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KIRBY FOREST INDUSTRIES v. UNITED STATES

decided: May 21, 1984.

KIRBY FOREST INDUSTRIES, INC
v.
UNITED STATES



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.

Marshall, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Author: Marshall

[ 467 U.S. Page 3]

 JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Title 40 U. S. C. § 257, in conjunction with Rule 71A of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, prescribes a procedure pursuant to which the United States may appropriate privately owned land by eminent domain. The central issue in this case is whether the manner in which the value of the land is determined and paid to its owner under that procedure comports with the requirement, embodied in the Fifth Amendment, that private property not be taken for public use without just compensation.

I

A

The United States customarily employs one of three methods when it appropriates private land for a public purpose. The most frequently used is the so-called "straight-condemnation" procedure prescribed in 40 U. S. C. § 257. Under that statute, an "officer of the Government" who is "authorized to procure real estate for the erection of a public building or for other public uses"*fn1 makes an application to the Attorney General who, within 30 days, must initiate condemnation proceedings. The form of those proceedings is

[ 467 U.S. Page 4]

     governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71A.*fn2 In brief, Rule 71A requires the filing in federal district court of a "complaint in condemnation," identifying the property and the interest therein that the United States wishes to take, followed by a trial -- before a jury, judge, or specially appointed commission -- of the question of how much compensation is due the owner of the land. The practical effect of final judgment on the issue of just compensation is to give the Government an option to buy the property at the adjudicated price. Danforth v. United States, 308 U.S. 271, 284 (1939). If the Government wishes to exercise that option, it tenders payment to the private owner, whereupon title and right to possession vest in the United States. If the Government decides not to exercise its option, it can move for dismissal of the condemnation action. Ibid.; see Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 71A(i)(3).

A more expeditious procedure is prescribed by 40 U. S. C. § 258a.*fn3 That statute empowers the Government, "at any time before judgment" in a condemnation suit, to file "a declaration of taking signed by the authority empowered by law to acquire the lands [in question], declaring that said lands are thereby taken for the use of the United States." The Government is obliged, at the time of the filing, to deposit in the court, "to the use of the persons entitled thereto," an

[ 467 U.S. Page 5]

     amount of money equal to the estimated value of the land.*fn4 Title and right to possession thereupon vest immediately in the United States. In subsequent judicial proceedings, the exact value of the land (on the date the declaration of taking was filed) is determined, and the owner is awarded the difference (if any) between the adjudicated value of the land and the amount already received by the owner, plus interest on that difference.

Finally, Congress occasionally exercises the power of eminent domain directly. For example, when Congress thinks that a tract of land that it wishes to preserve inviolate is threatened with imminent alteration, it sometimes enacts a statute appropriating the property immediately by "legislative taking" and setting up a special procedure for ascertaining, after the appropriation, the compensation due to the owners.*fn5

In addition to these three statutory methods, the United States is capable of acquiring privately owned land summarily, by physically entering into possession and ousting the owner. E. g., United States v. Dickinson, 331 U.S. 745, 747-749 (1947). In such a case, the owner has a right to bring an "inverse condemnation" suit to recover the value of the land on the date of the intrusion by the Government. United States v. Dow, 357 U.S. 17, 21-22 (1958).*fn6

The Government's selection amongst and implementation of these various methods of acquiring property is governed,

[ 467 U.S. Page 6]

     to some extent, by the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, 42 U. S. C. § 4601 et seq. That statute enjoins federal agencies, inter alia, to attempt to acquire property by negotiation rather than condemnation, and whenever possible not to take land by physical appropriation. §§ 4651(1), (4), (8). In addition, the statute requires a court with jurisdiction over a condemnation action that is dismissed or abandoned by the Government to award the landowner an amount that will reimburse him for "his reasonable costs, disbursements, and expenses" incurred in contesting the suit. § 4654(a).*fn7 The statute does not, however, regulate decisions by the Government whether to employ the "straight-condemnation" procedure prescribed in § 257 or the "declaration of taking" procedure embodied in § 258a.

B

Petitioner, a manufacturer of forest products, owns substantial tracts of timberland in Texas. This case arises out of a protracted effort by the United States to appropriate 2,175.86 acres of that land.

In the mid-1960's, several studies were made of the desirability of establishing a national park or preserve to protect an area of relatively untrammeled wilderness in eastern Texas. One of those studies, conducted in 1967 by the National Park Service, recommended the creation of a 35,500-acre Big Thicket National Park. The Texas Forestry Association, of which petitioner is a member, endorsed that proposal and declared a voluntary moratorium on logging in the designated area. Since 1967, petitioner ...


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