269 U.S. 411 (1926), 3, United States v. River Rouge Improvement Company

Docket Nº:No. 3
Citation:269 U.S. 411, 46 S.Ct. 144, 70 L.Ed. 339
Party Name:United States v. River Rouge Improvement Company
Case Date:January 04, 1926
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 411

269 U.S. 411 (1926)

46 S.Ct. 144, 70 L.Ed. 339

United States

v.

River Rouge Improvement Company

No. 3

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 4, 1926

Argued March 10, 11, 1924

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. An adjudication of a circuit court of appeals final in its nature as to the general subject of the litigation may be reviewed by this Court without awaiting the determination of a separate matter affecting only the parties to such particular controversy. P. 413.

2. Under the provision of the Rivers and Harbors Act of July 18, 1918, directing that in proceedings to condemn lands in connection with any improvement of rivers, where a part only of any parcel is taken, the jury

shall take into consideration by way of reducing the amount of compensation or damages any special and direct benefit to the remainder arising from the improvement,

an increase in value of such remainder, caused by its frontage on a river as widened and deepened by the improvement and the right of immediate access to and use of the improved stream, is such a " special and direct benefit," although the remaining portions of other riparian parcels would be similarly benefited. P. 414.

3. In the absence of a controlling local law, the right of the owner of riparian property on a navigable river to have access from the front of his land to the navigable part of the stream, and, when not forbidden by public law, to construct landings, wharves, or piers for this purpose is a property right incident to his ownership of the bank, which, though subject to the absolute power of Congress over the improvement of navigable rivers, may not be arbitrarily destroyed or impaired by legislation having no real or

Page 412

substantial relation to the control of navigation or appropriateness to that end. P. 418.

4. In view of the substantial character of this right, an instruction in a condemnation case giving the jury to understand that, in considering benefit to riparian land from a river improvement, the owner's right amounted to no more than a mere uncertain and contingent privilege of such access, etc., as the government might see fit to allow him was error. P. 417.

5. An error which relates not merely to formal or technical matters, but to the substantial rights of the parties, especially when embodied in the charge to a jury, is ground for reversal unless it appears from the whole record that it was harmless and did not prejudice the right of the complaining party. P. 421.

6. The Act of February 26, 1910, amending § 269 Jud.Code, did not alter this rule. Id.

285 F. 111 reversed.

Error to judgments of the circuit court of appeals which affirmed judgments against the United States recovered in the district court by owners of riparian land in a consolidated condemnation proceeding brought in aid of a river improvement.

SANFORD, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

Pursuant to an appropriation for the improvement of the Rouge River, Michigan, [46 S.Ct. 145] made in the Rivers and Harbors

Page 413

Act of August 8, 1917,1 the United States filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan five petitions for the condemnation of numerous parcels of riparian land needed for such improvement, and also of a gas main passing underneath the river.2

The petitions were consolidated, and a jury trial had resulting in seventy-three awards of compensation to the property owners. Judgments were entered confirming all these awards. Writs of error were sued out by the United States to review the judgments as to fifteen of the awards to riparian land owners and the award to the owner of the gas main. These were heard by the circuit court of appeals as one case, and all the judgments were affirmed except that awarding compensation to the owner of the gas main, as to which a new trial was granted. 285 F. 111. This writ of error is brought to review the judgments as to the awards thus affirmed, involving fifteen parcels of land.

1. We are of opinion that, although a new trial was granted as to the award to the owner of the gas main, the judgment of the circuit court of appeals as to the awards to the riparian land owners has such finality and completeness that it may be reviewed under this writ of error. The controversy as to the gas main is entirely distinct

Page 414

from those as to the riparian lands, and its result can have no bearing whatever upon the awards to the land owners. While the general rule requires that a judgment of a federal court shall be final and complete before it may be reviewed on a writ of error or appeal, it is well settled that an adjudication final in its nature as to a matter distinct from the general subject of the litigation and affecting only the parties to the particular controversy may be reviewed without awaiting the determination of the general litigation. Williams v. Morgan, 111 U.S. 684, 699; Collins v. Miller, 252 U.S. 364, 371; Arnold v. Guimarin, 263 U.S. 427, 434. And so, conversely, an adjudication final in its nature as to the general subject of the litigation may be reviewed without awaiting the determination of a separate matter affecting only the parties to such particular controversy.

2. The principal matter here involved relates to the benefits to the land owners which were to be considered in reduction of their compensation and damages. The Rivers and Harbors Act of July 18, 1918,3...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP