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Sutcliffe Storage & Warehouse Co. v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Sutcliffe Storage & Warehouse Co. (Plaintiff) broke up its claim against the United States (Defendant) into four separate actions in order to keep each action under the district court’s $10,000 jurisdictional cap.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Separate actions filed over the terms of the same lease must be consolidated into one action even where the consolidated action will exceed the jurisdictional limit of the district court.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff rented space in its warehouse to the United States. Plaintiff discovered that the United States was occupying more space in the warehouse than had been agreed upon and sued to recover the rental value of the additional space. The district court did not have jurisdiction to hear claims against the United States for more than $10,000. All larger claims had to be filed in Washington with the court of claims. In order to keep the case before the district court, Plaintiff filed it as four separate actions alleging violations of the lease during four different time frames. The district court dismissed the second, third, and fourth actions, finding that all actions on the same lease must be consolidated. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that four separate causes of actions existed and that the four actions should be allowed because of the jurisdictional limits

    Issue.

    Must separate actions filed contemporaneously over the terms of the same lease be consolidated even though doing so will exceed the jurisdictional limit of the district court?

    Held.

    (Clark, J.) Yes. Separate actions filed over the terms of the same lease must be consolidated into one action even where the consolidated action will exceed the jurisdictional limit of the district court. The rule concerning claims for money due on running accounts or installments, such as a lease, is that the claim must include all amounts due at the time the action is filed. This policy exists to avoid courts relitigating the same issue in a series of lawsuits. There is no reason not to apply this rule merely because the defendant here is the United States. Had the first suit been decided by the district court, it would have barred all other claims by virtue of res judicata. Plaintiff must either file its claim in Washington in the court of claims or limit itself to recovery within the district court’s jurisdictional limit of $10,000. Affirmed.

    Discussion.

    A plaintiff may bring successive suits over unpaid installment payments as each becomes due. However, suing for an installment bars later suits for any missed payments predating the one sued upon. Some courts use this approach to bar a suit for property damage resulting from an accident when personal injury as a result of that same accident has already been tried.


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