Shoemaker v. United States
147 U.S. 282 (1893)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Shoemaker v. United States, 147 U.S. 282 (1893)

Shoemaker v. United States

No. 1197

Argued November 28-29, 1892

Decided January 1B, 1893

147 U.S. 282

Syllabus

Land taken in a city for public parks and squares by authority of law, is taken for a public use.

The extent to which such property shall be taken for such use rests wholly in legislative discretion, subject only to the restraint that just compensation must be made.

The proviso in the Maryland act of cession of the District of Columbia, that

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nothing therein contained should be

"so construed to vest in the United States any right of property in the soil, as to affect the right of individuals therein, otherwise than the same shall or may be transferred by such individuals to the United States"

has no reference to the power of eminent domain which belongs to the United States as the grantee in the act of cession.

The United States possess full and unlimited jurisdiction, both of a political and municipal nature, over the District of Columbia.

It is within the constitutional power of Congress, in legislating for the creation of a commission charged with public duties, to provide that some members of it shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and that other members of it shall consist of officers in the service of the United States, who had been appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, when the duties of the new office are germane to those of the offices already held by the latter.

Congress may increase the duties of an existing office without rendering it necessary that the incumbent should be again nominated, confirmed and appointed.

The approval by the President of the price to be paid by the United States for private land, condemned for public use in the exercise of the right of eminent domain, is not a judicial act.

An intention expressed by Congress not to go beyond a sum named as the aggregate in condemning land for a park in Washington is not a direction to appraisers to keep within any given limit in valuing any particular piece of property.

It is competent for the legislature, in providing for the cost of a public park, to assess a proportionate part of it upon property specially benefited.

In condemning lands for a public park, it is competent for the court, in the absence of a legislative direction prescribing the form of the oath to be administered to appraisers, to direct them to take an oath to

"faithfully, justly and impartially appraise the value or values of said parcels of land, and of the respective interests therein, to the best of their skill and judgment."

In determining the values of lands so taken, appraisers should exercise their own judgment, derived from personal knowledge and inspection of the lands, as well as their knowledge derived from the evidence adduced by the parties.

An appellate court will not interfere with the report of commissioners or appraisers in such case to correct the amounts reported, except in case of gross error showing prejudice, corruption or plain mistake.

If there were any deposits of gold in the land condemned for the Rock Creek Park in Washington, those deposits were the property of the United States.

The filing of a map of the land proposed to be taken for the Rock Creek Park, made under § 3 of the Act of September 27, 1890, 26 Stat. 492, c.

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1001, was not a finality, and did not commit the commissioners to taking all the tracts included in it.

The owners of the tracts condemned for that park are not entitled to interest upon the respective sums assessed as damages for the taking.

Under the title of "An act authorizing the establishing of a public park in the District of Columbia," an Act of Congress was approved on September 27, 1890, 26 St. p. 492, c. 1001, directing that a tract of land lying on both sides of Rock Creek and within certain limits named in the act be secured as thereinafter set out, and be perpetually dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States. The act provides that the whole tract to be selected and condemned shall not exceed 2,000 acres, and that the cost thereof shall not be in excess of a certain amount appropriated.

It was provided that the Chief of Engineers of the United States Army, the Engineer Commissioner of the District of Columbia, and three citizens to be appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate be, and they are by the act, created a commission (a majority of which shall have power always to act) to select the land for the said park of the quantity and within the limits prescribed, and to have the same surveyed by the assistant to the said engineer commissioner of the District of Columbia in charge of public highways.

