Franconia Associates v. United States, 536 U.S. 129, 13 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 129 (2002)

Opinion of the Court



A waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States "cannot be implied but must be unequivocally expressed." United States v. King, 395 U. S. 1, 4 (1969). That requirement is satisfied here. Once the United States waives its immunity and does business with its citizens, it does so much as a party never cloaked with immunity. Cf. Clearfield Trust Co. v. United States, 318 U. S. 363, 369 (1943) ("The United States does business on business terms." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Another threshold matter confines this controversy. For purposes of our disposition, the United States agrees, it may be assumed that petitioners obtained precisely the promise they allege—a promise that permits them an unfettered right to prepay their mortgages any time over the life of the loans, thereby gaining release from federal restrictions on the use of their property. See Brief for United States 18-19; Tr. of Oral Arg. 29-30. The sole issue before us is thus cleanly presented: were petitioners' complaints initiated within the six-year limitations period prescribed in 28 U. S. C. 2501?

"When the United States enters into contract relations, its rights and duties therein are governed generally by the law applicable to contracts between private individuals." Mobil Oil Exploration & Producing Southeast, Inc. v. United States, 530 U. S. 604, 607 (2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under applicable "principles of general contract law," Priebe & Sons, Inc. v. United States, 332 U. S. 407, 411 (1947), whether petitioners' claims were filed "within six years after [they] first accrue[d]," 28 U. S. C. 2501, depends upon when the Government breached the prepayment undertaking stated in the promissory notes. See 1 C. Corman, Limitations of Actions 7.2.1, p. 482 (1991) ("The cause of action for breach of contract accrues, and the statute of limitations begins to run, at the time of the breach." (footnote


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