West Virginia v. United States

PETITIONER: West Virginia
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Craig, Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 85-937
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 479 US 305 (1987)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1986
DECIDED: Jan 13, 1987

Albert G. Lauber, Jr. - on behalf of the respondent
Charles G. Brown - on behalf of the petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for West Virginia v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1986 in West Virginia v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument first this morning in No. 85-937, West Virginia versus the United States.

You may proceed whenever you are ready, Mr. Brown.

Charles G. Brown:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, in 1972, amid torrential rains, a dam burst in southern West Virginia.

The valley below was flooded.

Over 100 people were killed.

Thousands were left homeless, and millions of dollars of property damage ensued.

There was an immediate federal-state cooperative effort to deal with the tragedy, a joint effort by both, each side spending millions of dollars of appropriated funds.

One of the efforts dealt with housing.

The Federal Government supplied housing units.

The state supplied the land.

And the Army Corps of Engineers prepared the sites.

They prepared the sites in a relationship under which the District Court found to be a contract between the Federal and state government.

Although finding a contract existed, the District Court held that prejudgment interest would not be allowed against the United States.

The Court of Appeals reversed, applying cases involving private litigants in suits against the United States.

William H. Rehnquist:

You mean in favor of the United States, don't you, rather than against the United States?

Charles G. Brown:

Reversed... the Fourth Circuit reversed in favor of the United States... excuse me... applying cases involving private litigants in suits against the Federal Government.

Excuse me, Mr. Chief Justice.

We contend two points on oral argument today.

One is that the Fourth Circuit erred by equating the state and private parties, and two, the prejudgment interest may not be awarded without Act of Congress or consent against a state.

Number One.

States are not private litigants.

The Fourth Circuit committed error when it put states into the shoes of private litigants on the prejudgment interest issue.

The last time the Court dealt with the question it explicitly rejected exactly the same argument, Board of Commissioners of Jackson County, Kansas, versus United States, in which Justice Frankfurter, for the Court, said,

"Nothing seems to us more appropriate than due regard for local institutions and local interests. "

The Fourth Circuit did not even cite Board of Commissioners of Jackson County, Kansas.

The Congress subsequently has acted as well and acted in the same direction in the Debt Collection Act.

The Congress excluded state and local governments from the statute, so Congress as well believes that states and private litigants are two different entities indeed when it comes to prejudgment interest.

The more recent cases since Board of Commissioners are along the same lines which this Court has dealt with.

Congress is to decide the constitutional balance between Federal and state governments.

In Garcia, the Court said that Congress would determine the reach, how far the relationship would go, how far Congress would reach into the power of states, and that is a Congressional decision.