United States v. Oregon

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Alabama General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 366 US 643 (1961)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 1961
DECIDED: May 29, 1961

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Oregon

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 1961 in United States v. Oregon

Earl Warren:

Number 329, United States etcetera, et al, Petitioners, versus Oregon.

Mr. Morris.

Herbert E. Morris:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case involved the competing claims of the United States, this trustee of the Post Fund of VA Hospitals and Homes in the State of Oregon to the personalty of Adam Warpouske, a veteran who died without heirs or will in a Veterans' Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

The Post Fund covers expenditures for recreational and religious purposes for veterans in hospitals and homes.

The Government's claim is based on the provisions of 38 U.S.C. 17 -- 17 (j), important provisions of which I'll discuss in a moment in my argument.

The statute provides in essence that whenever any veteran dies as a patient receiving free care and treatment leaving neither heirs nor will, the money goes to the Post Fund for the sole benefit and use of these veterans left in this institution.

The State's claim is based on this escheat statute.

The facts are relatively simple and are these.

Warpouske, a Word War I veteran, suffered from a non-service connected mental disability which he incurred during the 1920s and from which he suffered thereafter.

Between 1930 and 1945, he entered veteran hospitals and homes on 14 separate occasions, spending a total of seven years in these institutions receiving free care and treatment for both mental and physical impairment.

He signed applications on these entries saying he was unable to bear the cause, he was a non-service connected case, and agreeing to leave the property within the terms of this statute.

Now, the events leading up to his final stay in a Veterans' Hospital and the dispute here commenced in December of 1955.

On that day, on December 31st, 1955, Mr. Warpouske was admitted to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland for treatment of a hip fracture and a cerebral hemorrhage.

This was a private hospital.

On January 5th, 1956, shortly thereafter, because it appeared that he was without fund, the State transferred him to the Multnomah County Hospital for treatment at the County's expense.

During his period both in the Oregon Hospital and subsequently in the Veterans' Hospital, Mr. Warpouske was mentally incompetent and also in the state of coma or semi-coma continuing.

On March 1st, 1956, he was transferred by state officials to the Veterans' Hospital in Portland.

On March 9th, it was discovered that he just become heir -- sole heir to the estate of a brother who predeceased him in a Veterans' Hospital in Wisconsin.

On March 19th, 1956, he died without heirs or will.

He left the net estate of some $13,000.

The estate was paid, as they always are under the statute, the Federal Government did not contest their right to reimbursement for their public hospital care and treatment, so that for the Multnomah County care and treatment he -- the estate was paid.

The estate conceded to the United States about a thousand dollars, an unused pension fund and that is in -- in dispute here.

What is in dispute is the remaining $12,000.

Now, the trial court rule at this statute, on which the Government relies for support here, is based on the prerequisite of an actual common law contract but since Warpouske was mentally incompetent, could not and did not enter into such a contract, the property at personalty did not pass United States but went to the estate under this escheat statute.

The Supreme Court of Oregon on -- on appeal by United States affirmed taking the same basic view of the statute.

It's view with influence largely by this Court's decision in United States versus Stevens, which we shall discuss, and by certain constitutional consideration, which we shall also discuss.

The Government's argument is divided in a two essential part.

The first is that this statute, the provisions of which can be found on pages 3 to 7 of the Government's brief, constitute a self-executing or automatic statute.

The only important considerations are that a veteran die at the patient in a veterans' hospital or home leaving neither heirs nor will and then the money vest for use of other veterans in terms of Post Fund expenditure.