324 U.S. 229 (1945), 419, Catlin v. United States

Docket NºNo. 419
Citation324 U.S. 229, 65 S.Ct. 631, 89 L.Ed. 911
Party NameCatlin v. United States
Case DateFebruary 26, 1945
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 229

324 U.S. 229 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 631, 89 L.Ed. 911



United States

No. 419

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 26, 1945

Argued February 1, 2, 1945




1. In a proceeding instituted by a petition in the District Court for the condemnation of land under the War Purposes Act of 1917, a "judgment" entered upon a declaration of taking filed pursuant to the Declaration of Taking Act of 1931, and a subsequent order denying the landowner's motion to vacate the judgment and to dismiss the petition, held not "final decisions" under § 128 of the Judicial Code, and therefore not appealable. P. 232.

2. The right of the landowner to challenge the validity of the taking for nonconformity with the prescribed statutory purposes was not abrogated by the Declaration of Taking Act, but the right of appeal in this relation may be exercised only when final judgment, disposing of the cause in its entirety, has been rendered. P. 240.

142 F.2d 781 affirmed.

Page 230

Certiorari, 323 U.S. 696, to review the dismissal of an appeal from a judgment and order of the District Court in a condemnation proceeding.

RUTLEDGE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The proceeding is for the condemnation of land in Madison County, Illinois, under the War Purposes Act of 1917.1 The question for review is whether orders entered in the

Page 231

course of the proceedings are appealable as "final decisions" within the meaning of § 128 of the Judicial Code, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 225(a).2

The petition for condemnation was filed in the District Court March 31, 1942. The same day, an order for immediate possession was entered ex parte. On November 12, 1942, pursuant to the Declaration of Taking Act of February 26, 1931,3 the Secretary of War filed a declaration and deposited in [65 S.Ct. 633] court $43,579.00 as the estimated compensation for Tract ED-7, to which petitioners assert ownership as trustees. The court thereupon entered "judgment," likewise ex parte, decreeing that title had vested in the United States upon the filing of the declaration and making of the deposit, also declaring the right of just compensation "now vested in the persons entitled thereto," and holding the cause open for further "orders, judgments and decrees."

Thereafter, on August 2, 1943, an order for service of process by publication was entered, and, in October following, petitioners moved to vacate the "judgment" and to dismiss the petition as to Tract ED-7. After this, the Government amended its petition,4 and petitioners filed

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an amended motion to vacate and dismiss,5 which the court denied. From this order and the order entering the "judgment" on the declaration of taking, petitioners appealed. The Circuit Court of Appeals held the orders not final decisions within § 128 and dismissed the appeal. 142 F.2d 781. We granted certiorari, 323 U.S. 696, in order to resolve conflict upon this question among several Circuit Courts of Appeals.6

We think the judgment was right. Petitioners' motions raised issues grounded in contentions that the taking was not for a purpose authorized by the War Purposes Act.7

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Accordingly, they urged that neither petition stated a cause of action, the court acquired no jurisdiction of the cause or to enter the order relating to title, and it was error to deny the motion to vacate and to dismiss. Since the issue here is whether the orders are final, for purposes of appeal, we assume, though we do not decide, that the substantive issues have sufficient merit to warrant determination upon review. Even so, we think petitioners have mistaken their remedy.

Their right to appeal rests upon § 128 of the Judicial Code. This limits review to "final decisions" in the District Court. A "final decision" generally is one which ends the litigation on the merits and leaves nothing for the court to do but execute the judgment. St. Louis I.M. & S. R. Co. v. Southern Express Co., 108 U.S. 24, 28. Hence, ordinarily in condemnation proceedings, appellate review may be had only upon an [65 S.Ct. 634] order or judgment disposing of the whole case, and adjudicating all rights, including ownership and just compensation, as well as the right to take the property. This has been the repeated holding of decisions here.8 The rule applies to review by this Court of judgments of state courts, in advance of determination of just compensation, although by local statute "judgments of condemnation," i.e., of the right to condemn particular property, are reviewable before compensation is found and awarded. Wick v. Superior Court, 278 U.S. 574-575; Public Service Co. v. Lebanon, 305 U.S. 558, 671; cf. Dieckmann v. United States, 88 F.2d 902. The foundation of this policy is not in merely technical conceptions of "finality." It is one against piecemeal

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litigation. "The case is not to be sent up in fragments. . . ." Luxton v. North River Bridge Co., 147 U.S. 337, 341. Reasons other than conservation of judicial energy sustain the limitation. One is elimination of delays caused by interlocutory appeals.

