United States Court of Federal Claims
The Court of Federal Claims hears cases brought by U.S. citizens against the Federal government to recover monetary damages. The Court’s Web site posts court rules, forms, contact information, judicial bios, etc. (www.uscfc.uscourts.gov).
Opinions: The Court posts its published and unpublished opinions back to 1997 for published opinions, and back to 2005 for unpublished opinions. The Court’s opinions are searchable on Lexis (GENFED;CLAIMS for 1856-Current), Westlaw (FEDCL for 1945-Current; FEDCL-OLD for 1856-1944) and Versuslaw (1997-Current).
Rules and Forms: The Court posts its Rules and Forms. The court’s rules are also published in the Court Rules volume at the end of Title 28 in the United States Code Annotated (USCA), and in the “Special Courts” section of a Court Rules volume at the end of the United States Code Service (USCS).
Docket Sheets: Docket sheets are available through PACER. For commercial providers, see “Docket Sheets” in this legal Encyclopedia.
Case Files: Documents from recent cases are available as of 2003 through PACER. Otherwise, you can get copies from the Clerk’s Office (202-357-6400). Alternatively you can hire a document retrieval service to get copies for you.
History of the Claims Courts: The United States Court of Federal Claim was created in 1982 to handle the trial court responsibilities of the former the United States Court of Claims (the appellate court responsibilities were merged into the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit). “From Oct. 1, 1982 until Oct. 28, 1992, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims was named the United States Claims Court. The Court’s name was changed as part of the Federal Court Administration Act of 1992, Pub. L. No. 102-572” (from the Court’s Web site). For more Claims Court history, see the court history brochure.
Opinions of the Claims Court and its predecessors are searchable on Lexis back to 1856 in the same file as opinions from the Court of Federal Claims (GENFED;CLAIMS). On Westlaw, opinions of the Claims Court and predecessor courts back to 1945 are searchable with current Court of Federal Claims opinions (FEDCL), while older opinions back to 1856 are searchable in a separate file (FEDCL-OLD).
The United States government cannot be sued by anyone, in any court, for any reason, without its consent. The government may be taken to court only in cases in which Congress declares that the United States is open to suit.
The government is shielded from suit by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The doctrine comes from an ancient principle of English public law summed up by the phrase: “The King can do no wrong.” The rule is not intended to protect public officials from charges of corruption or any other wrongdoing. Rather, it is intended to prevent government from being hamstrung in its own courts. Congress has long since agreed to a long list of legitimate court actions against the government.
Originally, a person with a claim against the United States could secure redress –satisfaction of a claim, payment–only by an act of Congress. In 1855, however, Congress set up the Court of Claims to hear such pleas (Congress acted under its expressed power to pay the debts of the United States, Article I, Section 8, Clause 1). That body became the United States Court of Federal Claims in 1993.
The Court of Federal Claims is composed of 16 judges appointed by the President and approved by the Senate for 15-year terms. They hold trials throughout the country, hearing claims for damages against the Federal Government. Those claims they uphold cannot in fact be paid until Congress appropriates the money, which it does almost as a matter of standard procedure. Appeals from the court’s decisions may be carried to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Occasionally, those who lose in the Claims Court still manage to win some compensation. Some years ago, a Puget Sound mink rancher lost a case in which he claimed that low-flying Navy planes had frightened his animals and caused several of the females to become sterile. He asked $100 per mink. He lost, but then his congressman introduced a private bill that eventually paid him $10 for each animal.
According to the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, the Claims Court hears actions for money damages against the United States, except for tort claims. The court thus hears claims for contract damages, tax refunds, and just compensation for property taken. With the consent of all parties to an action against the government. For further information, see the United States Claims Court here.
Court Clerks / Court Houses
Federal Court Rules
United States Court of Appeals
United States Courts, generally