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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. River Rouge Improvement Co., 269 U.S. 411 (1926)

United States v. River Rouge Improvement Company

No. 3

Argued March 10, 11, 1924

Decided January 4, 1926

269 U.S. 411


1. An adjudication of a circuit court of appeals final in its nature as to the general subject of the litigation may be reviewed by this Court without awaiting the determination of a separate matter affecting only the parties to such particular controversy. P. 269 U. S. 413.

2. Under the provision of the Rivers and Harbors Act of July 18, 1918, directing that in proceedings to condemn lands in connection with any improvement of rivers, where a part only of any parcel is taken, the jury

"shall take into consideration by way of reducing the amount of compensation or damages any special and direct benefit to the remainder arising from the improvement,"

an increase in value of such remainder, caused by its frontage on a river as widened and deepened by the improvement and the right of immediate access to and use of the improved stream, is such a " special and direct benefit," although the remaining portions of other riparian parcels would be similarly benefited. P. 269 U. S. 414.

3. In the absence of a controlling local law, the right of the owner of riparian property on a navigable river to have access from the front of his land to the navigable part of the stream, and, when not forbidden by public law, to construct landings, wharves, or piers for this purpose is a property right incident to his ownership of the bank, which, though subject to the absolute power of Congress over the improvement of navigable rivers, may not be arbitrarily destroyed or impaired by legislation having no real or

Page 269 U. S. 412

substantial relation to the control of navigation or appropriateness to that end. P. 269 U. S. 418.

4. In view of the substantial character of this right, an instruction in a condemnation case giving the jury to understand that, in considering benefit to riparian land from a river improvement, the owner's right amounted to no more than a mere uncertain and contingent privilege of such access, etc., as the government might see fit to allow him was error. P. 269 U. S. 417.

5. An error which relates not merely to formal or technical matters, but to the substantial rights of the parties, especially when embodied in the charge to a jury, is ground for reversal unless it appears from the whole record that it was harmless and did not prejudice the right of the complaining party. P. 269 U. S. 421.

6. The Act of February 26, 1910, amending § 269 Jud.Code, did not alter this rule. Id.

285 F.1d 1 reversed.

Error to judgments of the circuit court of appeals which affirmed judgments against the United States recovered in the district court by owners of riparian land in a consolidated condemnation proceeding brought in aid of a river improvement.

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