The means to be employed in the ascertainment of the value of the lands to be selected, and in the acquirement of ownership and possession thereof by the United States, are provided for in sections 3, 4, and 5 of the act, which are as follows:

"SEC. 3. That the said commission shall cause to be made an accurate map of said Rock Creek Park, showing the location, quantity, and character of each parcel of private property to be taken for such purpose, with the names of the respective owners inscribed thereon, which map shall be filed and recorded in the public records of the District of Columbia, and from and after the date of filing said map the several tracts and parcels of land embraced in said Rock Creek Park shall be held as condemned for public uses, and the title thereof

Page 147 U. S. 285

vested in the United States, subject to the payment of just compensation, to be determined by said commission and approved by the President of the United States. provided that such compensation be accepted by the owner or owners of the several parcels of land."

"That if the said commission shall be unable, by agreement with the respective owners, to purchase all of the land so selected and condemned, within thirty days after such condemnation at the price approved by the President of the United States, it shall at the expiration of such period of thirty days, make application to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, by petition at a general or special term, for an assessment of the value of such land as it has been unable to purchase."

"Said petition shall contain a particular description of the property selected and condemned, with the name of the owner or owners thereof, if known, and their residences, so far as the same may be ascertained, together with a copy of the recorded map of the park, and the said court is hereby authorized and required, upon such application, without delay to notify the owners and occupants of the land, if known, by personal service, and, if unknown, by service by publication, and to ascertain and assess the value of the land so selected and condemned, by appointing three competent and disinterested commissioners to appraise the value or values thereof, and to return the appraisement to the court, and when the value or values of such land are thus ascertained, and the President of the United States shall decide the same to be reasonable, said value or values shall be paid to the owner or owners, and the United States shall be deemed to have a valid title to said land, and if, in any case, the owner or owners of any portion of said land shall refuse or neglect, after the appraisement of the cash value of said lands and improvements, to demand or receive the same from said court, upon depositing the appraised value in said court to the credit of such owner or owners, respectively, the fee simple shall in like manner be vested in the United States."

"SEC. 4. That said court may direct the time and manner in which the possession of the property condemned shall be

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taken or delivered, and may, if necessary, enforce any order or issue any process for giving possession."

"SEC. 5. That no delay in making an assessment of compensation or in taking possession shall be occasioned by any doubt which may arise as to the ownership of the property, or any part thereof, or as to the interests of the respective owners. In such cases, the court shall require a deposit of the money allowed as compensation for the whole property, or the part in dispute. In all cases, as soon as the said commission shall have paid the compensation assessed, or secured its payment by a deposit of money under the order of the court, possession of the property may be taken. All proceedings hereunder shall be in the name of the United States of America, and managed by the commission."

It is made the further duty of the commission, when they have ascertained the amount required to be paid for the land and for expenses, to assess the same upon the lands, lots, and blocks, situated in said district, specially benefited by reason of the location and improvement of said park, in proportion to such benefits to said property, and it is provided that if the commission shall find that the benefits are not equal to the cost and expenses of the land obtained for the park, they shall assess each tract specially benefited to the extent of the benefit thereto. If the proceeds of the assessment exceed the cost of the park, the excess is to be used in its improvement, if such excess shall not exceed the amount of $10,000, any part above that amount to be refunded ratably. The commission shall give due notice of the time and place of their meeting for the purpose of making such assessment for benefits, and all persons interested may appear and be heard. This assessment being duly made, it becomes the duty of the commission to apply to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to have it confirmed. The court is given power, after notice duly given to all parties in interest, to hear and determine all matters connected with said assessment and to revise, correct, amend, and confirm the same, in whole or in part, or order a new assessment in whole or in part, with or without further notice, or on such

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notice as it shall prescribe. The act also prescribes the mode in which payment of the assessment for benefits shall be made after it is confirmed, and provides for the enforcement of such payment in the manner employed in the District for the collection of delinquent taxes. All payments under said assessment shall be made to the Treasurer of the United States, and all money so collected may be paid by the treasurer, on the order of the commission, to any persons entitled thereto as compensation for land or services.

To pay the expenses of inquiry, survey, assessment, cost of lands taken, and all other expenses incidental thereto, the sum of $1,200,000 is appropriated out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, one-half of which, as well as one-half of any sum annually appropriated and expended for the maintenance and improvement of the park, is made a charge upon the revenues of the District of Columbia.

