Summary of United States Court of Claims

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This article originally appeared in "Court Records" by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, FUGA, Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA, and Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D. in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

This article describes the development and the growth of jurisdiction of the United States Court of Claims.

Jurisdiction Date Established Date Abolished Indexes Located
Investigate, report findings to Congress General jurisdiction, violations of contracts entered into by government agencies, violations of Indian treaties, patent infringements, unlawful imprisonment, over assessment of overpayments of taxes, payment of army, navy, civilian personnel, and unlawful seizure of property. 1855 1863 Cases indexed in Cases Decided in the Court of Claims of the United States 1855-1863 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1867). Court of Claims
Try claims, render final judgment. 1863 Court of Claims
Admiralty claims. 1930(1) Court of Claims
Equity claims 1870 Court of Claims
Appeals to Supreme Court, plaintiff over $3,000, defendant all cases. 1866(2) 1925(3) Supreme Court records in the National Archives
District of Columbia-jurisdiction cases. 1880 1915(4) Court of Claims
Cases originally handled by Congressional committees. The majority were claims for seizure of stores, supplies, and damages resulting from the occupation of Union troops during the Civil War. 1883, 1887 Indexes 1884-1943 on microfilm M2007, U.S. Court of Claims Docket Cards for Congressional Case Files, ca 1884-1943. 5 rolls.
Claims under interdepartmental agencies. Also includes naval bounty claims arising from the Spanish-American War. 1883, 1887 Court of Claims
Claims arising from depredations by French warships and privateers on American commerce, 1793-1801 (French spoliations). Court to investigate and report to Congress. The U.S. abandoned all claims for reparations against France in 1801, but the claimants continued to press for payment. 5,574 claims were filed with the court; all claims were settled with heirs. 1885 1908 Indexes to the files are in RG 205, Records of the Court of Claims Section (Justice). Included is the publication French Spoliation Awards by the Court of Claims of the United States Under the Act of January 20, 1885 (Washington: U.S. Court of Claims, 1934) which gives the name of each original claimant, vessel, master, and case file number.
Concurrent jurisdiction given to federal district courts under $1,000; to circuit courts $1,000-$10,000. 1887 Pertinent district or circuit courts
Claims for property taken or destroyed by Indians under treaty with the U.S. government, 1814-91 (Indian Depredations). Cases usually involve isolated miners, ranchers, towns, stage coaches, wagon trains, and railroad lines. 1891(5) 1915 1920 Same as French cases above. List of claims 49th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Exec. Doc 125, serial 2399
Indian claims. In 1946, Indians were given the right to present claims against the U.S. government like other U.S. citizens. 1946 Court of Claims, 400 cases to 1960
1. Since 1930, only foreigners can sue for admiralty claims in this court. Citizens must petition federal admiralty courts.
2. The law of 1863 gave right of appeal to the Supreme Court, but the court refused to hear appeals that were reviewable by the Department of the Treasury. Treasury jurisdiction was abolished in 1866.
3. Since 1925, the Supreme Court has had the right to choose the cases it hears.
4. A large number of cases arising from long-standing Civil War claims were canceled. The number of cases handled after 1915 was small.
5. From 1796 to 1891, cases heard by Department of the Interior and its predecessors, report made to Congress. Few awards were made before 1891.