Koller v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Senate

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 359 US 309 (1959)
ARGUED: Mar 26, 1959 / Mar 30, 1959
DECIDED: Apr 20, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Koller v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1959 in Koller v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 1959 in Koller v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 362, Raymond Jerean Koller and Martin Silverbrook, Petitioners, versus United States of America.

Mr. Malis, you had finished your opening argument, you do?

Robert H. Malis:

Yes, sir.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Kestenbaum, you may proceed.

Lionel Kestenbaum:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case involves a fraudulent misuse of veterans priority established under the Surplus Property Act of 1944.

In this Act, the Congress provided for the disposal of vast quantity of goods which would be left over at the end of the Second World War.

The statutory objective included fair distribution of goods, avoidance of dislocation of the economy, discouragement of speculation, and encouragement of small business specifically aid to returning veterans was mentioned.

By 1946 Amendment, veterans were given a priority second only to that of the federal government.

And in addition to that, the veterans were given the exclusive right to acquire certain specific types and quantities of property which was set aside for them.

These -- a lot of types and quantities and property could be acquired by veterans who desire to acquire them for their own personal use or for the establishment and maintenance of their own small business.

Now, petitioners, Koller and Silverbrook were veterans who applied for and obtained these priority certificates.

They -- instead of using them for the purposes to which were intended and which were certified in their application, they sold them to a third party.

Koller executed two fraudulent applications and this -- his certificates were used by the third party to purchase two trucks and one car.

Silverbrook's certificate was used to purchase six busses and three trucks.

Both petitioners were indicted to these fraudulent acts.

They pleaded guilty, and they each paid small fines.

In the present case as Mr. Malis stated the third day, the Government has to enforce civil remedies provided by this Act, the Surplus Property Act of 1944.

Section 26 (b) sets forth three alternative measures of recovery and the first one was the one used here, $2000 for each fraudulent act and double damages.

Summary judgment was granted against Koller for $4000, against Silverbrook for $2000.

The petitioners' only defense was that the suit was barred by statute of limitations because it is not been brought within five years of the acts complained of.

There's no statute of limitations in the Surplus Property Act itself, the -- one rely to parties, one contained in Title 28, Section 2462 imposing a five-year limitation upon suits for a civil fine, penalty or forfeiture.

The courts below -- both courts below relied upon the decision of this Court only three years ago, Rex Trailer Company versus United States and held that the recovery sought by the Government and obtained by the Government was not such as civil fine, penalty or forfeiture.

Now, the petitioners do not dispute that damage to the Government could be anticipated from violations of this Act.

There's none for that matter that damage was actually sustained here.

And I think the problem can be put in a perspective by examining the elements of damage which the Court set forth in Rex Trailer Company versus United States.

First, the policy of the Congress concerning disposal of this property were frustrated.

The fraud diverted the vehicles, these 12 vehicles from veterans or other priority claimants who were entitled to them.

Second, Mr. Justice Clark in Rex Trailer Company pointed out that there was a pecuniary loss suffered by the United States.

The sale on these priority certificates was at a much lower price than petitioners or anyone else could have paid -- could have paid for these vehicles on the open market.