United States v. Benning Housing Corporation, No. 17726.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtRIVES, , and TUTTLE and JONES, Circuit
Citation276 F.2d 248
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. BENNING HOUSING CORPORATION et al., and Unknown Owners, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 17726.
Decision Date25 March 1960

276 F.2d 248 (1960)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant,
v.
BENNING HOUSING CORPORATION et al., and Unknown Owners, Appellees.

No. 17726.

United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit.

March 25, 1960.


276 F.2d 249

Roger P. Marquis, Claron C. Spencer, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., Frank O. Evans, U. S. Atty., Macon, Ga., Perry W. Morton, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellant.

Joseph M. Williamson, Urbana, Ill., Raymond R. Dickey, Washington, D. C., W. M. Page, Swift, Pease, Davidson & Chapman, Columbus, Ga., for appellees.

Before RIVES, Chief Judge, and TUTTLE and JONES, Circuit Judges.

RIVES, Chief Judge.

This is a proceeding to establish just compensation for two "Wherry" housing projects condemned by the United States. The condemnees, Custer Road Terrace, Inc., and Benning Housing Corporation — corporations formed according to the requirements of the Wherry Act1 expressly for the purpose of managing these projects — are beneficially owned by identical persons, thus making it possible to dispose of the case by one all-inclusive valuation.

The property condemned comprised leasehold estates in approximately 300 acres of land situated within the confines of Fort Benning, Georgia, together with the improvements thereon. Two separate seventy-five-year leases are involved: one, executed on March 3, 1950, and having approximately sixty-seven and one-fourth years remaining as of December 31, 1957, the date of taking; and the second, executed on September 6, 1951, and having approximately sixty-eight and two-thirds years remaining as of that date. The improvements involved were quite substantial. Roughly speaking, they consisted of 370 brick residential buildings containing 800 family dwelling units, a commercial shopping center, various utility buildings, a network of paved streets and sidewalks, and complete water and sewage systems. Under the terms of the leases, titles to all improvements remained in the lessees and, upon expiration of the leases, the lessees had the privilege of removing those improvements. Any improvements not removed at that time, however, became the property of the United States.

The primary controversy at the trial centered about the method of valuation which was to be used in the determination of just compensation. The condemnees took the position that the proper measure of compensation for their interests was reproduction cost less depreciation. This position was predicated upon three contentions: that there was no established market and, consequently, no established market value for their property; that valuation by capitalization of income was inappropriate; and that the nature of the property condemned was such that the reproduction cost approach was peculiarly appropriate. The Government, on the other hand, took issue with each of these contentions. It offered, as evidence of market value, testimony relating to the sale of three Wherry housing projects,2 and contended that these projects were comparable to those of the condemnees. Secondly, it contended that valuation by capitalization of income was entirely appropriate to the property condemned. And, finally, it contended that the reproduction cost approach was entirely inappropriate and that evidence of reproduction cost should be excluded.

The district judge heard evidence relating to the alleged comparable sales at a special hearing prior to the trial and ruled that the sales were sufficiently comparable to warrant their admission into evidence. At the same time, however, he ruled that evidence of capitalization of income and reproduction cost was also admissible. Thus, the jury to which the case was eventually tried heard evidence relating to all three of these methods of valuation. A verdict was returned in

276 F.2d 250
favor of the condemnees in the amount of $2,171,487.3 Since the Government had deposited only $941,000 prior to the trial, judgment was entered ordering payment of an additional $1,230,487 plus interest thereon from the date of taking

The Government prosecutes this appeal, assigning as the primary ground therefor, the trial court's ruling that the jury could hear evidence of reproduction cost of the condemned property. Additional assignments relate to rulings made by the trial court on related, but comparatively incidental, questions.

An examination of the cases dealing with the admissibility of reproduction cost evidence reveals that, although the subject is clouded with considerable uncertainty, some pattern does emerge. Thus, it has almost uniformly been held that, absent some special showing, reproduction cost evidence is not admissible in a condemnation proceeding.4 This rule stems from a recognition of the fact that reproduction cost evidence almost invariably5 tends to inflate valuation. This is so because the reproduction cost of a structure sets an absolute ceiling on the market price of that structure,6 a ceiling which may not be, and most frequently is not, even approached in actual market negotiations. When this inherently inflationary attribute of reproduction cost evidence is considered in the light of the misleading exactitude which such evidence almost inevitably imparts to a jury unsophisticated in the niceties of economics, the justification for placing substantial safeguards upon its admission is apparent.

