United States v. Carmack, No. 40

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBURTON
Citation329 U.S. 230,91 L.Ed. 209,67 S.Ct. 252
PartiesUNITED STATES v. CARMACK
Decision Date09 December 1946
Docket NumberNo. 40

329 U.S. 230
67 S.Ct. 252
91 L.Ed. 209
UNITED STATES

v.

CARMACK.

No. 40.
Argued Oct. 18, 1946.
Decided Dec. 9, 1946.
Rehearing Denied Feb. 3, 1947.
See 329 U.S. 834, 67 S.Ct. 627.

[Syllabus from pages 230-232 intentionally omitted]

Page 232

Mr.John J. Cooney, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. J. R. Kelso, of Cape Girardeau, Mo., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This proceeding was instituted by the United States to condemn land as a site for a post office and customhouse in the City of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in reliance upon several federal statutes, including the general Condemnation Act of August 1, 1888, and the Public Buildings Act of May 25, 1926.1 The City and site were selected by the Federal Works Administrator and the Postmaster General acting jointly under the Public Buildings Act. The principal

Page 233

issue is: Was the Federal Works Administrator authorized by the foregoing statutes to acquire by condemnation land held in trust and used by the City for such public purposes as those of a local park, courthouse, city hall and public library?

In 1941, the United States petitioned the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri to condemn as a site for a United States post office and customhouse about one and one-half acres, near the center of the City of Cape Girardeau, together with the improvements thereon except a public library building. This site was part of a four acre public park and the improvements to be condemned included a building used as the county

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courthouse and city hall, a memorial fountain, a small memorial monument and a portion of a bandstand. The library building apparently was to be removed by its owners on 30 days' notice from the United States.

The petition included as parties defendant the City and County, numerous officials and all known and unknown heirs or others who might claim an interest in this site especially through those who conveyed it, in trust, in 1807 to the Commissioners of the District or, in trust, in 1820 to the inhabitants of the Town of Cape Girardeau. Respondent was the only defendant to file an answer. Finding that she had no interest permitting her to maintain the defenses she asserted, the District Court entered a preliminary decree in favor of the United States. On respondent's appeal the Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the cause for further proceedings consistent with its opinion holding that the respondent had a special interest entitling her to object to the property being taken for a purpose destructive of the public use to which it had been dedicated by her ancestors. Carmack v. United States, 8 Cir., 135 F.2d 196.

In 1944, on retrial before a different judge, the District Court recognized the respondent as entitled to contest the condemnation and, at the direction of the Circuit Court of Appeals, heard evidence as to whether or not the officials of the United States acted capriciously and arbitrarily in selecting this site. It held that 'the selection of the site described in the petition, under all the facts re erred to, amounts in law to an arbitrary and unnecessary act' and dismissed the petition. United States v. Certain Land Situate in City of Cape Girardeau, Mo., D.C., 55 F.Supp. 555, 564. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment on the ground that the Federal Works Administrator and the Postmaster General did not have sufficient statutory authority 'to take the particular land sought to be condemned.' It then expressly found it unnecessary to consider whether or not the

Page 235

federal officials had acted 'capriciously or arbitrarily.' United States v. Carmack, 151 F.2d 881, 882. Because of the importance of the construction of the statutes authorizing the condemnation of land for federal uses, we granted certiorari. 327 U.S. 775, 66 S.Ct. 959.2

Both the general Condemnation Act and the Public Buildings Act3 expressly authorized the acquisition of land by the United States by condemnation as a site for a United States post office, customhouse or courthouse. Neither Act expressly named the City or designated the site to be condemned in this case. Neither expressly stated whether or not sites already in use for conflicting federal, state or local public purposes were subject to condemnation. The Condemnation Act supplemented the federal right 'to procure real estate for the erection of a public building or for other public uses,' by adding to it a general federal power of condemnation under judicial process to be exercised by an officer of the Government 'whenever in his opinion it is necessary or advantageous to the Government to do so.' The Public Buildings Act, as an incident to an original $150,000,000 program, gave authority and direction to the Secretary of the Treasury (later substituting the Federal Works Administrator) 'to acquire by purchase, condemnation, or otherwise, such

