US Attorneys > USAM > Title 4 > Civil Resource Manual
prev | next

32.

Government Agencies are not Subject to Suit, Absent Statutory Waiver of Immunity

The terms of a statute waiving immunity from suit define the court's jurisdiction to entertain suit, and the consent is no broader than the limitations which condition it. See United States v. Sherwood, supra; FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471 (1994); Honda v. Clark, 386 U.S. 484, 501 (1967). Inasmuch as the United States may not be sued in the absence of consent legislation, the claimant's right to sue is necessarily subject to such conditions as Congress has seen fit to impose, including restrictions as to time, place, and manner of suit. See Reid v. United States, 211 U.S. at 538; Munro v. United States, supra; Dalehite v. United States, 346 U.S. at 31. No representative of the United States has the power to waive jurisdictional conditions or limitations. See United States v. Fitch, 185 F.2d 471, 474 (10th Cir. 1950); Finn v. United States, 123 U.S. 227, 233 (1887).

Jurisdiction cannot be extended by implication beyond the plain language of the statute. See Lane v. Pena, 116 S.Ct. 2092 (1996); United States v. Nordic Village, 503 U.S. 30 (1992). United States v. Michel, 282 U.S. 656, 659 (1931); Lynch v. United States, supra; United States v. Sherwood, supra; Honda v. Clark, 386 U.S. 484, 501 (1967); Dalehite v. United States, supra.

Consent to sue is a privilege and not a property right and may be withdrawn at any time. See Lynch v. United States, supra. Repeal of a jurisdictional statute effectively withdraws jurisdiction, even as to suits previously filed and still pending on the date of repeal. See Bruner v. United States, 343 U.S. 112, 116 (1952); Hallowell v. Commons, 239 U.S. 506, 508 (1916). It makes no difference which party was successful in the district court, for, if timely appeal is taken, the case remains a "pending suit" which must be dismissed upon withdrawal of jurisdiction. See Gulf Refining Co. v. United States, 269 U.S. 125, 137 (1925); Gulf, Col. & S.F. Ry. v. Dennis, 224 U.S. 503, 506 (1912); United States v. The Schooner Peggy, 1 Cranch (5 U.S.) 102, 110 (1801).

[cited in USAM 4-2.100]