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312 U.S. 600

No. 484, Argued March 6, 1941 -- Decided March 31, 1941


CERTIORARI, 311 U.S. 639, to review the affirmance of a judgment of the District Court, 31 F.Supp. 848, dismissing the complaint in an action by the United States to recover treble damages under 7 of the Sherman Act.

1. While the United States is a juristic person in the sense that it can sue upon its contracts or in vindication of its property rights, the term "person" does not include the sovereign, in common usage, nor, ordinarily, when employed in statutes. P. 604.

2. The Sherman Antitrust Act, in creating new rights and remedies, allowed two classes of actions, -- those made available only to the Government, and a right of action for treble damages granted to redress private injury. P. 608.

3. Section 7 of the Act, granting the right of action for treble damages, to "any person" injured in his business or property by "any other person or corporation" by reason of anything forbidden by the Act, does not give the United States a civil action for damages. P. 606 et seq.

The text of the Act, taken in its natural and ordinary sense, makes against the extension of the term "person" to include the United States; and the usual aids to construction support this conclusion.

The words "any person," in 7, are broad enough to include the United States, because it is a juristic person and as such is ordinarily entitled to all legal remedies available to anyone else. Dugan v. United States, 3 Wheat. 172, 181; United States v. Gear, 3 How. 120; Cotton v. United States, 11 How. 228, 231.

Section 8 was added for the purpose of making certain that corporations would be subject to the Act and not for the purpose of narrowing the scope of 7. Any other construction of 8 would turn words of inclusion into words of crippling limitation. Moreover, if Congress had intended to exclude the United States in 8 it would have done so expressly and without ambiguity.

Inasmuch as 7 is not limited by 8, the words "any person" in 7 should be given the broad meaning which Congress intended. The fact that 7 does not refer expressly to the United States is not controlling. Stanley v. Schwalby, 147 U.S. 508, 517; Helvering v. Stockholms Enskilda Bank, 293 U.S. 84, 91-92; Nardone v. United States, 302 U.S. 379. The statute is remedial and should be liberally construed. Because it confers a general right or remedy, the United States is entitled to its benefits even though not expressly named. Dollar Savings Bank v. United States, 19 Wall. 227, 239.

The facts that the United States is the largest purchaser of goods in the country and that its purchases are paid for with public funds are persuasive reasons for giving to it the remedy created by 7. Experience has shown that the United States, like any other purchaser, can be victimized by combinations and conspiracies. The other remedies given by the Act to the United States in its sovereign or governmental capacity do not enable the United States to deal with the problem of collusive bidding nor do they protect it when it has been required by circumstances to purchase at collusive and noncompetitive prices. There is no force in the argument that the remedies given to the United States by way of indictment or injunction are exclusive; those remedies cannot protect its proprietary interests or compensate it for the damages which respondents have inflicted upon it.

If 8 is to be regarded as limiting or qualifying 7, then the words of 8 should be construed as including the United States. The United States can properly be regarded as a corporation or an association existing under and authorized by the laws of the United States. The definition of "person" in 8 is obviously drawn to include all kinds of corporations and associations. The purpose of the definition is not served by drawing artificial distinctions between the United States and other corporations and associations.

The legislative history of the antitrust laws does not support the conclusion that Congress intended to discriminate against the United States and to deprive it of a remedy open to every other juristic person. Davis v. Pringle, 268 U.S. 315, is not controlling here. There the United States was seeking priority in the distribution of the assets of an insolvent estate. Here the United States seeks not priority but equality of treatment with all other juristic persons. Furthermore, the statute involved in Davis v. Pringle, supra, gave to the United States a limited right of priority and the Court regarded this circumstance as indicating that Congress did not intend to give any broader right of priority. Here, unless the United States can sue under 7, it is without a remedy and cannot recover in any way for the damages which respondents have inflicted upon it. The subsequent legislative history of the Bankruptcy Act and subsequent decisions of this Court create grave doubt as to whether Davis v. Pringle, supra, lays down any principle which now possesses vitality.

Failure of the United States to assert its rights under 7 is not entitled to any weight whatsoever as an administrative interpretation of the statute. Union Stock Yard Co. v. United States, 308 U.S. 213, 224; Louisville & N. R. Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 740, 757, 759; Kansas City So. Ry. Co. v. United States, 252 U.S. 147, 151.

The Government is inviting this Court, as it has unsuccessfully invited the two courts below, to undertake, as a judicial function, powers of legislation.

If the United States needs any general right to sue for damages under the Act, it needs at most a right to sue for simple damages; no necessity exists to punish through threefold damages in addition to fines, imprisonment, injunctions and forfeitures. It does not need the right to sue for treble damages in order to obtain desired prices on defense projects. The Government has in its possession weapons far more potent to achieve that result -- as, e. g., its right to threaten, and if need be to use, the statutory right of taking over the property of a vendor who refuses to sell at prices deemed by the Government to be reasonable. Section 9 of the Act of Sept. 16, 1940, c. 720, 54 Stat. 885.

The Government must have statutory authorization before it can sue for treble damages under the Sherman Act. Such statutory authorization was intentionally denied by Congress.

That authority to sue for treble damages under the Sherman Act is lacking, has been the view of the courts, the Department of Justice, and Congress, uniformly, for fifty years.

114 F.2d 413, affirmed.

Mr. Justice Murphy took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

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