decided: December 5, 1960.
SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT.
Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker, Stewart
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MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Small Business Act of 1953*fn1 created the Small Business Administration to "aid, counsel, assist, and protect insofar as is possible the interests of small-business concerns in order to preserve free competitive enterprise . . . and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of the Nation."*fn2 The Administration was given extraordinarily broad powers to accomplish these important objectives, including that of lending money to small businesses whenever they could not get necessary loans on reasonable terms from private lenders.*fn3 When a part, but not all, of a necessary loan can be obtained from a bank or other private lender, the Administration is empowered to join that private lender in making the loan.*fn4 The basic question this case presents is whether, when the Administration has joined a private bank in a loan and the borrower becomes a bankrupt, the Administration's interest in the unpaid balance of the loan is entitled to the priority provided for "debts due to the United States" in R. S. § 3466 and § 64 of the Bankruptcy Act,*fn5 even though the Administration has agreed to share any money collected on the loan with the private bank.
That question arises out of a joint bank-Administration loan of $20,000 to a small business, $5,000 of the loan having come from the funds of the bank and $15,000 from the Government Treasury. Nine months later, an involuntary petition in bankruptcy was filed against the borrower
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by other creditors. The Administration appeared in the proceedings upon that petition, filed a claim for $16,355.69, the amount then due on the loan, including interest, and asserted priority for its claim to the extent of $12,266.75, its 75 per cent interest in the debt. After a hearing, the referee in bankruptcy denied priority on the ground that the Administration is a "legal entity" and therefore not entitled to the "privileges and immunities of the United States." The District Court, on review, rejected the ground upon which the referee had relied but concluded that since the bankrupt's note evidencing the loan was not assigned by the bank to the Administration until after the commencement of bankruptcy proceedings, the debt is not entitled to priority.*fn6 The Court of Appeals affirmed on a third ground -- that the Administration, having contracted to pay the participating private bank one-fourth of any distribution received, could not assert its priority and thus permit a private party to benefit from a priority which, under R. S. § 3466 and the Bankruptcy Act, belongs to the Government alone.*fn7 We granted certiorari to consider the Government's contention that the denial of priority to the Small Business Administration handicaps that agency in the effective performance of the duties imposed upon it by Congress.*fn8
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First. It is contended that the referee was correct in holding that the Small Business Administration is a separate legal entity and therefore not entitled to governmental priority in a bankruptcy proceeding. The contention rests upon a supposed analogy between this case and Sloan Shipyards Corp. v. United States Fleet Corporation*fn9 and Reconstruction Finance Corp. v. Menihan Page 449} Corp.,*fn10 in which cases this Court refused to treat the corporate governmental agencies involved as the United States. Neither of those cases, however, is controlling here. The agency involved in Sloan Shipyards, the Fleet Corporation, was organized under the laws of the District of Columbia pursuant to authority of an Act of Congress which "contemplated a corporation in which private persons might be stockholders."*fn11 This fact alone is enough to distinguish the Fleet Corporation from the Small Business Administration, which, as was contemplated from the beginning, gets all of its money from the Government Treasury. Our decision in the Reconstruction Finance Corp. case is equally inapplicable for that case involved only the question of whether the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, having been endowed by Congress with the capacity to sue and be sued, could be assessed costs in connection with a suit it brought. The holding that such costs could be assessed would not support a holding that the Small Business Administration is not the United States for the purpose of bankruptcy priority.*fn12
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Thus neither of these cases requires us to hold that the Small Business Administration, an agency created to lend the money of the United States, is not entitled to all the priority that must be accorded to the United States when the time comes to collect that money. Under like circumstances we refused to deny priority for debts due to the Farm Credit Administration in United States v. Remund.*fn13 As was said there of the Farm Credit Administration, the Small Business Administration is "an integral part of the governmental mechanism"*fn14 created to accomplish what Congress deemed to be of national importance. And it, like the Farm Credit Administration, is entitled to the priority of the United States in collecting loans made by it out of government funds.
Second. Respondent contends, as the District Court held, that the Small Business Administration's assertion of priority is precluded by our holding in United States v. Marxen*fn15 that priority attaches only to those debts owing to the United States on the date of the commencement of bankruptcy proceedings and not to debts that come into existence after that date. But this requirement of the Marxen case is fully met here by virtue of the fact that the debt due the Administration arises out of the loan made jointly by the bank and the United States nine months prior to the petition in bankruptcy. Since beneficial ownership of the three-fourths of the debt for which priority is asserted belonged to the Administration from the date of the loan, it is immaterial that formal assignment of the note evidencing the debt was not made by the bank until after the filing of the petition.
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interest of the Government in collecting money due to it.*fn17 Once that money is collected and placed in the Government Treasury, the end sought to be achieved by § 3466 and § 64 of the Bankruptcy Act is completely satisfied. At that point, there is no difference between the money so received and money received from any other source and, like other money, it may be disbursed in any way the Government sees fit, including the satisfaction of obligations already incurred, so long as the purpose is lawful. The Small Business Administration is authorized to enter into contracts calculated to induce private banks to make loans to small businesses.*fn18 The contract involved in this case, by providing additional security to the private bank at the Government's expense, is well adapted to that end. Indeed, in many cases such a contract may be the only way the Administration could induce private bank participation in a necessary loan. In those cases, acceptance of respondent's argument would make it more difficult for the Administration to perform its statutory duties. Clearly Congress did not intend, by the very act of imposing duties upon the Administration, to take away a privilege necessary to the effective performance of those duties.
Respondent's argument from the policy of equality of distribution for similar creditors expressed in the Bankruptcy Act*fn19 is no more convincing. It is true that the allowance of the priority asserted here will place the bank, a private unsecured creditor, in a better position than other private unsecured creditors. But this position is a result, not of any inequality of distribution on the part
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of the bankruptcy court, but of the bank's valid contract with the Small Business Administration.
Fourth. Respondent's last contention, urged throughout these proceedings, is that governmental priority is inconsistent with the basic purposes and provisions of the Small Business Act. The contention rests upon the fact that having a creditor with governmental priority tends to make it more difficult for a small businessman to borrow money from other persons, and, in this respect, handicaps rather than aids borrowers, thus conflicting with the Act's basic policy. In United States v. Emory, we rejected this same argument, with reference to priority for Federal Housing Administration debts, stating that "only the plainest inconsistency would warrant our finding an implied exception to . . . so clear a command as that of § 3466."*fn20 The same conclusion must be reached here.
It was error for the courts below to refuse the Government's claim for priority.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS dissents.
272 F.2d 143, reversed.