UNITED STATES V. 50 ACRES OF LAND, 469 U. S. 24 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. 50 Acres of Land, 469 U.S. 24 (1984)

United States v. 50 Acres of Land

No. 83-1170

Argued October 2, 1984

Decided December 4, 1984

469 U.S. 24


In connection with a flood control project, the United States filed proceedings in Federal District Court to condemn approximately 50 acres of land owned by respondent city of Duncanville, Tex., that had been used as a sanitary landfill. The court awarded compensation in the amount of the condemned property's fair market value as determined by the jury, rather than the larger amount fixed by the jury as the reasonable cost to the city of acquiring and developing a substitute facility, which was larger and better than the condemned facility. The court found no basis for departing from the normal market value standard for determining the amount of compensation, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

Held: The Fifth Amendment does not require that the United States pay a public condemnee compensation measured by the cost of acquiring a substitute facility that the condemnee has a duty to acquire, when the market value of the condemned property is ascertainable and when there is no showing of manifest injustice. Pp. 469 U. S. 29-36.

(a) "Just compensation" under the Fifth Amendment normally is to be measured by the market value of the property at the time of the taking, and this case is not one in which an exception is required because fair market value is not ascertainable. The testimony at trial established a fairly robust market for sanitary landfill properties. Nor is an award of compensation measured by market value here fundamentally inconsistent with the basic principles of indemnity embodied in the Just Compensation Clause. Pp. 469 U. S. 29-31.

(b) The text of the Fifth Amendment does not mandate a more favorable rule of compensation for public condemnees than for private parties. The reference to "private property" in the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment encompasses the property of state and local governments when it is condemned by the United States, and under this construction the same principles of just compensation presumptively apply to both private and public condemnees. P. 469 U. S. 31.

(c) When the dictum in Brown v. United States, 263 U. S. 78 -- which is the source of the "substitute facilities doctrine" -- is read in the context of the decision in that case, it lends no support to the suggestion that a distinction should be drawn between public and private condemnees.

Page 469 U. S. 25

Nor does it shed any light on the proper measure of compensation in this case. Brown merely indicates that it would have been constitutionally permissible for the Federal Government to provide the city with a substitute landfill site instead of compensating it in cash. Pp. 469 U. S. 31-33.

(d) The city's legal obligation to maintain public services that are interrupted by a federal condemnation does not justify a distinction between public and private condemnees for the purpose of measuring "just compensation." The risk that a private condemnee might receive a "windfall" if its compensation were measured by the cost of a substitute facility that was never acquired or was later sold or converted to another use is not avoided by the city's obligation to replace the facility. If the replacement facility is more costly than the condemned facility, it presumably is more valuable, and any increase in the quality of the facility may be as readily characterized as a "windfall" as the award of cash proceeds for a substitute facility that is never built. Moreover, the substitute facilities doctrine, if applied in this case, would diverge from the principle that just compensation must be measured by an objective standard that disregards subjective values which are only of significance to an individual owner. Pp. 469 U. S. 33-36.

706 F.2d 1356, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which POWELL, J., joined, post,, p. 469 U. S. 37.

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