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sites * * * as he may deem necessary, * * *.' It specified that as to 'buildings to be used in whole or in part for postoffice purposes, the Federal Works Administrator, under regulations to be prescribed by him, shall act jointly with the Postmaster General in the selection of towns or cities in which buildings are to be constructed and the selection of sites therein: * * *.'4 These Acts were natural means for Congress to adopt in putting its constitutional powers into use on a scale commensurate with the size of the nation and the need of the time. Neither Act imposed expressly any limitations upon the authority of the officials designated by Congress to exercise its power of condemnation in procuring sites for public buildings deemed necessary by such officials to enable the Government to perform certain specified functions.5 Far removed from the time and circumstances that led to the enactment of these statutes in 1888 and 1926, this Court must be slow to read into them today unexpressed limitations restricting the authority of the very officials named in the Acts as the ones upon whom Congress chose to rely.

The power of eminent domain is essential to a sovereign government. If the United States has determined its need for certain land for a public use that is within its federal sovereign powers, it must have the right to appropriate that land. Otherwise, the owner of the land, by refusing to sell it or by consenting to do so only at an unreasonably high price, is enabled to subordinate the constitutional powers of Congress to his personal will. The Fifth Amendment, in turn, provides him with important

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protection against abuse of the power of eminent domain by the Federal Government.6

While in its early days the Federal Government filed its condemnation cases in the State courts, this Court, in Kohl v. United States, 91 U.S. 367, 23 L.Ed. 449, disposed of the idea that this was necessary. In that case, which has become the leading case on the federal power of eminent domain, Mr. Justice Strong also said:

'It has not been seriously contended during the argument that the United States government is without power to appropriate lands or other property within the States for its own uses, and to enable it to perform its proper functions. Such an authority is essential to its independent existence and perpetuity. These cannot be preserved if the obstinacy of a private person, or if any other authority, can prevent the acquisition of the means or instruments by which alone governmental functions can be performed. The powers vested by the Constitution in the general government demand for their exercise the acquisition of lands in all the States. These are needed for forts, armories, and arsenals, for navy-yards and light-houses for custom-houses, post-offices, and court-houses, and for other public uses. If the right to acquire property for such uses may be made a barren right by the unwillingness of property-holders to sell, or by the action of a State prohibiting a sale to the Federal government, the constitutional grants of power may be rendered nugatory, and the government is dependent for its practical existence upon the will of a State, or even upon that of a private citizen. This cannot be. No one doubts the existence in the State governments of the right of eminent domain,—a

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right distinct from and paramount to the right of ultimate ownership. It grows out of the necessities of their being, not out of the tenure by which lands are held. It may be exercised, though the lands are not held by grant from the government, either mediately or immediately, and independent of the consideration whether they would escheat to the government in case of a failure of heirs. The right is the offspring of political necessity; and it is inseparable from sovereignty, unless denied to it by its fundamental law. * * * But it is no more necessary for the exercise of the powers of a State government than it is for the exercise of the conceded powers of the Federal government. That government is as sovereign within its sphere as the States are within theirs. True, its sphere is limited. Certain subjects only are committed to it; but its power over those subjects is as full and complete as is the power of the States over the subjects to which their sovereignty extends.

'If the United States have the power, it must be complete in itself. It can neither be enlarged nor diminished by a State. Nor can any State prescribe the manner in which it must be exercised. The consent of a State can never be a condition precedent to its enjoyment.' (Italics supplied.) Kohl v. United States, supra, 91 U.S. 371, 372, 374, 23 L.Ed. 449.

The Kohl case approved the condemnation of privately owned land, then subject to a perpetual leasehold, for a post office site in Cincinnati, Ohio, under an Act of Congress expressly naming that City but not expressly naming the site. The respondent here seeks, by judicial...

