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U.S. Supreme Court

Becker Steel Co. of America v. Cummings, 296 U.S. 74 (1935)

Becker Steel Company of America v. Cummings

No. 13

Argued October 17, 1935

Decided November 11, 1935

296 U.S. 74


1. A suit in the District Court by a nonenemy claimant against the Alien Property Custodian and the Treasurer of the United States to recover the proceeds of property which was seized and disposed of under the Trading with the Enemy Act is in substance a suit against the United States, authorized by § 9(a) of that statute. P. 296 U. S. 78.

2. The question whether such a suit may be maintained where the money demanded had been disbursed before suit begun held not a question of the jurisdiction of the District Court, in the strict sense of its power or authority as a federal court to decide whether suit would lie, but a question of the proper construction of the statute, which that court had power to determine. P. 296 U. S. 78.

3. Section 9(a) of the Trading with the Enemy Act, which provides the only remedy allowed the nonenemy owner of property seized by the Alien Property Custodian upon an erroneous determination of enemy ownership, must be construed to avoid doubts of the constitutionality which would arise if the remedy were inadequate. P. 296 U. S. 79.

4. The implication that, by the appropriation of private property to public use, the United States intends to make just compensation must enter into the construction of a statute giving to a nonenemy a remedy for the seizure of his property as a war measure. P. 296 U. S. 79.

5. Only compelling language in a statute will be construed as withdrawing or curtailing the privilege of suit against the United

Page 296 U. S. 75

States in recognition of an obligation imposed by the Constitution. P. 296 U. S. 80.

6. In a suit in the District Court under § 9(a) of the Trading with the Enemy Act, a nonenemy, upon establishing his claim to property that was erroneously seized and sold by the Alien Property Custodian, is entitled to judgment upon the claim even though the proceeds are no longer "held" by the Custodian or Treasurer. Escher v. Woods, 281 U. S. 379. P. 296 U. S. 80.

7. Section 7(c) of the Act provides that, in the event of sale of the property by the Custodian, the claimant's remedy shall be limited to and enforced against the "net proceeds" received and "held" by the Custodian or the Treasurer. Held that "net proceeds" means no more than gross proceeds of the sale less charges which my rightly be deducted, and the limitation of the remedy to the net proceeds "held" by the Custodian or Treasurer refers not to the net proceeds so held at the moment of entry of the decree, but to the proceeds so held at any time and not lawfully disbursed. P. 296 U. S. 81.

75 F.2d 1005 reversed.

Certiorari, 295 U.S. 724, to review the affirmance of a decree of the District Court (10 F.Supp. 343) dismissing a suit against the Attorney General, as Alien Property Custodian, and the Treasurer of the United States.

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