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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. North American Co., 253 U.S. 330 (1920)

United States v. North American

Transportation & Trading Company

Nos. 319, 320

Argued April 30, 1920

Decided June 1, 1920

253 U.S. 330


When the government, without condemnation proceedings, appropriates with legislative authority private property for a public use, it impliedly promises to pay therefor, but, in order that the government be liable, it must appear that the officer taking possession of the property is authorized so to do by Congress or by the official on whom Congress conferred the power. P. 253 U. S. 333.

The Acts of March 3, 1899, c. 423, 30 Stat. 1064, 1070, and of May 26, 1900, c. 586, 31 Stat. 205, 213, making appropriations for quarters for troops sufficiently authorize the Secretary of War to take land for this purpose, but vest no authority in a general commanding a department. Held that the action of the general in taking possession of the land was tortious, and no liability on the part of the government was created until the action was approved by the

Page 253 U. S. 331

Secretary of War, and since this approval occurred within six years before the commencement of this suit, the suit was not barred by § 156 of the Judicial Code. P. 253 U. S. 333.

The President's order reserving a tract largely public land "subject to any legal rights which may exist to any land within its limits" did not mean that private land actually occupied for a public use was not taken, but merely that the right to compensation was recognized, and, in any event, the continued occupation of the private land and the erection of buildings thereon was such an appropriation as would give rise to a cause of action against the government. P. 253 U. S. 334.

The right to bring a suit against the United States in the Court of Claims for private property taken for a public purpose without condemnation proceedings is not founded on the Fifth Amendment, but on the existence of an implied contract to pay the value of the property as of the date of the taking, and interest may not be added, because of § 177 of the Judicial Code. P. 253 U. S. 335.

While interest might be allowed in condemnation proceedings instituted by the United States against the owner of property taken for a public purpose, as compensation for the use and occupation of the land prior to the passage of the title, it cannot be recovered in a suit in the Court of Claims against the United States. P. 253 U. S. 336.

53 Ct.Clms. 424 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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