U.S. v. 564.54 Acres of Land, More or Less, in Monroe and Pike Counties, Com. of Pa.

Decision Date27 March 1978
Docket NumberNo. 77-1238,77-1238
Citation576 F.2d 983
PartiesUNITED STATES of America v. 564.54 ACRES OF LAND, MORE OR LESS, situated IN MONROE AND PIKE COUNTIES, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, and Benedict F. Pastorini, et al., Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of Lutheran Camp of America. Appeal of SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA SYNOD OF LUTHERAN CAMP OF AMERICA.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

H. Ober Hess, M. Carton Dittmann, Jr., Peter M. Mattoon, Henry W. Asbill, Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, Philadelphia, Pa., for appellant.

James W. Moorman, Acting Asst. Atty. Gen., Peter R. Taft, Edmund B. Clark, Attys., U. S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., Peter H. Ruvolo, Trial Atty., Dept. of Justice, Brooklyn, N. Y. and Peter R. Steenland, Jr., Atty., U. S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for appellee.

Before ROSENN and VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judges, and STERN, District Judge. *

OPINION ANNOUNCING JUDGMENT OF THE COURT

VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

The principal issues in this appeal are whether the jury, charged with determining damages owed by the United States to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Lutheran Church in America ("Synod") for land taken under the power of eminent domain, was properly instructed in the law and whether the jury was sufficiently misled by a remark made by counsel for the Government to require a new trial. We hold that the combination of inadequate instructions by the trial judge and a misstatement of law made by the Government during its closing argument require a new trial.

I.

The trial in this case arose from a condemnation by the Government, as part of the Tocks Island Recreational Project, of three summer camps located on the Delaware River and owned and operated on a not-for-profit basis by the Synod. Prior to trial, the Synod sought a ruling that the proper measure of damages for just compensation under the Fifth Amendment is the cost of constructing substitute facilities to replace the camps, rather than the fair market value of the camps. Noting that the substitute facilities doctrine had only been applied in cases in which the condemnee was a governmental entity, the district court ruled that the substitute facilities doctrine was inapplicable. In an interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), this court reversed, holding that the substitute facilities measure of fair compensation is available to private owners of non-profit facilities if there is no ready market for the facilities and if the facilities are "reasonably necessary to public welfare." United States v. 564.54 Acres of Land, 506 F.2d 796, 800 (3d Cir. 1974). This court did not decide whether the property in this case met the test for the application of the substitute facilities doctrine, but left that issue for the determination of the district court.

Trial was divided into two phases. The first phase considered the issue of whether the substitute facilities doctrine applied to the condemned camps. Via a special interrogatory, the jury found that it did not apply. The second phase consisted of a damage determination using the fair market value test. The jury returned a verdict awarding $740,000. in damages. The Synod moved for a new trial on the phase one issue. Shortly thereafter, the trial judge died, and the judge to whom the case was reassigned denied the motion. This appeal followed.

The record establishes that the three pieces of property, acquired between 1927 and 1947, were treated as one for administrative purposes and that the camps were operated on a not-for-monetary-profit basis by the Eastern Pennsylvania Lutheran Camp Corporation, a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation. The camps lost money each year and were subsidized by gifts from members of the Lutheran Church. The camps provided activities such as water and land sports, nature appreciation activities, and arts and crafts. They were open to children without any restriction as to race or religion. Scholarships to the camps were given to underprivileged and emotionally disturbed children. Campers included children from inner-city Philadelphia, some of whom were provided an opportunity to go to camp as a means of alleviating the "gang" problems in the inner-city. A number of charitable organizations paid the tuition of children who could not otherwise go to camp. These children included Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and children expressing no religious affiliation. These organizations could not afford to send children to camps operated for a profit. Additionally, many campers were not economically deprived and did not receive financial assistance.

Evidence was introduced by the Synod to show that during the period when the Synod knew that the camps were going to be condemned, no camp was on the market, nor was any combination of camps simultaneously on the market which would have adequately replaced the condemned camps. Consequently, the Synod felt the only way to continue the camping operation was to purchase land and construct new camping facilities. The Synod's expert witness testified that a conservative estimate was that it would cost approximately $4,361,000. to replace the camps by constructing new facilities. Apparently, the reason for the great disparity between this figure and the $740,000. fair market value of the camps is attributable to the fact that the condemned camps were allowed to operate in noncompliance with state and federal housing and environmental legislation under grandfather clauses, but a newly constructed camp would require elaborate facilities to comply with this legislation. 564.54 Acres I at 798.

Although the Government did not acquire the camps until 1970, the publicity regarding the Tocks Island Recreational Area caused the Synod to anticipate the condemnation, and in 1964 the Synod purchased land in the Poconos for construction of a replacement camp.

II.

At the conclusion of phase one of the trial, the court submitted to the jury, together with a lengthy charge, the following interrogatory: "Under the principles I have given you, does the doctrine of substitute facilities apply?" The crucial issue in this appeal, as we see it, is whether this interrogatory was submitted to the jury in a confusing and misleading manner in light of the charge to the jury and remarks made by counsel for the Government in summation.

The Synod specifically argues that the court should not have submitted an omnibus question to the jury, but rather should have submitted each of the elements of the substitute facilities doctrine to the jury in a separate question. Our discussion of these elements infra shows that, due to their complexity, this position has great merit, and, in light of our discussion of the elements, the district court may wish to adopt this approach on remand. However, we decline to consider this specific contention, which is part of the larger question of whether the special interrogatory was confusing or misleading, as a ground for reversal. The Synod did not object to the form of the interrogatory at trial, although given ample opportunity to do so, and where a party does not object to the wording of a written interrogatory at trial we will not review it on appeal. Frankel v. Burke's Excavating, Inc., 397 F.2d 167, 170 (3d Cir. 1968). See also Kirkendoll v. Neustrom, 379 F.2d 694, 698 (10th Cir. 1967); Wyoming Construction Co. v. Western Casualty and Surety Co., 275 F.2d 97, 104 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 362 U.S. 976, 80 S.Ct. 1061, 4 L.Ed.2d 1011 (1960). 1

A determination of whether the jury was confused or misled in answering the interrogatory requires us to examine in detail the principles established by 564.54 Acres I and its progeny and determine whether the charge given to the jury and the alleged prejudicial misstatement of law made by the Government comport with those principles. This will require us to review the jury instructions, to which the Synod did not object in the district court. Although generally jury instructions will not be reviewed on appeal if they were not objected to at trial, 2 we have the discretion to review instructions sua sponte if the error is fundamental and highly prejudicial or if the instructions are such that the jury is without adequate guidance on a fundamental question and our failure to consider the error would result in a miscarriage of justice. 3 Though this discretionary power should be exercised sparingly, Trent v. Atlantic City Electric Co., 334 F.2d 847, 859 (3d Cir. 1964); Mazer v. Lipschutz, 327 F.2d 42, 52 (3d Cir. 1964), we think it is exercised appropriately in this case. As the following discussion demonstrates, "(t)he jury was without adequate guidance on (a) fundamental question . . . ." Wilson v. American Chain and Cable Co., 364 F.2d 558, 562 (3d Cir. 1966). Failure to rectify this error could result in a miscarriage of justice because it could mean that the Synod would receive several million dollars less in compensation than that to which it is entitled. We turn now to an examination of the principles of 564.54 Acres I, the charge, and the remarks made in the Government's closing argument.

III.

In 564.54 Acres I we held that the substitute facilities doctrine applied to privately owned property if three conditions were met: (1) the property must be operated on a not-for-profit basis; (2) there must be no ready market for the particular type of property; and (3) the property, or facilities, must be "reasonably necessary to the public welfare." Id. at 796. Each of these conditions has complexities and we will analyze each of them in turn.

A. NOT-FOR-PROFIT BASIS

The dispute at the trial over this element of the substitute facilities test concerned whether "not-for-profit" refers to monetary profit or to any type of profit. Specifically, the dispute is whether operating facilities for "spiritual profit" precludes application of the substitute facilities doctrine.

During closing argument, co...

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