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232 practice notes
  • U.S. v. 101.88 Acres of Land, More or Less, Situated in St. Mary Parish, State of La., No. 77-2768
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 5, 1980
    ...v. United States, 5 Cir. 1951, 197 F.2d 1022, cert. denied, 344 U.S. 885, 73 S.Ct. 184, 97 L.Ed. 685. 6 United States v. Carmack, 1946, 329 U.S. 230, 67 S.Ct. 252, 91 L.Ed. 209; United States v. 58.16 Acres in Clinton County, Illinois (Cooley), 7 Cir. 1973, 478 F.2d 1055, 1058-59; Southern ......
  • Scadron v. City of Des Plaines, No. 89 C 7591.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • March 20, 1990
    ...if it is reached `without adequate determining principle or was unreasoned.'" Scudder, 704 F.2d at 1002, quoting United States v. Carmack, 329 U.S. 230, 243, 67 S.Ct. 252, 258, 91 L.Ed. 209 (1946). In Scudder, the Court found that it was not arbitrary to deny a building permit where a valid......
  • Linda Vista Vill. San Diego Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. v. Tecolote Investors, LLC, D064741
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 1, 2015
    ...(U.S. v. 32.42 Acres of Land, supra, 683 F.3d 1030, 1034; Burkhart v. U.S. (9th Cir. 1955) 227 F.2d 659, 661–662; U.S. v. Carmack (1946) 329 U.S. 230, 240–242, 67 S.Ct. 252, 91 L.Ed. 209.) No exceptions to these takings were specified on the face of the judgments. In U.S. v. 32.42 Acres of ......
  • Linda Vista Vill. San Diego Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. v. Tecolote Investors, LLC, D064741
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 27, 2015
    ...( U.S. v. 32.42 Acres of Land, supra, 683 F.3d 1030, 1034; Burkhart v. U.S. (9th Cir. 1955) 227 F.2d 659, 661–662; U.S. v. Carmack (1946) 329 U.S. 230, 240–242, 67 S.Ct. 252, 91 L.Ed. 209.) No exceptions to these takings were specified on the face of the judgments. In U.S. v. 32.42 Acres of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
232 cases
  • U.S. v. 101.88 Acres of Land, More or Less, Situated in St. Mary Parish, State of La., No. 77-2768
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 5, 1980
    ...v. United States, 5 Cir. 1951, 197 F.2d 1022, cert. denied, 344 U.S. 885, 73 S.Ct. 184, 97 L.Ed. 685. 6 United States v. Carmack, 1946, 329 U.S. 230, 67 S.Ct. 252, 91 L.Ed. 209; United States v. 58.16 Acres in Clinton County, Illinois (Cooley), 7 Cir. 1973, 478 F.2d 1055, 1058-59; Southern ......
  • Scadron v. City of Des Plaines, No. 89 C 7591.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • March 20, 1990
    ...if it is reached `without adequate determining principle or was unreasoned.'" Scudder, 704 F.2d at 1002, quoting United States v. Carmack, 329 U.S. 230, 243, 67 S.Ct. 252, 258, 91 L.Ed. 209 (1946). In Scudder, the Court found that it was not arbitrary to deny a building permit where a valid......
  • Linda Vista Vill. San Diego Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. v. Tecolote Investors, LLC, D064741
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 1, 2015
    ...(U.S. v. 32.42 Acres of Land, supra, 683 F.3d 1030, 1034; Burkhart v. U.S. (9th Cir. 1955) 227 F.2d 659, 661–662; U.S. v. Carmack (1946) 329 U.S. 230, 240–242, 67 S.Ct. 252, 91 L.Ed. 209.) No exceptions to these takings were specified on the face of the judgments. In U.S. v. 32.42 Acres of ......
  • Linda Vista Vill. San Diego Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. v. Tecolote Investors, LLC, D064741
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 27, 2015
    ...( U.S. v. 32.42 Acres of Land, supra, 683 F.3d 1030, 1034; Burkhart v. U.S. (9th Cir. 1955) 227 F.2d 659, 661–662; U.S. v. Carmack (1946) 329 U.S. 230, 240–242, 67 S.Ct. 252, 91 L.Ed. 209.) No exceptions to these takings were specified on the face of the judgments. In U.S. v. 32.42 Acres of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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