The act finally provides that the public park authorized and established thereby shall be under the joint control of the commissioners of said District and the Chief of Engineers of the United States Army, and it is made their duty, as soon as practicable, to render the park fit for the purposes of its establishment and to make and publish such regulations as they deem necessary or proper for the care and management of the same.

On May 20, 1891, the commission appointed under the provisions of the act filed a petition in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, setting out therein that they had caused a map to be made of the lands selected by them for the park, showing the location, quantity, and character of each tract or parcel of property to be taken therefor, and that they had filed and recorded the map in the public records of said District on April 16, 1891. The petitioners stated that immediately upon the filing of the map, they made to each of the owners of said tracts of land an offer to purchase his property at a definite sum fixed by the commission and approved by the President of the United States, and that they had not been able, within the time limited for such purpose,

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to purchase by agreement with the owners any of the lands except five of the eighty-four tracts selected, and the petitioners therefore prayed the court for the appointment of three competent and disinterested commissioners to appraise the land so selected and to return the appraisement to the court. The court directed that the petition be filed in general term, and ordered that the persons named as respondents to the petition, and all others interested, or claiming to be interested, in the land described, or in any part thereof, as occupants or otherwise, appear in court on or before June 15, 1891, and show cause why the prayer of the petition should not be granted, and why the court should not proceed at that time as directed by the act of Congress. The court further directed that a copy of this order be served upon such of the named respondents as should be found in said District as least seven days before June 15, 1891, and that a copy thereof be duly published in the periodical press of the District.

After the petition was filed, Pierce Shoemaker, one of the respondents thereto, died, and, his death being suggested to the court, Louis P. Shoemaker, Francis D. Shoemaker, Abigail C. Newman, and Clara A. Newman, heirs at law and devisees of the said Pierce Shoemaker, deceased, were on June 2, 1891, made parties respondent in his place and stead.

The said Louis P. Shoemaker and Francis D. Shoemaker, executors of the last will and testament of the said Pierce Shoemaker, deceased, appeared in court June 15, 1891, and moved that the petition be dismissed. This motion was based upon various grounds, each one of which impeached the constitutionality of the said act and the validity of proceedings under it. These grounds were, in substance, that two members of the commission were appointed by Congress, and not by any executive officer or court; that the act provides that the President shall perform a judicial function in participating in the appraisement of the several tracts of lands to be selected for the park, and in adjudicating upon awards respecting the same; that the approval or disapproval of the said appraisement is left to the President, who is virtually a party to the condemnation proceedings, and not left to an

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impartial judicial tribunal to decide upon the question of just compensation for the property; that the amount to be paid for the property is limited to a fixed sum, regardless of its adequacy as just compensation therefor; that Congress, by the act, attempts to exercise the right of eminent domain within the District of Columbia for purposes foreign to the needs and requirements of its exclusive power therein, and that such exercise is in violation of its compact made with the State of Maryland upon the cession of territory thereof to the United States, that nothing contained in the act of cession passed by the assembly of Maryland, should

"be so construed to vest in the United States any right of property in the soil, as to affect the right of individuals therein, otherwise than the same shall or may be transferred by such individuals to the United States."

This motion was denied, the court being of opinion that it is not unconstitutional for the legislature to entrust the performance of particular duties to officials already charged with duties of the same general description, and that, besides, as the majority of the commission is empowered by the law to act in all cases, the three civilian members might legally discharge the duties of the commission, independently of the two army officers, if the appointment of the latter was irregular; that no judicial power is devolved upon the President by the act, he being only vested with authority either to acquiesce in the judgment of the assessors or to decline on behalf of the United States to accept the property, and having no power to take the property in disregard of their assessment; that the limitation by the act of the amount to be paid for said lands is not unconstitutional, as the appraisers are bound, as competent and disinterested commissioners, to return what they believe is the just value of the properties regardless of any restriction in the act as to the cost thereof; that the condemnation of land for a public park is a taking of property for public uses within the meaning of the constitution; that no relinquishment of the federal power of eminent domain can be deduced from the legislation relating to the acquisition of said territory from the State of Maryland

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by the United States, and that the United States could not have bound itself by any such condition, even though distinctly set forth in the act of cession. 19 Wash.Law Rep. 466.

