The facts certified by the Court of Claims may be thus summarized: Plaintiff brought suit as owner of gold certificates of the Treasury of the United States of the nominal amount of $106,300. He alleged that defendant, by these gold certificates and under the applicable acts of Congress, had certified that there had been deposited in the Treasury of the United States $106,300 in gold coin which would be paid to the claimant, as holder, upon demand; that at the time of the issue of these certificates, and to and including January 17, 1934, a dollar in gold consisted of 25.8 grains of gold, .9 fine; that claimant was entitled to receive from defendant one ounce of gold for each $20.67 of the gold certificates; that on January 17, 1934, he duly presented the certificates and demanded their redemption by the payment of gold coin to the extent above mentioned; that on that date, and for some time prior and subsequent thereto, an ounce of gold was of the value of at least $33.43, and that claimant was accordingly entitled to receive in redemption 5104.22 ounces of gold of the value of $170,634.07; that the demand was refused; that in view of the penalties imposed under the order of the Secretary of the Treasury, approved by the President, on January 15, 1934, supplementing the order of December 28, 1933, and the laws and regulations under which those orders were issued, which the claimant alleged were unconstitutional as constituting a deprivation of property without due process of law, claimant delivered the gold certificates to defendant under protest and received in exchange currency of the United States in the sum of $106,300 which was not redeemable
Defendant demurred to the petition upon the ground that it did not state a cause of action against the United States.
The questions certified by the Court are as follows:
"1. Is an owner of gold certificates of the United States, Series of 1928, not holding a Federal license to acquire or hold gold coins or gold certificates, who, on January 17, 1934, had surrendered his certificates to the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States under protest and had received therefor legal tender currency of equivalent face amount, entitled to receive from the United States a further sum inasmuch as the weight of a gold dollar was 25.8 grains, nine-tenths fine, and the market price thereof on January 17, 1934, was in excess of the currency so received?
"2. Is a gold certificate, Series of 1928, under the facts stated in question 1 an express contract of the United States in its corporate or proprietary capacity which will enable its owner and holder to bring suit thereon in the Court of Claims?
"3. Do the provisions of the Emergency Banking Act of March 9, 1933, and the Order of the Secretary of the Treasury dated December 28, 1933, requiring the plaintiff as owner of gold certificates as stated in question 1 to deliver the same to the Treasury of the United States in exchange for currency of an equivalent amount, not redeemable in gold, amount to a taking of property within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?"
Defendant's demurrer, which admitted the facts well pleaded in the petition, did not admit allegations which amounted to conclusions of law in relation to the nature of the gold certificates or the legal effect of the legislation
Gold certificates were authorized by § 5 of the Act of March 3, 1863 (12 Stat. 709, 711), which provided that the Secretary of the Treasury might receive "deposits of gold coin and bullion" and issue certificates therefor "in denominations of not less than twenty dollars each, corresponding with the denominations of the United States notes." The coin and bullion so deposited were to be retained in the treasury for the payment of the certificates on demand. It was further provided that "certificates representing coin in the treasury may be issued in payment of interest on the public debt, which certificates, together with those issued for coin and bullion deposited, shall not at any time exceed twenty per centum beyond the amount of coin and bullion in the treasury." See R.S., § 254; 31 U.S.C. 428. Section 12 of the Act of July 12, 1882 (22 Stat. 165) contained a further provision authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury "to receive deposits of gold coin" and to issue certificates therefor, also in denominations of dollars as stated. The Act of March 14, 1900 (31 Stat. 45) prescribed that the dollar "consisting of twenty-five and eight-tenths grains of gold nine-tenths fine, . . . shall be the standard unit of value, and all forms of money issued or coined by the United States shall be maintained at a parity of value with this standard, and it shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to maintain such parity." Section 6 of that Act also authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to receive deposits of gold coin and to issue gold certificates therefor, and provided that the coin so deposited should be held by the treasury for the payment of such certificates on demand and should be "used for no other purpose."
The Act of December 24, 1919 (41 Stat. 370) made gold certificates, payable to bearer on demand, "legal tender in payment of all debts and dues, public and private." And § 2 of the Joint Resolution of June 5, 1933 (48 Stat. 113), amending the Act of May 12, 1933 (48 Stat. 52) provided that "all coins and currencies of the United States . . . heretofore or hereafter coined or issued, shall be legal tender for all debts, public and private, public charges, taxes, duties and dues."
Gold certificates under this legislation were required to be issued in denominations of dollars and called for the payment of dollars.
We may lay on one side the question whether the issue of currency of this description created an express contract upon which the United States has consented to be sued under the provisions of § 145 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. 250. Compare Horowitz v. United States, 267 U.S. 458, 461.
By § 3 of the Emergency Banking Act of March 9, 1933 (48 Stat. 2), amending § 11 of the Federal Reserve Act (39 Stat. 752), the Secretary of the Treasury was authorized, whenever in his judgment it was necessary
Plaintiff explicitly states his concurrence in the Government's contention that the Congress has complete authority to regulate the currency system of the country. He does not deny that, in exercising that authority, the Congress had power "to appropriate unto the Government outstanding gold bullion, gold coin and gold certificates." Nor does he deny that the Congress had authority "to compel all residents of this country to deliver unto the Government all gold bullion, gold coins and gold certificates in their possession." These powers could not be successfully challenged." Knox v. Lee, 12 Wall. 457; Juilliard v. Greenman, 110 U.S. 421; Ling Su Fan v. United States, 218 U.S. 302; Norman v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., decided this day, ante, p. 240. The question plaintiff presents is thus simply one of "just compensation."
The asserted basis of plaintiff's claim for actual damages is that, by the terms of the gold certificates, he was
To support his claim, plaintiff says that on January 17, 1934, "an ounce of gold was of the value at least of $33.43." His petition so alleged and he contends that the allegation was admitted by the demurrer. But the assertion of that value of gold in relation to gold coin in this country, in view of the applicable legislative requirements, necessarily involved a conclusion of law. Under those requirements, there was not on January 17, 1934, a free market for gold in the United States, or any market
The first question submitted by the Court of Claims is answered in the negative. It is unnecessary to answer the second question. And, in the circumstances shown, the third question is academic and also need not be answered.
Question No. 1 is answered "No."
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS, MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER, MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND, and MR. JUSTICE BUTLER dissent. See post, p. 361.
"This certifies that there have been deposited in the Treasury of
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS
in gold coin payable to the bearer on demand.
"This certificate is a legal tender in the amount thereof in payment of all debts and dues public and private."
On the reverse side appear the following words:
"THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS."