Dames & Moore v. Regan
Annotate this Case
453 U.S. 654 (1981)
U.S. Supreme Court
Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U.S. 654 (1981)
Dames & Moore v. Regan
Argued June 24, 1981
Decided July 2, 1981
453 U.S. 654
In response to the seizure of American personnel as hostages at the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran, President Carter, pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), declared a national emergency on November 14, 1979, and blocked the removal or transfer of all property and interests in property of the Government of Iran which were subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The Treasury Department then issued implementing regulations providing that,
"[u]nless licensed or authorized . . . , any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is null and void with respect to any property in which, on or since [November 14, 1979,] there existed an interest of Iran,"
and that any licenses or authorizations granted could be "amended, modified, or revoked at any time." The President then granted a general license that authorized certain judicial proceedings, including prejudgment attachments, against Iran, but did not allow the entry of any judgment or decree. On December 19, 1979, petitioner filed suit in Federal District Court against the Government of Iran, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and a number of Iranian banks, alleging that it was owed a certain amount of money for services performed under a contract with the Atomic Energy Organization. The District Court issued orders of attachment against the defendants' property, and property of certain Iranian banks was then attached to secure any judgment that might be entered against them. Subsequently, on January 19, 1981, the Americans held hostage were released by Iran pursuant to an agreement with the United States. Under this agreement, the United States was obligated to terminate all legal proceedings in United States courts involving claims of United States nationals against Iran, to nullify all attachments and judgments obtained therein, and to bring about the termination of such claims through binding arbitration in an Iran-United States Claims Tribunal. The President at the same time issued implementing Executive Orders revoking all licenses that permitted the exercise of "any right, power, or privilege" with regard to Iranian funds, nullifying all non-Iranian interests in such assets acquired after the blocking order of November
14, 1979, and requiring banks holding Iranian assets to transfer them to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to be held or transferred as directed by the Secretary of the Treasury. On February 24, 1981, President Reagan issued an Executive Order which ratified President Carter's Executive Orders and "suspended" all claims that may be presented to the Claims Tribunal, but which provided that the suspension of a claim terminates if the Claims Tribunal determines that it has no jurisdiction over the claim. Meanwhile, the District Court granted summary judgment for petitioner and awarded it the amount claimed under the contract plus interest, but stayed execution of the judgment pending appeal by the defendants, and ordered that all prejudgment attachments against the defendants be vacated and that further proceedings against the bank defendants be stayed. Petitioner then filed an action in Federal District Court against the United States and the Secretary of the Treasury, seeking to prevent enforcement of the various Executive Orders and regulations implementing the agreement with Iran. It was alleged that the actions of the President and the Secretary of the Treasury were beyond their statutory and constitutional powers, and, in any event, were unconstitutional to the extent they adversely affect petitioner's final judgment against Iran and the Atomic Energy Organization, its execution of that judgment, its prejudgment attachments, and its ability to continue to litigate against the Iranian banks. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, but entered an injunction pending appeal to the Court of Appeals prohibiting the United States from requiring the transfer of Iranian property that is subject to any writ of attachment issued by any court in petitioner's favor. This Court then granted certiorari before judgment.
1. The President was authorized to nullify the attachments and order the transfer of Iranian assets by the provision of the IEEPA, 50 U.S.C. § 1702(a)(1)(B), which empowers the President to "compel," "nullify," or "prohibit" any "transfer" with respect to, or transactions involving, any property subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, in which any foreign country has any interest. Pp. 453 U. S. 669-674.
(a) Nothing in the legislative history of either § 1702 or § 5(b) of the Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA), from which § 1702 was directly drawn, requires reading out of § 1702 all meaning to the words "transfer," "compel," or "nullify," and limiting the President's authority in this case only to continuing the freeze, as petitioner claims. To the contrary, both the legislative history and cases interpreting the TWEA fully sustain the President's broad authority when acting under
such congressional grant of power. And the changes brought about by the enactment of the IEEPA did not in any way affect the President's authority to take the specific action taken here. By the time petitioner brought the instant action, the President had already entered the freeze order, and petitioner proceeded against the blocked assets only after the Treasury Department had issued revocable licenses authorizing such proceedings and attachments. The attachments obtained by petitioner, being subject to revocation, were specifically made subordinate to further actions which the President might take under the IEEPA. Pp. 453 U. S. 671-673.
(b) Blocking orders, such as the one here, permit the President to maintain foreign assets at his disposal for use in negotiating the resolution of a declared national emergency, and the frozen assets serve as a "bargaining chip" to be used by the President when dealing with a hostile country. To limit the President's authority, as petitioner urges, would mean that claimants could minimize or eliminate this "bargaining chip" through attachments or similar encumbrances. Pp. 453 U. S. 673-674.