The said respondents thereupon asked leave to file a demurrer to the petition. This being refused, they prayed in open court the allowance of a writ of error, returnable to this Court, to review the judgment of the general term overruling the motion to dismiss the petition. This application was denied because that judgment was interlocutory. Application was then made to one of the justices of this Court, and he denied it.

The court of the District of Columbia then made an order appointing three citizens of the District who it adjudged to be competent and disinterested to appraise the values of the land selected for the park, with directions to return the appraisement into court and to perform all other duties imposed upon them by the act of Congress.

The said respondents, who are the present plaintiffs in error, then presented to the court of the District a form of oath which they prayed might be administered to said appraisers and also certain instructions which they prayed the court to give them. The court refused to administer the oath and to give the instructions proposed by plaintiffs in error, and a different oath was administered and different instructions given to said appraisers by the court. Exceptions to this action of the court were filed by plaintiffs in error August 1, 1891.

The said appraisers entered upon the discharge of their duties. At the hearing before them, evidence was offered by the plaintiffs in error for the purpose of sustaining certain allegations of the existence of gold in paying quantities in the tract of land shown on the map as tract No. 39. This evidence having been received by the appraisers, the United States moved the court to strike it from the record. This motion was sustained, and the appraisers were directed not to consider that evidence in making up their award. The court held that if any deposits of gold exist in said land, they are the

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property of the United States; that the State of Maryland was the owner of all mines of gold or other precious minerals within its borders by virtue of its confiscation of the property of the lord proprietary in 1780, who had never parted with his title, held under his charter from Charles I, to such mines, and that the Legislature of the State of Maryland, by its act of cession, transferred its interest in any possible gold mines in the ceded territory to the United States. During the argument upon that motion, the plaintiffs in error showed the court that any resurvey patent granted by the State of Maryland in 1803, under which the plaintiffs in error immediately claim title, there is no reservation of mines, and contended that as this patent was based upon a warrant of resurvey dated May 12, 1800, nine months before Congress assumed jurisdiction in the District of Columbia, the grantee under it acquired an equitable title to the land patented by virtue of that warrant. The court held that under the law of Maryland, no equitable title could be created until the return of the certificate of survey to the land office, and that, as the patent does not show that such certificate was returned to the office, and as the party obtaining the warrant had, under the law, two years in which to have the certificate returned, the presumption would be that it was not returned until after 1801, and that therefore the grantee could take no title whatever under the patent until its issue in 1803, and further that the State of Maryland could grant no title to lands within the ceded territory after the act of cession in 1791, and that the proviso therein with reference to the continuance of the jurisdiction of the laws of Maryland over persons and property in the ceded territory until Congress should provide for the government thereof applied only to laws affecting private rights, and did not continue the operation of the land laws of Maryland as to public lands owned by the state within that territory.

