United States v. Isthmian Steamship Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Isthmian Steamship Company
LOCATION: Fargo, North Dakota

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

CITATION: 359 US 314 (1959)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1959
DECIDED: Apr 27, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Isthmian Steamship Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1959 (Part 1) in United States v. Isthmian Steamship Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1959 (Part 2) in United States v. Isthmian Steamship Company

Clement C. Rinehart:

-- to appoint but I think Mr. Spritzer gave a wrong impression about the second suit, the independent suit filed by the Government on the -- the identical cause of action, the identical words, was brought before, the set off was pleaded in this case.

And that suit still is going on to -- to the issue and testimony has been taken but the Government doesn't proceed with it because they're waiting to hear how this case comes out.

So we have the result that the identical words appeal on two pieces of paper, one of them is called an answer in this suit and the other is called a libel in the independent suit that's still pending and they will be decided before the same judges and the merits of the case will be determined.

And that also satisfies the -- the requirement of Section 227 that you spoke of, Mr. Justice Whittaker because that only requires a new suit to be brought by the Government in case a judgment is recovered against the Government on the -- respondents claim here.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, what does your -- what does your --

Clement C. Rinehart:

If the debt is not already in suit.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

What does your client gain by his victory here, I don't follow with any --

Clement C. Rinehart:

Well, our -- our client gains exactly the thing that I think is one of the reasons that the Government doesn't want this to happen.

If the Government -- if we obtain the decree or hold the decree which we now have, then the Government is required to either accept our claim or to assert its -- or prosecute its suit, its independent suit to a conclusion.

And if it fails to do so, then we are entitled successfully, then the statute expressly provides Section 227 of Title 31 that as compensation for the delay, our client is entitled to interest.

Congress has so provided and that's the remedy that they were entitled to have of what -- they get to this set off voice, why of course, that's a different sort of situation.

And you would get -- in other words, you would get the full amount of your judgment in cash --

Clement C. Rinehart:

Yes, sir.

-- subject to the Government's right in this other suit or under a new proceeding under this other section to suit to recover the amount on the other claim.

Clement C. Rinehart:

Well, we wouldn't get any cash, Your Honor, until their suit had been concluded because they have a suit pending and the general accounting office would be entitled to withhold payment of our judgment until that other suit was concluded.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Mr. Rinehart, may I see if I understand what you said that interest only is involved.

Isn't what the Government sought to do in this case was to prosecute this independent claim at the same trial?

And would you not be entitled to interest in any case on your claim?

Clement C. Rinehart:

Well, as I understood the suit -- I mean the question that was asked by, Mr. Justice Brennan, as what difference it makes to us now --

Charles E. Whittaker:


Clement C. Rinehart:

-- to our client now.

And I -- I -- I think that --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, I -- I --

Clement C. Rinehart:

-- that was my answer.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

-- I understand why you understood it that way, I didn't phrase it too well.

But what I -- the question I meant to ask was the one that Justice Whittaker is reaching now.

Could not this whole thing have been disposed of in the one suit without any disadvantage to your client?

Clement C. Rinehart:

Well, I think that that is probably so except that within the violation of the Admiralty Rule and that is -- that's in this particular case was because I think that the cross claim that the Government has set up is within admiralty jurisdiction but the moment you -- you depart from the rule, you get into all the troubles that you have in Admiralty where you have limited jurisdiction over the subject matter.

You have actions in rem and you -- and all sorts of complications that would arise and that's one reason why I think that it would be wrong for the Court, on the basis of the facts in one particular litigation to make a change in the general rule which has existed for nearly a century and a half and presumably with good reason.

And it -- it should be done by independent rule making if it is to be done when all the pros and cons can properly be considered, but not on the basis of the record of particular facts in the particular case.