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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Sponenbarger, 308 U.S. 256 (1939)

United States v. Sponenbarger

No. 72

Argued November 7, 8, 1939

Decided December 4, 1939

308 U.S. 256


An owner of land within the area of the Boeuf Floodway, part of a diversion project embraced in the comprehensive plan of flood control adopted by the Mississippi River Flood Control Act of 1928, brought suit against the United States under the Tucker Act, alleging that the Flood Control Act and operations contemplated by and carried on pursuant to it involved damage to the land and a taking of it for public use. A right to just compensation under the Fifth Amendment and a right of recovery under the Flood Control Act itself were asserted. The owner's use and possession of the land had not been interfered with; there had been no flooding of the land since the passage of the Act, and it appeared that the floodway project in question had been abandoned.


1. Upon the facts of this case, there was no "taking" of the land within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment. P. 308 U. S. 265.

(a) A finding that the program of improvement under the 1928 Act had not increased the flood hazard to which the owner's land theretofore had been subject was amply supported by the record. P. 308 U. S. 265.

(b) An undertaking by the Government to lessen the hazard of damages by floods which were inevitable but for such undertaking does not constitute a taking of those lands which are not afforded as much protection as others. The Fifth Amendment does not require payment of compensation to a landowner for flood damage not caused in any wise by action of the Government. P. 308 U. S. 265.

(c) The finding was justified that the benefit accruing to the owner's land from the program of the 1928 Act outweighed any damage occasioned. P. 308 U. S. 267.

(d) The finding that the proposed Boeuf Floodway was a natural floodway was supported by the evidence. P. 308 U. S. 265.

(e) The claim that there was a taking of the land when the 1928 Act went into effect and work began pursuant to it, because the Act involved an imposition of a servitude for the purpose of intentional future flooding of the proposed floodway -- examined and rejected. P. 308 U. S. 267.

Page 308 U. S. 257

(f) The United States did not, by the 1928 Act, assume complete control over all levees to the exclusion of the States and local authorities. P. 308 U. S. 268.

(g) The owner's "right of self-defense" against floods through locally built levees was not taken away. None of the levees on which the owner here could rely was "built by" or "acquired by" the United States, and § 14 of the Act of March 3, 1899, is therefore inapplicable. P. 308 U. S. 268.

This conclusion is consistent with the administrative construction of the Act.

2. The lands of the owner in this case having been not damaged, but actually benefited, there was no right of recovery under the 1928 Act. P. 308 U. S. 270.

101 F.2d 506, reversed.

Certiorari, 307 U.S. 621, to review the reversal of a judgment for the Government in a suit under the Tucker Act, brought by a landowner to recover compensation for property alleged to have been taken by the Government for public use.

Page 308 U. S. 260

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