(c) Petitioner's interest in its attachments was conditional and revocable, and as such, the President's action nullifying the attachments and ordering the transfer of the assets did not effect a taking of property in violation of the Fifth Amendment absent just compensation. P. 453 U. S. 674, n. 6.
(d) Because the President's action in nullifying the attachments and ordering the transfer of assets was taken pursuant to specific congressional authorization, it is
"supported by the strongest presumptions and the widest latitude of judicial interpretation, and the burden of persuasion would rest heavily upon any who might attack it."
2. On the basis of the inferences to be drawn from the character of the legislation, such as the IEEPA and the Hostage Act, which Congress has enacted in the area of the President's authority to deal with international crises, and from the history of congressional acquiescence in executive claims settlement, the President was authorized to suspend claims pursuant to the Executive Order in question here. Pp. 453 U. S. 675-688.
(a) Although neither the IEEPA nor the Hostage Act constitutes specific authorization for the President's suspension of the claims, these statutes are highly relevant as an indication of congressional acceptance of a broad scope for executive action in circumstances such as those presented in this case. Pp. 453 U. S. 675-679.
(b) The United States has repeatedly exercised its sovereign authority to settle the claims of its nationals against foreign countries.
Although those settlements have sometimes been made by treaty, there has also been a longstanding practice of settling such claims by executive agreement without the advice and consent of the Senate, and this practice continues at the present time. Pp. 453 U. S. 679-680.
(c) That Congress has implicitly approved the practice of claims settlement by executive agreement is best demonstrated by Congress' enactment of the International Claims Settlement Act of 1919, which created the International Claims Commission, now the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and gave it jurisdiction to make final and binding decisions with respect to claims by United States nationals against settlement funds. And the legislative history of the IEEPA further reveals that Congress has accepted the authority of the President to enter into settlement agreements. Pp. 453 U. S. 680-682.
(d) In addition to congressional acquiescence in the President's power to settle claims, prior cases of this Court have also recognized that the President has some measure of power to enter into executive agreements without obtaining the advice and consent of the Senate. See, e.g., United States v. Pink, 315 U. S. 203. Pp. 453 U. S. 682-683.
(e) Petitioner's argument that all settlement claims prior to 1952, when the United States had adhered to the doctrine of absolute sovereign immunity should be discounted because of the evolution of sovereign immunity, is refuted by the fact that, since 1952, there have been at least 10 claim settlements by executive agreement. Thus, even if the pre-1952 cases should be disregarded, congressional acquiescence in settlement agreements since that time supports the President's power to act here. Pp. 453 U. S. 683-684.
(f) By enacting the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA), which granted personal and subject matter jurisdiction to federal district courts over commercial suits by claimants against foreign states that waived immunity, Congress did not divest the President of the authority to settle claims. The President, by suspending petitioner's claim, has not circumscribed the jurisdiction of the United States courts in violation of Art. III, but has simply effected a change in the substantive law governing the lawsuit. The FSIA was designed to remove one particular barrier to suit, namely, sovereign immunity, and cannot be read as prohibiting the President from settling claims of United States nationals against foreign governments. Pp. 453 U. S. 684-686.
(g) Long continued executive practice, known to and acquiesced in by Congress, raises a presumption that the President's action has been taken pursuant to Congress' consent. Such practice is present here, and such a presumption is also appropriate. P. 453 U. S. 686.
(h) The conclusion that the President's action in suspending petitioner's
claim did not exceed his powers is buttressed by the fact the President has provided an alternative forum, the Claims Tribunal, to settle the claims of the American nationals. Moreover, Congress has not disapproved the action taken here. Pp. 453 U. S. 686-688.
(i) While it is not concluded that the President has plenary power to settle claims, even against foreign governmental entities, nevertheless, where, as here, the settlement of claims has been determined to be a necessary incident to the resolution of a major foreign policy dispute between this country and another, and Congress has acquiesced in the President's action, it cannot be said that the President lacks the power to settle such claim. P. 453 U. S. 688.
3. The possibility that the President's actions with respect to the suspension of the claims may effect a taking of petitioner's property in violation of the Fifth Amendment in the absence of just compensation makes ripe for adjudication the question whether petitioner will have a remedy at law in the Court of Claims. And there is no jurisdictional obstacle to an appropriate action in that court under the Tucker Act. Pp. 453 U. S. 688-690.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined; in all but n. 6 of which POWELL, J., joined; and in all but Part V of which STEVENS, J., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 453 U. S. 690. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 453 U. S. 690.