The plaintiffs in error then applied to the appraisers, November, 1891, for permission to offer newly discovered evidence relating to the ownership of the alleged gold deposits to the end that they might move the court in general term,

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upon the strength of such evidence, to rescind the order directing the appraisers to strike out of the record the evidence relating to the existence of gold in the property, and requested the appraisers to submit their application to the court, in general term, for further instructions. This application was submitted to the court, and the plaintiffs in error, on December 4, 1891, moved that the appraisers be instructed to receive the additional evidence touching the ownership of the alleged gold deposits in said tract No. 39, which motion was overruled. The new evidence tended to show that certain lands which the court had held to be subject to a reservation of "royal mines" in a patent granted by the lord proprietary in 1772 were covered in part by a patent granted by him in 1760, which did not contain such reservation. The plaintiffs in error therefore contended that, though the patent of 1772 was original as to part of the lands described therein, it was, with reference to the lands granted in 1760, which lands include the said tract No. 39, a patent of confirmation only, and as such did not create a new estate, but simply recognized or reaffirmed the former one. The new evidence further tended to show that the grantee under those patents conveyed his estate to two persons as tenants in common; that the estate of one of these persons was confiscated as property of a British subject, and was afterwards, in 1792, conveyed by the state to the mediate grantor of the plaintiffs in error, without any reservation of said mines. The court was of opinion that the acceptance of a new grant from the lord proprietary, such as that described, necessarily involved the surrender of the original title, and therefore the patent of 1772 was original as to all the land it purported to grant or confirm, and that the conveyance made by the state in 1792 did not purport to convey anything else than the property confiscated, which was held subject to the reservation aforesaid, and that such conveyance made after 1791 could not be operative.

On December 19, 1891, the appraisers submitted their report and a copy of the proceedings before them to the court, and the court ordered that the report, together with the testimony and exhibits, be filed.

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The plaintiffs in error filed their exceptions to this report January 4, 1892, said exceptions being based upon the grounds, among others, that the act of Congress is unconstitutional and all proceedings based thereon void; that the aggregate of the values, found by the assessors, of the lands included in the park is in excess of the appropriation made by Congress; that the actual values of the lands are largely in excess of the values fixed by the appraisers; that the commissioners, in appraising the values of the property, disregarded certain parts of the evidence in respect thereto; that the attorney representing the government did not produce witnesses to impartially testify touching the value of said lands, but, on the contrary, placed a list of prices fixed by said park commission in the hands of divers persons proposed to be used as witnesses for the purpose of affecting their judgment as to values and to guide them in reaching values to correspond with those thus furnished them.

The plaintiffs in error contended that into the present act should be read the Sundry Civil Appropriation Act of August, 1890, wherein it is provided that the valuation by appraisers to be appointed by the court, of lands to be purchased for the government printing office, shall be confirmed by the court, said appropriation act providing that, after its passage, in all cases of the taking of property in said District for public uses, its provisions respecting such condemnation and appraisement shall operate, and contended that under said appropriation act, the court should review the evidence and proceedings before the appraisers appointed in the present instance, and decide whether the values fixed by them afforded just compensation for the property taken.

These exceptions were overruled, and the report confirmed. The constitutional questions involved having been already passed upon, the court decided, in overruling said exceptions, that the restriction in the act as to the cost of the lands is not a restriction upon the duty of the court to confirm the appraisement, but a restriction upon the government's finally securing the land, since it cannot be discovered whether or not the value is in excess of the appropriation until the court has discharged

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its duty of assessing the land; that as the evidence before the appraisers was conflicting, and the result simply an estimate based upon a comparison of the opposing opinions of witnesses, it cannot be said that the verdict was contrary to the evidence; that as to the objection that lists of values fixed by the park commission were furnished to witnesses, an expert witness has a right to qualify himself by comparing his views with those of others and to enlighten his judgment by any means which conduce to the formation of a reliable opinion, as, after all, he simply gives an opinion; that as a general rule, the court has no right to review an appraisement simply because of error of judgment, if such has been manifested, on the part of the appraisers as to value, and the said sundry civil appropriations act does not modify the rule, and that under said appropriations act, the court must confirm the appraisement as a matter of course if the appraisers have discharged their duty and if there is no legal ground for setting their report aside.

