In 1918 Sydney C. McLouth contracted to construct nine tugs for the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation. On May 24, 1920, the contract was cancelled and the parties entered into a settlement agreement providing that McLouth was to keep as bailee certain materials furnished him for use in building the tugs and that the Fleet Corporation was to assume certain of McLouth's subcontracts and commitments. Among the commitments assumed was a contract of McLouth's
Because of different views of other federal courts as to the decisions of this Court in the important federal field of cross-claims against the United States,
The statute of Michigan under which this ascertainment of indebtedness was made, so far as pertinent, is set out in the footnote.
The state procedure for the determination of the balance against or in favor of an estate, which was employed here, was the recognized method of closing an estate at the time of the probate judgment. The probate judge was empowered to act as commissioner under the statute quoted above.
Whether that jurisdiction exists depends upon the effect of the voluntary submission to the Michigan court by the United States of its claim against the estate. As a foundation for the examination of that question we may lay the postulate that without specific statutory consent, no suit may be brought against the United
Respondent contends this immunity extends, however, only to original suits; that when a sovereign voluntarily seeks the aid of the courts for collection of its indebtedness
It is not our right to extend the waiver of sovereign immunity more broadly than has been directed by the Congress. We, of course, intimate no opinion as to the desirability of further changes. That is immaterial. Against the background of complete immunity we find no Congressional action modifying the immunity rule in favor of cross-actions beyond the amount necessary as a set-off.
The Thekla turns upon a relationship characteristic of claims for collision in admiralty but entirely absent in claims and cross-claims in settlement of estates. The subject matter of a suit for damages in collision is not the vessel libelled but the collision. Libels and cross-libels for collision are one litigation and give rise to one
"The objection to a suit against the United States is fundamental, whether it be in the form of an original action or a set-off or a counterclaim. Jurisdiction in either case does not exist unless there is specific congressional authority for it. Nor is there doubt that the question is one which involves the jurisdiction of the District Court as a federal court under the statutes of the United States, for the jurisdiction of the District Court in this regard is wholly dependent on such statutes."
There is little indication in the facts or language of The Thekla to indicate an intention to permit generally unlimited cross-claims. Quotations from The Thekla in later opinions of this Court are used to illustrate problems
The suggestion that the order of the probate court is in reality not a judgment but only a "judicial ascertainment" of credits does not affect our conclusion. No judgment against the United States is more than that. But such an entry, if within the competence of the court passing the order, would be res judicata of the issue of indebtedness.
"Without extending the argument, we adopt the views expressed by this court in the case of De Groot v. United States, (5 Wall. 432) decided at the last term, that when the United States is plaintiff and the defendant has pleaded a set-off, which the acts of Congress have authorized him to do, no judgment can be rendered against the government, although it may be judicially ascertained that, on striking a balance of just demands, the government is indebted to the defendant in an ascertained amount."
The Court had just written that no action could be sustained against the government without consent and that to permit a demand in set-off to become the foundation of a judgment would be the same thing as sustaining the prosecution of a suit.
In the Eckford case this Court was dealing with the litigation at a more advanced stage than the present litigation
We have considered respondent's further argument that sovereign immunity was waived when the United States took possession of the assets of its agent the Fleet Corporation prior to the institution of this action, and later, but prior to the entry of the probate judgment appealed from, assumed the Corporation's obligations by the act of June 29, 1936.
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS took no part in the decision of this case.
"Set-offs in settlement of claims. Sec. 9. When a creditor against whom the deceased had claims shall present a claim to the commissioners, the executor or administrator shall exhibit the claims of the deceased in offset to the claims of the creditor, and the commissioners shall ascertain and allow the balance against or in favor of the estate, as they shall find the same to be; but no claim barred by the statute of limitations shall be allowed by the commissioners in favor of or against the estate, as a set-off or otherwise."
"SEC. 203. The United States Shipping Board Merchant Fleet Corporation shall cease to exist and shall stand dissolved. All the records, books, papers, and corporate property of said dissolved corporation shall be taken over by the Commission. All existing contractual obligations of the dissolved corporation shall be assumed by the United States. Any suit against the dissolved corporation pending in any court of the United States shall be defended by the Commission upon behalf of the United States, under the supervision of the Attorney General, and any judgment obtained against the dissolved corporation in any such pending suit shall be reported to Congress in the manner provided in section 226, title 31, United States Code, for reporting judgments against the United States in the Court of Claims."