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Armstrong v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

March 28, 1960, Argued ; June 27, 1960, Decided

No. 270


 [*41]   [***1556]   [**1564]  MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this action petitioners assert materialmen's liens under state law for  [**1565]  materials furnished to a prime contractor building boats for the United States, and seek just compensation under the Fifth Amendment for the value of their liens [****3]  on accumulated materials and uncompleted work which have been conveyed to the United States.

The United States entered into a contract with the Rice Shipbuilding Corporation for the construction of 11 navy personnel boats. The contract provided that in the event of default by Rice, the Government could terminate the contract and require Rice to transfer title and deliver to the Government all completed  [***1557]  and uncompleted work together with all manufacturing materials acquired by Rice for building the boats. Petitioners furnished various materials to Rice for use in construction of the boats. Upon Rice's default, the Government exercised its option as to 10 of the boat hulls still under construction; Rice executed an itemized "Instrument of Transfer of Title" conveying to the United States the hulls and all manufacturing materials then on hand; and the Government removed all of these properties to out-of-state naval shipyards for use in the completion of the boats. When the transfer occurred, petitioners had not been paid for their materials and they have not been paid since. Petitioners therefore contended that they had liens under Maine law which provides that "whoever [****4]  furnishes labor or materials for building a vessel has a lien on it therefor, which may be enforced by attachment thereof within 4 days after it is launched . . . . He also has a lien on the materials furnished before they become part of the vessel, which may be enforced by attachment . . . ." Maine Rev. Stat., 1954, c. 178, § 13.

Claiming valid liens on the hulls and manufacturing materials at the time they were transferred by Rice to the  [*42]  United States, petitioners asserted that the Government's action destroyed their liens by making them unenforceable and that this constituted a taking of their property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. 1 The Court of Claims, relying on United States v. Ansonia Brass & Copper Co., 218 U.S. 452, held that petitioners never acquired valid liens on the hulls or the materials transferred to the Government and that therefore there had been no taking of any property owned by them.      Ct. Cl.    , 169 F.Supp. 259. We granted certiorari. 361 U.S. 812.

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364 U.S. 40 *; 80 S. Ct. 1563 **; 4 L. Ed. 2d 1554 ***; 1960 U.S. LEXIS 1860 ****



Disposition:      Ct. Cl.    , 169 F.Supp. 259, reversed.


liens, Fifth Amendment, petitioners', boats, just compensation, immunity, hulls, progress payment, attachment, destroyed, government action, transfer title, destruction, supplies, valid lien, uncompleted, contractor, default, rights, vessel

Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Eminent Domain & Takings, Admiralty & Maritime Law, Priority & Sources, Contracts, General Overview, Public Contracts Law, Governmental Immunities, Sovereign Immunity, Real Property Law, Liens, Nonmortgage Liens, Mechanics' Liens, Maritime Liens, Governments, Courts, Courts of Claims, Federal Government, Property, Enforcement, Practice & Procedure, Attachment & Garnishment, Business & Corporate Compliance, Transportation Law, Water Transportation, Licensing & Registration, Inverse Condemnation, Constitutional Issues, Regulatory Takings