The park commission, in consideration of the limitation in the act with the respect to the amount to be paid for the lands and the difficulties resulting from an appraisement of values which, when added to the amount paid for tracts purchased and for expenses, would exceed the appropriation, on March 11, 1892, submitted for the inspection of the President a copy of the map, showing by red lines thereon the boundaries of a reduced area within the limits of the lands first selected, formed by the omission of certain tracts originally included. A letter of the park commissioner anticipating these difficulties has been referred to the Attorney General, and in his opinion thereon, dated April 10, 1891, he states that if the assessed value of the land in the court proceedings exceeds the appropriation, the commission may exercise its discretion to pay for the land they regard as most desirable.

In conformity with this interpretation of the act, the park commission reduced the area of the land proposed to be taken to within the limits indicated by red lines on the said map, and having shown to the President the cost of the lands within the reduced area, together with all expenses, requested him to decide the values appraised to be reasonable. In

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response to this, by his letter to the park commission dated April 13, 1892, the President states his decision that the values fixed by the appraisers appointed by the Supreme Court of said District under the act are reasonable.

The park commission then filed a petition in said court April 19, 1892, presenting the decision of the President and showing that each and all the owners of said parcels, the assessed values of which had been so decided to be reasonable, had failed and neglected to demand or receive from the court those values, and that said owners claimed interest on their respective assessments from the date of the filing of the said original map. The petitioners therefore prayed the court to pass an order authorizing them to pay into court the assessed values of all of said parcels of real estate.

On May 2, 1892, the said respondents, now plaintiffs in error, moved to dismiss the petition on the grounds, among others, that the assessment of only a part of the lands shown on the map as originally prepared had been acted upon by the President; that no proceedings had been instituted on the basis of the reduced area, nor any map filed other than the original map; that the park commission, having selected lands for the park, and filed a map thereof, had no power to reduce the area of the lands, and that, for about a half mile along said Rock Creek, lands taken for the park lie upon only one side thereof, whereas said act provides that the park is to lie on both sides of said creek.

The court denied the motion, interpreting the act to express an absolute intent that there shall be a park on Rock Creek and to give authority to the park commission, after making their original selection of lands for the park, to amend their work by abandoning such parcels as they were not authorized by the appropriation to purchase. The operation of the order denying this motion was suspended, however, so far as it might affect the property of the plaintiffs in error, until the further order of the court.

The plaintiffs in error then presented to the court an answer to the petition setting up the same grounds of objection thereto as urged by them in their motion to dismiss the

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last-named petition, and requested that the answer might be filed. The court, finding no point presented in the answer not already passed upon, denied the request to have the same filed and ordered, May 24, 1892, that the United States pay forthwith into the registry of the court the values, without interest thereon, appraised by the appraising commissioners theretofore appointed by the court, including the values of the property of plaintiffs in error.

Upon motion of the park commission, the court, on July 13, 1892, granted an order to show cause why the title in fee simple to the property of plaintiffs in error should not be declared by the court to be vested in the United States. The plaintiffs in error filed an answer to this rule, reserving therein all the objections theretofore taken by them during the progress of the said proceedings. The court overruled the objections and ordered and decreed, July 16, 1892, that the fee-simple title to each and all of the tracts of land represented by plaintiffs in error is vested in the United States, and that the owners of said tracts forthwith deliver up possession of their respective holdings to the park commission, or its executive officer. On July 19, 1892, upon application of the United States, a special auditor was appointed to ascertain and report to the court the names of the persons respectively entitled to the appraised values of the tracts of lands selected for said park, claimed by the plaintiffs in error, and to report separately upon each tract or road within the boundaries thereof.

Thereupon plaintiffs in error sued out a writ of error to bring this final judgment and the record in the condemnation proceedings before this Court for review.

In addition to the alleged errors above indicated, the plaintiffs in error now say first that the United States had no right, after filing the first map of the land selected, to abandon the taking of any part of the land condemned, and secondly that the assessment for benefits provided for by the act of Congress is beyond the power of the government, and that therefore the act is void.

Page 147 U. S. 297

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