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December 10, 1945


Author: Chase

Before SWAN, CHASE, and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

CHASE, Circuit Judge.

The appellants, a committee of one Alfred Cerutti, an incompetent, seek to recover property of the incompetent committed to their care which had been vested by the Alien Property Custodian under order of August 3, 1943.*fn1 Cerutti was born in Italy, and came to this country in 1913, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1926. At least as early as 1931, he was afflicted with a mental disease known as paranoid schizophrenia and was treated by a New York neurologist during 1929 and 1930. In January of 1931, upon the advice of this doctor that the change would probably be beneficial, Cerutti returned to Italy where he has ever since lived with relatives or at the Villa Turro Sanitarium near Milan as an occasional patient. In 1937, Cerutti inherited a substantial amount of cash and securities in New York. Relatives in Italy instituted "interdiction" proceedings; and in April of that year Cerutti was adjudged an incompetent by the Italian court and a temporary administrator and guardian was appointed. In February of the same year, similar proceedings had been instituted by appellants in the Supreme Court of New York; and a trial by a jury resulted in an adjudication of incompetency. The Italian guardian appeared and sought appointment as ancillary committee of Cerutti's New York property; but, adopting the report of an official referee, the court found Cerutti domiciled and resident, within the meaning of the New York statute, in New York, and by final decree of March, 1939, appointed the appellants as a resident committee of his property. After the vesting order became effective, the appellants duly filed with the defendant a notice of claim for the return of the property but made no application therefor to the President and then brought this suit to recover the property under § 9(a) of the Trading with the Enemy Act, supra. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the merits.

Determination on this appeal, both as to the propriety of the seizure and of the standing of the plaintiffs to sue under § 9(a) of the Act, depends upon whether Cerutti is an "enemy" or a "national of a designated enemy country."*fn2 Under the definitions as set out, this turns on whether Cerutti was a "resident" of Italy at the time of the vesting.

Appellants first contend that we are foreclosed by the finding in the commitment proceedings of the New York Supreme Court from again investigating the residence of Cerutti. But commitment proceedings are in rem to determine status. See Hughes v. Jones, 116 N.Y. 67, 22 N.E. 446, 5 L.R.A. 632, 15 Am.St.Rep. 386.And as such they bind non-parties only as to the status found. See Restatement, Judgments (1942), § 74(1), and comment a. The decree is "not conclusive [upon non-parties] as to a fact upon which the judgment is based * * *." Id. at § 74(2), and comment c.

In argument we are presented with contrary definitions of the word "resident."*fn3 The appellants argue first that it means domicile, and alternatively, that if it doesn't, it means some conception of legal residence as opposed to actual residence or happenstance physical presence in an enemy country. They then point to many facts to show that Cerutti remained "resident" in the United States: being mentally incompetent, he was never capable of forming the requisite intent to change his domicile or legal residence; that he was in Italy only for the specific purpose of his health;*fn4 that his remaining in Italy after declaration of war was involuntary.*fn5

The appellee to the contrary contends that "resident", as used in the presently pertinent statute, is to be taken to refer to physical presence alone; and further points out that in any event Cerutti, while in this country, had always intended to return to Italy; that when he went there he stayed with relatives; that he was only occasionally, and then voluntarily, and inmate of Villa Turro; that when he was, he was a "free incompetent"; that he tried to purchase a new villa in Italy; that he paid taxes, contributed to local charities, was a sympathizer with the Fascist regime, and voted in the general election of 1934 after having previously ascertained that he was properly enrolled as an Italian citizen and subject.*fn6 The district judge found that Cerutti had become an "actual resident" of Italy and entered judgment for the defendant. This appeal followed.

In determining whether Cerutti falls within the provisions of the statute authorizing the seizure of the property of a citizen of the United States, his physical presence, or to use the phrase of the trial court his "actual residence" there at the time the vesting order took effect, is not decisive. Stadtmuller v. Miller, 2 Cir., 11 F.2d 732, 45 A.L.R. 895; Vowinckel v. First Federal Trust Co., 9 Cir., 10 F.2d 19; Miller v. Sinjen, 8 Cir., 289 F. 388. Cerutti's property in New York was in no way threatened with subjection to enemy uses by reason of his presence in Italy. He had no control over it himself since it was being administered by a committee appointed by the New York court; and, consequently, Italy could exercise no control over it through the control of him. Furthermore, the New York court would not have permitted its use for the benefit of an enemy. See Petition of Bernheimer, 3 Cir., 130 F.2d 396. Such use could also have been prevented by a freezing order issued by the Treasury. See Executive Orders Nos. 8389 and 8785, supra.

