The petitioner brought this suit against the United States in the Court of Claims to recover just compensation for the requisitioning by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, under authority
The petition, filed in October, 1924, alleged that the petitioner "is a corporation duly organized under, and by virtue of, the Laws of Russia"; that in January, 1917, the petitioner became the assignee for value of certain contracts for the construction of two vessels by the Standard Shipbuilding Corporation of New York; that in August, 1917, the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, acting under the authority conferred by the Act of June 15, 1917 (c. 29, 40 Stat. 183) and by the Executive Order of the President of the United States made on July 11, 1917, requisitioned these contracts, and the vessels being constructed thereunder, for the use of the United States; that the United States thereby became liable to the petitioner for the payment of just compensation; that in August, 1919, the petitioner submitted its affidavit of claim, and vouchers in support; that in March, 1920, the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation fixed the just compensation of the petitioner at a total amount of $1,412,532.35; that the value of the contracts taken from the petitioner was $4,000,000, to which the petitioner was entitled after allowing all proper credits and offsets; and that "citizens of the United States are and at the time of and since the commencement of this suit have been accorded the right to prosecute claims against the Russian Government in the Court of that Government."
In May, 1927, the petitioner filed motions to issue commissions to take testimony in Germany and France; the defendant objected, and the motions were overruled. The petitioner then gave notice of the taking of testimony in Washington, D.C., whereupon the defendant moved to quash the notice upon the ground that the
The Government in its argument here, while submitting the case on the opinion of the Court of Claims and not confessing error, presents the view that section 155 of the Judicial Code does not apply to this suit, which was brought under the provisions of the Act of June 15, 1917. With respect to the matter of recognition, the Government appends to its brief a letter of the Secretary of State of the United States, under date of December 5, 1930, stating that "the Provisional Government of Russia, the successor of the Imperial Government of Russia, was recognized by the Government of the United States on March 22, 1917"; that, "according to the Department's information, the Provisional Government of Russia was overthrown by an armed uprising which took place in the early part of November, 1917," and that "the Government of the United States has not extended recognition to any regime established in Russia subsequent to the overthrow of the Provisional Government."
The Congress recognized this duty in authorizing the expropriation. The Act of June 15, 1917, under which the requisition was made, provided for the payment of just compensation. The Congress did not attempt to give to any officer or administrative tribunal the final authority to determine the amount of such compensation
The Act of June 15, 1917, makes no reference to section 155 of the Judicial Code with respect to alien suitors, and the question is whether that provision should be implied as establishing a condition precedent and the recovery thus be defeated. It is at once apparent that such an implication would lead to anomalous results. It would mean that, although the United States had actually taken possession of the property and was enjoying the advantages of its use, and the alien owner was unquestionably entitled to compensation at the time of the taking, it was the intention of the Congress that recovery should be denied, or at least be indefinitely postponed until the Congress made some other provision for the determination of the amount payable, if it appeared that citizens of the United States were not entitled to prosecute claims against the government of the alien's country in its courts, or that the United States did not recognize the regime which was functioning in that country.
We find no warrant for imputing to the Congress such an intention. "Acts of Congress are to be construed and applied in harmony with and not to thwart the purpose of the Constitution." Phelps v. United States, supra. The Fifth Amendment gives to each owner of property his individual right. The constitutional right of owner A to compensation when his property is taken is irrespective of what may be done somewhere else with the property of owner B. As alien friends are embraced within
Nor do we regard it as an admissible construction of the Act of June 15, 1917, to hold that the Congress intended that the right of an alien friend to recover just compensation should be defeated or postponed because of the lack of recognition by the Government of the United States of the regime in his country. A fortiori, as the right to compensation for which the Act provided sprang into existence at the time of the taking, there is no ground for saying that the statute was not to apply, if at a later date, and before compensation was actually made, there should be a revolution in the country of the owner and the ensuing regime should not be recognized. The question as presented here is not one of a claim advanced by or on behalf of a foreign government or regime, but is simply one of compensating an owner of property taken by the United States.
The Act of June 15, 1917, if read according to its terms, presents no difficulty. A condition should not be implied which, to say the least, would raise a grave question as to the constitutional validity of the Act. Federal Trade Comm. v. American Tobacco Co., 264 U.S. 298, 307; Missouri Pacific R. Co. v. Boone, 270 U.S. 466, 471, 472; Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U.S. 142, 148; Richmond Screw Anchor Co. v. United States, 275 U.S. 331, 346; Lucas v. Alexander, 279 U.S. 573, 577.