On the other hand, it is equally well recognized that in some cases, and upon a proper showing, the admission of reproduction cost evidence is justified, and even mandatory. Within this area of substantial agreement, there is, however, some disagreement. Thus, some courts hold that reproduction cost evidence is admissible only in those cases where the indicia of value under other methods are not available.7 Other courts seem to treat this factor as largely irrelevant.8 But, as to three other factors governing the admission of reproduction cost evidence, there is substantial, if not complete, unanimity. These are: (1) that the interest condemned must be one of complete ownership;9 (2) that there must be a showing that substantial reproduction would be a reasonable business venture;10 and (3) that a proper allowance be made for depreciation.11

276 F.2d 251

We will first deal with the Government's contention that reproduction cost evidence was not admissible because other indicia of value, i. e., comparable sales and income, were available. On this point, the Government relies upon the opinions of this Court in Stephenson Brick Co. v. United States12 and United States v. Savannah Shipyards,13 contending that these cases commit this Court to the view that reproduction cost evidence is not admissible where comparable sales evidence is available and are, therefore, entirely dispositive of the issue here presented.

An examination of those cases, however, reveals that this reliance is misplaced. The very most that they can properly be interpreted to stand for, and, indeed, even this is by way of dictum, is the proposition that where there is an established market value for the condemned property, reproduction cost evidence is inadmissible. The distinction which must be drawn is between a situation in which there is an established market value and one in which a few sales of comparable properties have occurred. In the latter situation, which is that involved in the present case, it cannot be said that a market value is established.14 Isolated comparable sales, though themselves admissible as tending to show fair market value, are not sufficient to render reproduction cost evidence inadmissible in a case where admission is otherwise appropriate.

Thus, even if we assume that the dicta in Stephenson Brick and Savannah...

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37 practice notes
  • South Bay Irr. Dist. v. California-American Water Co., CALIFORNIA-AMERICAN
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 15, 1976
    ...most Page 189 frequently is not, even approached in actual market negotiations.' (United States v. Benning Housing Corporation, 5 Cir., 276 F.2d 248, In any event reproduction or reconstruction-cost-new-less-depreciation as an aid to determining market value, as well as other aids; e.g., ma......
  • United States v. An Easement & Right-of-way Over 6.09 Acres of Land, No. 5:14–cv–0032–JEO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • October 21, 2015
    ...to base just compensation on the cost of replacing the property, less depreciation, see United States v. Benning Housing Corp., 276 F.2d 248, 250 (5th Cir.1960), at least where market value is not ascertainable. See United States v. 50 Acres of Land, 469 U.S. 24, 105 S.Ct. 451, 83 L.Ed.2d 3......
  • Town of Hempstead (Point Lookout in Vicinity of Sea Spray Drive East), Matter of, No. 1
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • April 6, 1981
    ...are disfavored as a method of valuation because of their inherently inflationary attributes (see United States v. Benning Housing Corp., 276 F.2d 248). Since the cost approach "among other things, ignores entirely factors like functional obsolescence, (it) is useful principally, apart from ......
  • Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp., Application of, TRANS-HUDSON
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • December 10, 1965
    ...would be of prime importance. Such is the realistic view taken by the courts. (See United States v. Benning Housing Corp., 5 Cir., 276 F.2d 248, Recognizing the factors already alluded to rendering this commuting railway, as well as others throughout the country, incapable of operating prof......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
37 cases
  • South Bay Irr. Dist. v. California-American Water Co., CALIFORNIA-AMERICAN
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 15, 1976
    ...most Page 189 frequently is not, even approached in actual market negotiations.' (United States v. Benning Housing Corporation, 5 Cir., 276 F.2d 248, In any event reproduction or reconstruction-cost-new-less-depreciation as an aid to determining market value, as well as other aids; e.g., ma......
  • United States v. An Easement & Right-of-way Over 6.09 Acres of Land, No. 5:14–cv–0032–JEO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • October 21, 2015
    ...to base just compensation on the cost of replacing the property, less depreciation, see United States v. Benning Housing Corp., 276 F.2d 248, 250 (5th Cir.1960), at least where market value is not ascertainable. See United States v. 50 Acres of Land, 469 U.S. 24, 105 S.Ct. 451, 83 L.Ed.2d 3......
  • Town of Hempstead (Point Lookout in Vicinity of Sea Spray Drive East), Matter of, No. 1
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • April 6, 1981
    ...are disfavored as a method of valuation because of their inherently inflationary attributes (see United States v. Benning Housing Corp., 276 F.2d 248). Since the cost approach "among other things, ignores entirely factors like functional obsolescence, (it) is useful principally, apart from ......
  • Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp., Application of, TRANS-HUDSON
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • December 10, 1965
    ...would be of prime importance. Such is the realistic view taken by the courts. (See United States v. Benning Housing Corp., 5 Cir., 276 F.2d 248, Recognizing the factors already alluded to rendering this commuting railway, as well as others throughout the country, incapable of operating prof......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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