The property being in cash and securities its confiscation was not required, as, for instance, is the case of assets consisting of, or controlling, manufacturing facilities usable to secure production of materials to aid this government in the prosecution of the war; and, as a means for the purchase of such materials, it was comparatively negligible.

The purpose of confiscation under the Trading with the Enemy Act is either to lessen the ability of the enemy government to make war upon the United States by depriving it of the means so to do which would otherwise be within its reach or to enhance the ability of this country to prosecute the war. Prize Cases, 2 Black 635, 17 L. Ed. 459; Hanger v. Abbott, 6 Wall. 532, 18 L. Ed. 939; Miller v. United States, 11 Wall. 268, 20 L. Ed. 135, 155; United States v. Chemical Foundation, Inc., 272 U.S. 1, 9-11, 47 S. Ct. 1, 71 L. Ed. 131. To prevent advantage to an enemy by trading with a citizen residing in the enemy's country the property of the citizen may be seized and confiscated. The Venus, 8 Cranch. 253, 3 L. Ed. 553; Miller v. United States, supra; Kahn v. Garvan, D.C.S.D.N.Y., 263 F. 909. Residence by a citizen in the enemy's country for the purpose of trade stamps the property of the citizen with an enemy character sufficient to support the seizure and confiscation of his property. The Frances, 8 Cranch. 363, 3 L. Ed. 590. "* * * any property which the enemy can use, either by actual appropriation or by the exercise of control over its owner, or which the adherents of the enemy have the power of devoting to the enemy's use, is a proper subject of confiscation." Miller v. United States, supra, 11 Wall. 268, at pages 305, 306, 20 L. Ed. 135. The powers given the Custodian are phrased broadly so as to make for flexibility of administration enabling effectuation of the purposes of the Act.

When this significance is, as it should be, given to term "resident" in the Trading with the Enemy Act as amended by the First War Powers Act of 1941 and in the Executive Orders promulgated thereunder, it does not include a citizen in Cerutti's situation. He went to Italy on a temporary visit to attempt to regain his lost mental health. He remained there for that purpose until the war broke out and after that was unable to return. No presumption arose under 8 U.S.C.A. § 804 from his continuous stay in Italy for three years that his citizenship acquired by naturalization had been lost since, by § 806(a) of Title 8 U.S.C.A., § 804 thereof is made inapplicable to a person residing abroad on account of ill health.

Although one with his mental incapacity may not have lived abroad involuntarily, by the same token it is impossible to say that he has voluntarily remained there except in the status he had when he went there for a temporary visit. We think "resident" in the statute and orders imports something more than mere physical presence in a designated enemy country. It would be inconceivable, for instance, that Congress intended to provide for the confiscation of the property of a member of the American armed forces who was captured and held as a prisoner of war within a designated enemy country. Yet in the sense that he was physically present in the enemy country he would be a resident thereof. No such absurd construction of the term is, of course, admissible. Nor does such an extreme case need to be used for illustration. Cerutti's case is a fair example.

His physical presence in Italy at the time his property was seized was a condition not attributable as a matter of law to his volition; his property could not be used to aid the enemy; he was not engaged in trade with the enemy and he could engage in no commercial activities of any kind whatever.He was an American citizen whose presence in Italy for reasons beyond his control did not subject his property to any control or use by an enemy government and so did not make him a "resident" of Italy within the meaning of the statute and executive orders under which his property in this country was seized. Stadtmuller v. Miller, supra; Vowinckel v. First Federal Trust Co., supra; Miller v. Sinjen, supra. Consequently he was neither an "enemy" nor "a foreign national" nor "a national of a designated enemy country."

Though a vesting order may not necessarily be condemnation nor confiscation, it does, when it lawfully becomes effective, prevent any suit for the recovery of the property except in accordance with the provisions of § 9(a) of the Trading with the Enemy Act, Draeger Shipping Co., Inc., v. Crowley, D.C.S.D.N.Y., 49 F.Supp. ...

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