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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Commodities Trading Corp., 339 U.S. 121 (1950)

United States v. Commodities Trading Corp.

No. 156

Argued January 10-11, 1950

Decided March 27, 1950*

339 U.S. 121


In 1944, the War Department requisitioned a quantity of whole black pepper, as to which a ceiling price had been established by the Office of Price Administration under authority of the Emergency Price Control Act. In a suit by the owner to recover just compensation, the Court of Claims fixed as just compensation a price in excess of the ceiling price.

Held: on the record in this case, the ceiling price of the pepper at the time it was requisitioned was the proper measure of just compensation. Pp. 339 U. S. 122-131.

1. The congressional purpose and the necessities of a wartime economy require that ceiling prices be accepted as the measure of just compensation, so far as that can be done consistently with the objectives of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 339 U. S. 123-125.

2. Neither the Fifth Amendment nor the Emergency Price Control Act's provision that the Act shall not be construed to compel an owner to sell his property requires that, in determining the amount of just compensation, there be added to the ceiling price a "retention value" -- i.e., an allowance for the price the owner could have obtained had he been permitted to hold the commodity until after price restrictions had been removed. Pp. 339 U. S. 125-128.

3. The owner failed to sustain the burden of proving special conditions and hardships peculiarly applicable to it; wherefore the ceiling price of the pepper, fair and just to the trade generally, must be accepted as the maximum measure of compensation for the taking. Pp. 339 U. S. 128-131.

(a) The fact that the owner was an "investor" in pepper, rather than a "trader," did not entitle it to "retention value," a value based on speculation concerning the price it might have obtained for pepper after the war and after price controls were removed. Pp. 339 U. S. 128-129.

(b) The fact that the particular pepper delivered to the Government cost the owner more than the ceiling price is no basis

Page 339 U. S. 122

for excepting the owner from application of the ceiling price as the proper measure of just compensation. Pp. 339 U. S. 129-130.

(c) The Fifth Amendment does not require the Government to compensate an owner of requisitioned goods for potential profits lost because of war and the consequent price controls. P. 339 U. S. 130.

11 Ct.Cl. 244, 83 F.Supp. 356, reversed.

In a suit to recover just compensation for a quantity of whole black pepper requisitioned in 1944 by the War Department, the Court of Claims awarded an amount in excess of the OPA ceiling price, but less than the amount claimed. 113 Ct.Cl. 244, 83 F.Supp. 356. This Court granted cross-petitions for certiorari. 338 U.S. 857. Reversed and remanded, p. 339 U. S. 131.

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