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U.S. Supreme Court

Hatzlachh Supply Co., Inc. v. United States, 444 U.S. 460 (1980)

Hatzlachh Supply Co., Inc. v. United States

No. 78-1175

Argued December 5, 1979

Decided January 21, 1980

444 U.S. 460


Held: The United States may be held liable in an action under the Tucker Act for breach of an implied contract of bailment when goods are lost while held by the United States Customs Service following their seizure for customs violations.

(a) Title 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c), which excepts from the Government's tort liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) any claim arising in respect of the detention of merchandise by any customs officer, does not foreclose a remedy on an implied-in-fact contract of bailment. Although the section excludes certain claims from the statutory waiver of immunity from tort liability, it does not limit or otherwise affect immunity waivers contained in other statutes such as the Tucker Act, which invests the Court of Claims with jurisdiction to render judgment "upon any claim against the United States founded . . . upon any express or implied contract with the United States." Neither does § 2680(c)'s legislative history support the view that it was intended to declare the immunity of the United States from express or implied contracts with customs officers that would, or might, otherwise be within the Court of Claims' jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, but, on the contrary, it appears that, in exempting from the FTCA those claims described in § 2680(c), Congress did not further intend to disturb other existing statutory remedies.

(b) The fact that individual customs officers are subject to tort liability for negligent loss of goods does not preclude a contractual remedy against the Government, neither the existence nor lack of a tort remedy being relevant to determining whether there is an implied-in-fact contract of bailment upon which the United States is liable pursuant to its waiver of sovereign immunity under the Tucker Act.

217 Ct.Cl. 423, 579 F.2d 617, vacated and remanded.

Page 444 U. S. 461

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