installments falling due after the death of the beneficiary. The
judgment should not govern payment of installments later to
The question should be answered in the negative.
"3. Is interest allowable against the United States upon the
monthly installments from the date they are found to be due?"
The rule is that the United States will not be required to pay
interest except where the liability is imposed by statute or
assumed by contract. An implied agreement to pay interest arises
upon a taking by the United States of private property for public
use where interest is an element in the just compensation
guaranteed by the Constitution. Seaboard
Air Line Ry. v. United States,
Page 281 U. S. 342
U.S. 299, 304. Where the United States came into admiralty to
assert a claim as owner pro hac vice
of a vessel, it
thereby agreed by implication to accept whatever decision the
courts might make, and was held liable for interest. United
States v. The Thekla, 266 U. S. 328
266 U. S.
-340. And see The Nuestra Senora de Regla,
108 U. S. 92
108 U. S. 104
The Paquete Habana, 189 U. S. 453
189 U. S. 465
189 U. S.
Appellee relies on Standard Oil Co. v. United States,
a libel on war risk insurance policies issued upon an
American vessel and its cargo under the War Risk Insurance Act of
September 2, 1914, 38 Stat. 711. The United States was held liable
for interest upon the ground that (p. 267 U. S.
"When the United States went into the insurance business, issued
policies in familiar form and provided that in case of disagreement
it might be sued, it must be assumed to have accepted the ordinary
incidents of suits in such business. The policies promised that
claims would be paid within 30 days after complete proofs of
interest and loss. . . ."
The Act authorized the Bureau to adopt and publish forms of
policies and to establish reasonable rates. The policies adopted by
the Bureau and used in that case contained a promise to pay losses
within a specified time. Under that form of contract, private
underwriters are liable for interest when payment is not made as
agreed. There was nothing in the statute to disclose an intention
on the part of the United States to bear any part of the cost of
the insurance or to give pecuniary aid to the owners of vessels or
other property insured. And, as a matter of fact, a large profit
resulted from the operation of the business. Annual Report of the
Director of the U.S. Veterans' Bureau, 1923, p. 675.
On the other hand, the Act of October 6, 1917, discloses a
purpose on the part of the United States to protect
Page 281 U. S. 343
those engaged in war service and their dependents and to
contribute to their financial welfare. It provides for payment by
the United States of family allowances in certain cases and of
compensation for death or disability of officers, enlisted men, and
members of the Army and Navy Nurse Corps in active service
resulting from injury or disease contracted in the line of duty.
Articles II and III.
"in order to give to every commissioned officer and enlisted man
and every member of the Army Nurse Corps (female) and of the Navy
Nurse Corps (female) when employed in active service under the War
Department or Navy Department greater protection for themselves and
their dependents than is provided in Article III,"
the United States provided life and disability insurance.
Article IV. Its benefits were extended without application therefor
to those who were totally and permanently disabled or who died in
active service after our entry into the war, April 6, 1917, and
prior to the expiration of 120 days after the publication of the
terms of the insurance. All such persons were deemed to have
applied for and to have been granted insurance. § 401. The United
States bore expenses of administration and excess mortality and
disability cost resulting from the hazards of war. The insurance
was limited to $10,000, and was made payable in 240 equal monthly
installments; it was made not assignable nor subject to claims of
creditors of the insured or of the beneficiary. The premiums were
not adequate. The Congress intended that the United States should
bear, and undoubtedly it has borne, a large part of the cost.
Consequently the payments include both insurance and pension.
White v. United States, 270 U. S. 175
270 U. S.
The Act does not provide for the payment of any interest on
past-due installments. It has been uniformly construed by the
Bureau not to allow any. There is nothing
Page 281 U. S. 344
in the conduct of the United States in respect of life and
disability insurance from which an agreement on its part to pay
interest may reasonably be implied.
This question is not within the principle upon which interest
was allowed in Standard Oil Co. v. United States, supra.
It should be answered in the negative.
"4. May costs be awarded generally against the United States,
upon condition that they be paid from accumulated funds in the
hands of the Veterans' Bureau, if any, available for that
The rule is that, in the absence of a statute directly
authorizing it, courts will not give judgment against the United
States for costs or expenses. United States v. Chemical
Foundation, 272 U. S. 1
272 U. S. 20
There is no statute permitting costs to be awarded against the
government in this case.
The question should be answered in the negative.
Question 1 is not answered.
Question 2 is answered "No."
Question 3 is answered "No."
Question 4 is answered "No."
* Section 303, Act of June 7, 1924, 43 Stat. 625 as amended by §
14, Act of March 4, 1925, 43 Stat. 1310.