257 U.S. 138 (1921), John Horstmann Co. v. United States

Citation:257 U.S. 138, 42 S.Ct. 58, 66 L.Ed. 171
Party Name:John Horstmann Co. v. United States
Case Date:November 21, 1921
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 138

257 U.S. 138 (1921)

42 S.Ct. 58, 66 L.Ed. 171

John Horstmann Co.


United States

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 21, 1921



In actions in the Court of Claims for damages resulting from an unforeseen flooding of claimants' soda lakes following construction and operation of a government irrigation project by which water was brought into the watershed,


(1) That allegations that the water percolated through the ground due to lack of proper lining in the government's canals and ditches, the manner of their construction, and the natural conditions

Page 139

were not intended to set up negligence, but merely to show causal connection between the project and the flooding, and hence did not characterize the cause of action as ex delicto. P. 144.

(2) That, as no intentional taking of claimants' property could be implied, the government was not liable ex contractu, assuming such causal relation. P. 145. United States v. Lynah, 188 U.S. 445, distinguished.

54 Ct.Clms. 169, 214; 55 id. 66, affirmed.

Appeal from judgments denying recovery for damages resulting from the flooding of claimants' soda lakes.

Page 142

MCKENNA, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.

Actions in the Court of Claims to recover respectively the sums of $35,000 and $170,000, alleged values of certain properties charged to have been taken and appropriated by the United States.

Both appellants are corporations, and are respectively owners of lands in Churchill County, State of Nevada, surrounding and including lakes knows as Little Soda Lake and Big Soda Lake. The Horstmann Company is owner of the former, and the Natron Soda Company is owner of the latter.

In 1906, each appellant was manufacturing soda from the waters of the respective lakes, and the controversy of the cases turns upon the condition of the lakes at that time, and their condition after an irrigation project was instituted by the government, called the Truckee Carson project.

The lakes are situated in an area known as the Carson Sink Valley, and in 1906 were the source of soda supply to the respective appellants.

From prior to 1867 to 1906, the levels of the lakes had not varied more than 2 feet. In 1906, the United States Reclamation Service, acting under the authority of acts of Congress, constructed the Truckee Carson project, consisting

Page 143

of dams, canals, and other structures whereby, through the usual means, large quantities of surface waters theretofore confined to the watershed of the Truckee River were, in 1906 and during each year since then, transported to the watershed of the Carson River and distributed to various and sundry tracts of land in the Carson River Valley for irrigation purposes.

Details of the project need not be given, but, with its advent, the body of the groundwater in the entire section covered by the project rose, and the volume of water in the lakes has continually increased, and the level of the lakes has arisen about 19 vertical feet during the period of 1906 to 1916, in consequence of which the value of the properties of appellants has been destroyed, that of the Horstmann Company being $9,000, and that of the Natron Company being $45,000, according to the findings of the Court of Claims.

There have been additions to the canal project, and its ultimate development contemplates the reclamation of 206,000 acres of land. At present, the canals of the project ramify an area of 100,000 acres.

No negligence on the part of the United States is alleged or proven.

[42 S.Ct. 59] The conclusion of the court was that appellants were not entitled to recover; hence it dismissed the actions and rendered judgments against appellants for costs of printing the records. Motions for new trials were made and denied.

The question of the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims of the action is intimated, if not urged, based on the allegation in the petition of the Horstmann Company that, owing to the porous condition of the soil in the canals and ditches and

the lack of proper lining in said canals and ditches, and owing to the way said canals and ditches were built and also to the natural condition existing,


Page 144

water flowed into the lake and seeped and percolated through the canals and ditches. *

The government is cautious in its characterization of this allegation, and says that it "apparently based...

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