Edward Sharp v. United States

Decision Date30 November 1903
Docket NumberNo. 208,208
Citation48 L.Ed. 211,24 S.Ct. 114,191 U.S. 341
PartiesEDWARD S. SHARP, Plff. in Err. , v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

The plaintiff in error has sued out this writ for the purpose of reviewing a judgment of the United States circuit court of appeals for the third circuit, which affirmed a judgment of the district court of New Jersey, awarding damages to plaintiff in error for the taking of certain property of his on the Delaware river, near Fort Mott, in that state. The award of the jury was, in the opinion of the plaintiff in error, entirely inadequate as just compensation to him as the owner of the land for its taking by the government.

Pursuant to an act of Congress, approved August 18, 1890 (26 Stat. at L. 315, chap. 797, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 2518), making appropriations for fortifications and other works of defense, and, also, under other acts of Congress and an enabling act of the state of New Jersey, the United States district attorney for that state commenced these condemnation proceedings. At the time of their commencement the plaintiff in error was the owner of three separate and independent, although adjoining, farms or tracts of land, known respectively as the 'Dunham,' the 'Gibbons' and the 'White' farms. It is the Gibbons farm which is taken by these proceedings.

Under the New Jersey practice in condemnation matters, the United States district court for the district of New Jersey duly appointed three commissioners to appraise the value of the land in question, which they did, and made their report July 16, 1900, in which they reported that they had appraised the value of 41.75 acres of land to be taken at the sum of $500 per acre, or a total sum of $20,875, and they fixed the damages sustained by reason of the taking of that land for the purposes stated, to the remaining tracts of land, at the sum of $12,953. An appeal from the award of the commissioners was duly taken in behalf of the United States to the United States court for the district of New Jersey, and in accordance with the practice an issue was framed to be tried before the court and jury as a proceeding de novo. The issue as presented for trial was 'Whether the sum of $500 per acre—in all, the sum of $20,875—is a just and equitable estimate or appraisement of the value of the said 41.75 acres of land required to be taken for the purposes aforesaid, and whether the damages sustained by reason of the taking of the said 41.75 acres, by the United States for the purpose aforesaid, to the remainder of the tracts of land from which the above-mentioned tract is taken, and its issues, and which the parties in interest will sustain by reason of the premises, amount to the sum of $12,953, and if not, what is a just and equitable estimate or appraisement of the value of same, and an assessment of damages to be paid by the said the United States of America, for such lands or materials and damages aforesaid?'

It was also ordered that a jury should be struck, and a view of the premises and property described in the report of the commissioners and in the petition should be had by the jury. This was done and a trial subsequently had. Testimony was taken upon the trial, and by consent of counsel it was agreed that the jury might bring in a verdict stating such a lump sum for the value of the lands and the damages to the adjacent property as they thought was fairly proven from the testimony produced before them.

The jury found and assessed the value of the lands and the damages sustained at the sum of $12,000, to be paid the plaintiff in error by the United States. Judgment having been duly entered upon the award of the jury, an appeal was taken to the circuit court of appeals, where the judgment was affirmed (57 L. R. A. 932, 50 C. C. A. 597, 112 Fed. 893), and the case is now before us on writ of error sued out by the owner of the land.

Mr.David J. Pancoast for plaintiff in error.

Assistant Attorney General Purdy for defendant in error.

Statement by Mr. Justice Peckham:

[Argument of Counsel from pages 344-348 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice Peckham, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court:

The questions to be reviewed by this court arise upon exception appearing in the record taken upon the decisions of the court in relation to the admissibility of evidence, and also to the charge of the court as to the proper items to be considered by the jury in arriving at their verdict.

The error assigned and upon which the argument was had in the circuit court of appeals were twelve in number. They are in substance the same here. The first seven refer to the rejection of evidence in regard to offers to purchase the lands from the plaintiff in error. It was held by the trial court, in response to the proposal to give such evidence, that the plaintiff in error could not testify to different offers he had received to purchase the property for hotel, residential, or amusement purposes, or for a ferry, or a railroad terminal, or to lease the property for hotel purposes.

