1. A claim assigned to the Federal Housing Administrator became
a claim of, and enforceable by, the United States. Act of June 27,
310 U. S.
2. Whether the United States sues in its own court or in a state
court, it is not bound by state statutes of limitations or subject
to the defense of laches. P.
310 U. S.
The fact that the claim in question was acquired by the United
States under the National Housing Act does not take the case out of
the rule. P.
310 U. S.
3. A state statute providing that claims against a decedent's
estate not filed within a specified period shall be void might
deprive the state probate court of jurisdiction to receive and pass
upon claim of the United States, but cannot affect its validity. P.
310 U. S.
140 Fla. 475, 191 So. 842, reversed.
Certiorari, 309 U.S. 647, to review the affirmance of a judgment
declaring a claim of the United States against a decedent's estate
void because not filed within the time prescribed by a state
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
By a series of transactions which it is unnecessary to review,
the Federal Housing Administrator, acting on behalf of the United
States, became the assignee of a claim against the estate of one J.
F. Andrew, deceased.
Page 310 U. S. 415
Respondent was appointed ancillary administratrix of that estate
by the County Judge of Polk County, Florida. Respondent, on August
13, 1937, gave notice by publication to the creditors of the estate
to file proof of their claims within eight months, as required by
the state statute.
The United States filed its claim in the office of the County
Judge on July 1, 1938, with a petition asking that the claim be
allowed with the priority accorded by the federal statutes (31
U.S.C. §§ 191, 192) and also asserting that the state statute as to
the time for filing claims did not apply to claims of the United
States. The County Judge denied the petition, holding that the
state statute was applicable and further adjudging that the claim
of the United States be "disallowed as a claim against the estate"
of the decedent.
The United States appealed to the Circuit Court for Polk County,
where the order of the County Judge was in all respects affirmed.
The judgment explicitly declared the claim of the United States to
be "void," because not filed within the time prescribed. An appeal
to the Supreme Court of Florida resulted in affirmance of the
judgment of the Circuit Court. 191 So. 842. We granted certiorari
because of the importance of the question. March 25, 1940. 309 U.S.
The statute of Florida (§ 5541(92), Compiled General Laws of
"No claim or demand, whether due or not, direct or contingent,
liquidated or unliquidated, or claim for personal property in the
possession of the personal representative or for damages, shall be
valid or binding upon an estate, or upon the personal
representative thereof, or upon any heir, legatee or devisee of the
decedent, unless the same shall be in writing and contain the place
of residence and post office address of the claimant and shall be
sworn to by the claimant, his agent or attorney and be filed in the
office of the county judge granting letters.
Page 310 U. S. 416
Any such claim or demand not so filed within eight months from
the time of the first publication of the notice to creditors shall
be void even though the personal representative has recognized such
claim or demand by paying a portion thereof or interest thereon or
otherwise. . . ."
The claim assigned to the Federal Housing Administrator acting
on behalf of the United States became the claim of the United
States, and the United States thereupon became entitled to enforce
it. Act of June 27, 1934, 48 Stat. 1246.
Compare Graves v. New
York ex rel. O'Keefe, 306 U. S. 466,
306 U. S. 477;
Pittman v. Home Owners' Loan Corp., 308 U. S.
308 U. S.
It is well settled that the United States is not bound by state
statutes of limitation or subject to the defense of laches in
enforcing its rights.
United States v. Thompson,
98 U. S. 486;
United States v. Nashville, C. & St.L. R. Co.,
118 U. S. 120,
118 U. S.
Stanley v. Schwalby, 147 U.
147 U. S.
Guaranty Trust Company v. United
States, 304 U. S. 126,
304 U. S. 132;
Board of County Commissioners v. United States,
308 U. S. 343,
308 U. S. 351.
The same rule applies whether the United States brings its suit in
its own courts or in a state court.
Davis v. Corona Coal
Co., 265 U. S. 219,
265 U. S.
We are of the opinion that the fact that the claim was acquired
by the United States through operations under the National Housing
Act does not take the case out of this rule. The state court
treated the case as in the same category as one of "statutes
providing for conveyancing and marketing negotiable instruments,
and conducting other business relations." But this is not a case
relating to the application of the law merchant as to the transfer
of negotiable paper and the diligence necessary to charge an
endorser or as to the incurring by the United States of certain
responsibilities by becoming a party to such paper.
United States v.
Barker, 12 Wheat. 559;
Cooke v. United
States, 91 U. S. 389,
91 U. S. 396.
Even as a holder of such paper,
Page 310 U. S. 417
e.g., negotiable bonds, the United States suing the
maker is not bound by a state statute of limitations.
States v. Nashville, C. & St.L. R. Co., supra. When the
United States becomes entitled to a claim, acting in its
governmental capacity and asserts its claim in that right, it
cannot be deemed to have abdicated its governmental authority so as
to become subject to a state statute putting a time limit upon
Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Co. v. United
States, 250 U. S. 123,
250 U. S.
The state court, however, has said that the statute in question
is not a statute of limitations, but rather a statute of
"non-claim" for the orderly and expeditious settlement of
decedents' estates. Presumably the court refers to the provision of
the statute that, if a claim is not filed within the specified
"shall be void even though the personal representative has
recognized such claim or demand by paying a portion thereof or
interest thereon or otherwise."
If this were a statute merely determining the limits of the
jurisdiction of a probate court, and thus providing that the County
Judge should have no jurisdiction to receive or pass upon claims
not filed within the eight months, while leaving an opportunity to
the United States otherwise to enforce its claim, the authority of
the State to impose such a limitation upon its probate court might
be conceded. But if the statute, as sustained by the state court,
undertakes to invalidate the claim of the United States, so that it
cannot be enforced at all, because not filed within eight months,
we think the statute in that sense transgressed the limits of state
Davis v. Corona Coal Company, supra.
Mr. Justice Story had occasion to consider the application to
the Government of a state statute purporting to bar claims against
decedent's estates in
United States v. Hoar, Fed.Cas. No.
15,373, 2 Mason 311. There, an action was brought by the United
States against an administrator
Page 310 U. S. 418
of an estate, and the defendant pleaded the general statute of
limitation of Massachusetts as to personal actions and also the
particular statute limiting suits against executors and
administrators to four years after the acceptance of the trust. Mr.
Justice Story thought it clear that the defense of these statutes
of limitations could not avail. The question whether a further
plene administravit was good -- that is,
whether a distribution of surplus assets after the payment of all
known debts among the heirs, either voluntary or under a probate
decree, would protect the administrator from suit by the United
States, it was thought not necessary to decide. Nor have we such a
We hold that the state statute, in this instance requiring
claims to be filed within eight months, cannot deprive the United
States of its right to enforce its claim; that the United States
still has its right of action against the administrator, even
though the probate court is to be regarded as having no
jurisdiction to receive a claim after the expiration of the
So far as the judgment goes beyond the question of the
jurisdiction of the probate court and purports to adjudge that the
claim of the United States is void as a claim against the estate of
the decedent because of failure to comply with the statute, the
judgment is reversed.
The cause is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent
with this opinion.