The rule applies to proceedings under the War Purposes Act of 1917.9 That act does not purport to change or depart from the generally prevailing rule concerning appeals in condemnation proceedings. It is an amended version of the 1890 act, under which, from its enactment to now, that rule has been applied, except in the three decisions of Circuit Courts of Appeals reaching the contrary result, where, however, the Declaration of Taking Act of 1931 also was involved.10 The 1917 act purports to authorize no judgment except one "for the acquirement by condemnation of any land," etc., for the purposes specified or, necessarily, one finally denying this. The provision for the proceedings "to be prosecuted in accordance with the laws relating to suits for the condemnation of property of the States wherein the proceedings may be instituted . . . " had no purpose to make the right of appeal in such proceedings depend upon and vary with the local procedure in this respect, cf. Wick v. Superior Court, supra; Public Service Co. v. Lebanon, supra, or to incorporate

Page 235

local ideas of "finality" in the application of § 128 to such suits. The language may be applied in other ways without introducing so much lack of uniformity into the application of § 128, if indeed the quoted provision has not been largely nullified by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in all respects concerning appeals.11

Furthermore, the 1917 act contemplated emergency action to the extent that, upon the filing of the petition immediate possession might be taken and the lands occupied "for military purposes" during war "or the imminence thereof." This purpose, it seems clear, would be largely defeated [65 S.Ct. 635] if entry must be deferred until specific challenges to jurisdiction and the sufficiency of the petition are determined seriatim, not only by ruling of the trial court, but by separate appeals from each ruling which, if sustained,12 would end the litigation, but, if lacking in merit, could only prolong it. We find neither in the language nor in the purposes of the 1917 act an intent to authorize departure from the general course of applying § 128 in condemnation proceedings.

Indeed, we do not understand petitioners to urge that the 1917 act, without more, accomplishes the departure. They say, rather, that it does so when used in conjunction with the Declaration of Taking Act of 1931. It is the "judgment" upon "a declaration of taking" and the subsequent order denying their motion to vacate this "judgment" and to dismiss the proceedings which they contend are "final decisions" within § 128, and therefore appealable. It is "judgments" of this character which the decisions of Circuit Courts of Appeals, upon which petitioners rely,

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have involved. One of them relied expressly upon the 1931 act as being intended

to sever the taking of title and possession from controversies as to valuation, and to provide a procedure whereby the United States might be speedily and conclusively vested with title and possession,

and therefore as having a "final and immediate effect on property rights" which "obviously should be reviewable at once, without the necessity of awaiting the outcome of long drawn out controversies as to valuation." Puerto Rico R. Light & Power Co. v. United States, 131 F.2d 491, 494. The reason stated might afford ground for Congress to provide a special appeal. However, we do not think the reason accords with the statute's provisions or their effect. Consequently it gives no ground for believing that Congress has provided a separate appeal.

We dispose shortly of the motion, or that part of it, which was directed at dismissal of the proceedings, insofar as it may require treatment separately from the motion to vacate the "judgment," if it does so at all. Had this motion been granted and judgment of dismissal been entered, clearly there would have been an end of the litigation, and appeal would lie within § 128. United States v. Carey, 143 F.2d 445; United States v. Marin, 136 F.2d 388. But denial of a motion to dismiss, even when the motion is based upon jurisdictional grounds, is not immediately reviewable. Cf. Roche v. Evaporated Milk Assn., 319 U.S. 21. See also Dieckmann v. United States, 88 F.2d 902. Certainly this is true whenever the question may be saved for disposition upon review of final judgment disposing of all issues involved in the litigation or in some other adequate manner. As will appear, we think such a remedy is available in this case.

The "judgment" and the order denying the motion to vacate it stand no better. The 1931 act, like that of 1917, contains no language purporting to change the general rule relating to appeals in condemnation proceedings.

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