Upon principle, we think the trial court was right in rejecting the evidence. It is, at most, a species of indirect evidence of the opinion of the person making such offer as to the value of the land. He may have so slight a knowledge on the subject as to render his opinion of no value, and inadmissible for that reason. He may have wanted the land for some particular purpose disconnected from its value. Pure speculation may have induced it, a willingness to take chances that some new use of the land might, in the end, prove profitable. There is no opportunity to cross-examine the person making the offer, to show these various facts. Again, it is of a nature entirely too uncertain, shadowy, and speculative to form any solid foundation for determining the value of the land which is sought to be taken in condemnation proceedings. If the offer were admissible, not only is it almost impossible to prove (if it exist) the lack of good faith in the person making the offer, but the circumstances of the parties at the time the offer was made as bearing upon the value of such offer may be very difficult, if not almost impossible, to show. To be of the slightest value as evidence in any court, an offer must, of course, be an honest offer, made by an individual capable of forming a fair and intelligent judgment, really desirous of purchasing, entirely able to do so, and to give the amount of money mentioned in the offer, for otherwise the offer would be but a vain thing. Whether the owner himself, while declining the offer, really believed in the good faith of the party making it, and in his ability and desire to pay the amount offered, if such offer should be accepted, or whether the offer was regarded as a mere idle remark, not intended for acceptance, would also be material upon the question of the bona fides of the refusal. Oral and not binding offers are so easily made and refused in a mere passing conversation, and under circumstances involving no responsibility on either side, as to cast no light upon the question of value. It is frequently very difficult to show precisely the situation under which these offers were made. In our judgment they do not tend to show value, and they are unsatisfactory, easy of fabrication, and even dangerous in their character as evidence upon this subject. Especially is this the case when the offers are proved only by the party to whom they are alleged to have been made, and not by the party making them. There is no chance to cross-examine as to the circumstances of the party making the offer in regard to good faith, etc. Evidence of this character is entirely different from evidence as to the price offered and accepted or rejected for articles which have a known and ready sale in the market. The price at the stock exchange of shares of stock in corporations which are there offered for sale or dealt in is some evidence of the value of such shares. So evidence of prices current among dealers in those commodities which are the subject of frequent sales by them would also be proper to show value. This evidence is unlike that of offers to purchase real estate, and affords no ground for the admissibility of the latter.

A reference to the authorities shows them to be almost unanimous against receiving evidence of this kind. Counsel have cited many cases on this subject and they are contained in the margin. Most of them are clearly against the admissibility of the evidence, while some, which at first sight might be regarded as exceptional, will be found upon closer examination to recognize the general rule as already stated.

The next four assignments of error relate to the proper items of damage to be included in the award.

The owner offered to prove the probable use the government would make of the land for military purposes for which it was taken; also, that the use of the land for such military purposes would damage and depreciate the remaining and adjoining land; also, that if the land to be taken was used by the government for military purposes it would endanger the adjoining land of the owner for a long distance and make the removal of his buildings necessary. These offers were rejected, and the court held that the jury should not take into account prospective damages to the remaining and adjoining land of the owner, arising from the future use of the land sought to be

Fowler v. Middlesex County, 6 Allen, 92, 96; Wood v. Firemen's F. Ins. Co. 126 Mass. 316, 319: Thompson v. Boston, 148 Mass. 387, 19 N. E. 406; Anthony v. New York, P. & B. R. Co. 162 Mass. 60, 37 N. E. 780; Cochrane v. Com. 175 Mass. 299, 56 N. E. 610; Hine v. Manhattan R. Co. 132 N. Y. 477, 15 L. R. A. 591, 30 N. E. 985; Keller v. Paine, 34 Hun, 167; Lawrence v. Metropolitan Elev. R. Co. 15 Daly, 502; Young v. Atwood, 5 Hun, 234; Parke v. Seattle, 8 Wash. 78, 35 Pac. 954; Santa Ana v. Harlin, 99 Cal....

To continue reading

Request your trial
214 cases
  • United States v. Crary
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia
    • 24 de outubro de 1932
    ...damages allowable are only the damages to the residue of the tract of which a part is sought to be taken. See Sharp v. U. S., 191 U. S. 341, 354, 24 S. Ct. 114, 48 L. Ed. 211; U. S. v. Grizzard, 219 U. S. 180, 183, 184, 185, 31 S. Ct. 162, 55 L. Ed. 165, 31 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1135; U. S. v. C......
  • Finnell v. Pitts, 8 Div. 133.
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 1 de maio de 1930
    ... ... U. S., 266 U.S. 368, 45 S.Ct. 115, 69 ... L.Ed. 328; Sharp v. U. S., 191 U.S. 341, 24 S.Ct ... 114, 48 L.Ed. 211; U.S. v. Archer, ... well-considered decisions by the Supreme Court of the United ... States, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, ... ...
  • State, State Road Commission v. District Court
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • 15 de outubro de 1937
    ... ... domain differs from that adopted by many of the states, in ... that the landowner is given the right to have his damages ... provision of the Constitution of the United States, which ... provision, with an occasional change in the ... Cress , 243 U.S. 316, 37 S.Ct. 380, 61 L.Ed. 746; ... Sharp v. United States , 191 U.S. 341, 24 ... S.Ct. 114, 48 L.Ed. 211; ... ...
  • United States Tennessee Valley Authority v. Powelson
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • 17 de maio de 1943
    ...73 L.Ed. 387; Mullen Benevolent Corp. v. United States, 290 U.S. 89, 54 S.Ct. 38, 78 L.Ed. 192. 14 See Sharp v. United States, 191 U.S. 341, 348—350, 24 S.Ct. 114, 115, 116, 48 L.Ed. 211; San Diego L. & T. Co. v. Neale, 88 Cal. 50, 58—63, 25 P. 977, 11 L.R.A. 604; Matter of City of New York......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT