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Richter v. United States

November 16, 1961

B. NATHANIEL RICHTER AND ELWOOD S. LEVY, APPELLANTS
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.



Author: Goodrich

Before GOODRICH, STALEY and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

GOODRICH, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiffs effected a settlement with a railroad in a Federal Employers' Liability Act case and paid part of the recovery to the United States under statutory provision. They now claim counsel fees against the Government on that part of the settlement paid to it. Plaintiffs lost in the court below. 190 F.Supp. 159 (1960).

The facts are undisputed. The plaintiffs, as lawyers, secured on behalf of an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad the sum of $16,800. The railroad, in satisfaction of a lien of the Railroad Retirement Board, paid the United States $2,210. This sum represented the amount of benefits previously paid by the United States to the employee as compensation for disability arising from the accident. The remainder of the settlement was paid to the appellants who, in accordance with a contingent fee arrangement, retained $4,639.41 and turned the remainder over to the injured employee. What the appellants now want from the United States is one-third of what was paid to the Government pursuant to the provisions of the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act.

The plaintiffs base their claim on the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2). This gives a district court jurisdiction in claims against the United States founded upon an act of Congress or upon either express or implied contract with the United States.*fn1 The argument for the appellants suggests that the district judge denied them relief on the basis that there was no implied contract with the United States within the meaning of the Tucker Act. They now say that this is not the theory of their case at all. In their words, "they depend upon the 'founded upon an Act of Congress' provision of the Tucker Act jurisdictional declarations."

The relevant portion of the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act provides that the Board is entitled to reimbursement from any damages paid to an employee through suit on or settlement of any liability.*fn2

The act itself makes no provision for counsel fees for those who effect the recovery for the injured workman. Nor does the act make any statement against counsel fees. The section referred to obviously is to protect the interest of the United States.*fn3 The plaintiffs say, however, that, even though the act does not provide for an attorney's fee, they should be allowed to recover one either under Pennsylvania law or general federal equity principles. The theory is that the attorney who, by efforts, created the fund should be entitled to reimbursement from the Government on the principle of preventing unjust enrichment. Restatement, Restitution §§ 1, 105(2).

The minute this argument is made, however, it puts the claim outside the Tucker Act altogether. The claim is then based not upon a statute of the United States, but rather on general equitable principles. There is no basis in the Tucker Act at all for the assertion of these. In spite of the multitude of citations with which we have been deluged, the point seems to us perfectly clear.

Then it is suggested that, even though the act does not expressly provide for attorneys' fees in this case, the appellant should be entitled to a fee. The employee, it is said, is the only one who can retain an attorney to benefit both himself and the Board. Therefore, since the employee did so and did benefit both the Board and himself through the lawyer's efforts, the lawyer by proper implication from the act should be paid.

We find no basis for taking any such liberty with the statute. What we are in effect asked to do is to write in a provision which is not there. We think we are no more entitled to redraft the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act than we are to tinker with a provision in the Internal Revenue Code. Cf. Evans v. Dudley, 3d Cir., 295 F.2d 713. There is nothing in the legislative history to which we are cited that says anything for or against attorneys' fees in this situation. Congress when it desires to make provision for attorneys' fees knows perfectly well how to do so, as it has in the Federal Employees' Compensation Act*fn4 and an abundance of other situations.*fn5 It has not done so here and we do not think it a proper subject for court action.

The judgment of the district court will ...


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