United States v. General Motors Corp.
323 U.S. 373 (1945)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. General Motors Corp., 323 U.S. 373 (1945)

United States v. General Motors Corp.

No. 76

Argued November 16, 17, 1944

Decided January 8, 1945

323 U.S. 373

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In proceedings to determine the measure of just compensation required by the Fifth Amendment to be made to a leaseholder where the Government has taken, for part of the unexpired term of a lease, the occupancy of a warehouse which was equipped for and used in the leaseholder's business, held:

1. The value of the occupancy is to be ascertained not by treating what has been taken as an empty warehouse to be leased for a long-term, but by what would be the market rental value of the building on a lease by the long-term tenant to a temporary occupant. P. 323 U. S. 381.

The long-term rental value is admissible as evidence of the market rental value of the temporary occupancy.

2. The reasonable cost of removing the leaseholder's stored property and preparing the space for occupancy by the Government -- including labor, materials, transportation, and possibly the cost of

Page 323 U. S. 374

temporary storage and returning the goods to the premises -- may be proved not as independent items of damage, but as elements affecting the price which would be asked and paid for temporary occupancy. P. 323 U. S. 383.

3. The leaseholder is entitled to compensation for the destruction, damage, or depreciation in value of fixtures and permanent equipment, not as part of, but in addition to, the value of the occupancy. P. 323 U. S. 383.

140 F.2d 873 affirmed.

Certiorari, 322 U.S. 722, to review a judgment which, on an appeal by the company, reversed a judgment in a condemnation proceeding.

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is one of first impression in this court. It presents a question on which the decisions of federal courts are in conflict. [Footnote 1] The problem involved is the ascertainment of the just compensation required by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution where, in the exercise of

Page 323 U. S. 375

the power of eminent domain, temporary occupancy of a portion of a leased building is taken from a tenant who holds under a long-term lease.

Section 201 of Tit. II of the Second War Powers Act of March 27, 1942, [Footnote 2] provides in part that the Secretary of War may cause proceedings to be instituted in any court having jurisdiction to acquire by condemnation any real property, temporary use thereof, or other interest therein which shall be deemed necessary for military or other war purposes. The Act provides further that, on or after the filing of the condemnation petition, immediate possession may be taken, and the property may be occupied, used, or improved.

In 1928, the respondent leased a one-story warehouse building in Chicago for a term of twenty years for the storage and distribution of automobile parts, and fitted the premises for this use. In 1942, the United States became subtenants of a portion of the floor space in the building. There remained in the possession of the respondent some 93,000 square feet. In the spring of 1942, the Secretary of War requested the Attorney General to institute proceedings for condemnation of the occupancy of the remaining space for a term ending June 30, 1943. Pursuant to the request, the United States, June 8, 1942, filed a petition in the District Court for an order condemning such temporary use and granting the Government the right of immediate possession, use, and improvement for military purposes. On the same day, the court entered an order declaring the property condemned for a term ending June 30, 1943, and granting the United States the right of immediate possession. The order was served on the respondent, and, shortly thereafter, it began removing its personal property from the area and dismantling and demolishing bins and fixtures so that the space was available for government use by June 19.

Page 323 U. S. 376

At the trial for the ascertainment of the compensation due the respondent, the attorney for the Government, after proving the authority for the taking, called a real estate expert who gave his opinion that the fair rental value of the space was 35 cents per year per square foot. The Government then rested.

The respondent called expert witnesses who testified that, in their opinion, the fair rental value was 43 cents per square foot, and a witness was permitted to testify that the rent paid by the respondent to its landlord had varied during the years 1940 to 1942, inclusive, from 41.9 to 43.24 cents.

The respondent then offered to prove various items of cost caused by removal of the contents. These consisted, inter alia, of salaries of employees engaged in the work, compensation due employees put out of work by the removal, wages of janitors and watchmen for the protection of the building during the moving, the cost of shipping the contents of the building to other points, compensation to executives and employees whose time was required in connection with the moving of the property, freight and haulage charges, rental of storage space for articles moved out, the value of the bin equipment destroyed, and the estimated original cost of the installation of fixed equipment completely lost as a result of the dismantling of the area. The court sustained an objection to the offer. The jury awarded compensation in a lump sum at a rate of approximately 40 cents per square foot for the term of one year. [Footnote 3]

Page 323 U. S. 377

The respondent appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals, assigning as error the refusal of its offer of proof. That court might have sustained the District Court's ruling on the ground that respondent was not entitled to prove certain of the expenditures and losses in question as independent items of damages additional to the value of the interest taken by condemnation. The court, however, considering substance, rather than form, by a vote of 2 to 1, reversed the judgment, holding that items of actual loss which were the direct and necessary result of the respondent's exclusion from the leased area might be proved not as independent items but as elements to be considered in arriving at the sum which would be just compensation for the interest which the Government condemned. The cause was remanded for trial in accordance with the ruling of the Circuit Court of Appeals. We think we should review that ruling inasmuch as it is fundamental to the further conduct of the case. The correctness of the decision of the court below depends upon the scope and meaning of the constitutional provision "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation," which conditions the otherwise unrestrained power of the sovereign to expropriate, without compensation, whatever it needs.

The critical terms are "property," "taken," and "just compensation." It is conceivable that the first was used in its vulgar and untechnical sense of the physical thing with respect to which the citizen exercises rights recognized by law. On the other hand, it may have been employed

Page 323 U. S. 378

in a more accurate sense to denote the group of rights inhering in the citizen's relation to the physical thing, as the right to possess, use and dispose of it. In point of fact, the construction given the phrase has been the latter. [Footnote 4] When the sovereign exercises the power of eminent domain, it substitutes itself in relation to the physical thing in question in place of him who formerly bore the relation to that thing, which we denominate ownership. In other words, it deals with what lawyers term the individual's "interest" in the thing in question. That interest may comprise the group of rights for which the shorthand term is "a fee simple," or it may be the interest known as an "estate or tenancy for years," as in the present instance. The constitutional provision is addressed to every sort of interest the citizen may possess.

In its primary meaning, the term "taken" would seem to signify something more than destruction, for it might well be claimed that one does not take what he destroys. But the construction of the phrase has not been so narrow. The courts have held that the deprivation of the former owner, rather than the accretion of a right or interest to the sovereign, constitutes the taking. Governmental action short of acquisition of title or occupancy has been held, if its effects are so complete as to deprive the owner of all or most of his interest in the subject matter, to amount to a taking. [Footnote 5]

But it is to be observed that whether the sovereign substitutes itself as occupant in place of the former owner or destroys all his existing rights in the subject matter, the Fifth Amendment concerns itself solely with the "property" -- i.e., with the owner's relation as such to the physical thing, and not with other collateral interests which may be incident to his ownership.

Page 323 U. S. 379

In the light of these principles, it has been held that the compensation to be paid is the value of the interest taken. Only in the sense that he is to receive such value is it true that the owner must be put in as good position pecuniarily as if his property had not been taken. In the ordinary case, for want of a better standard, market value, so-called, is the criterion of that value. In some cases, this criterion cannot be used, either because the interest condemned has no market value or because, in the circumstances, market value furnishes an inappropriate measure of actual value.

In the trial of this case, the parties presented evidence of the market value of the occupancy of bare floor space for the term taken. The respondent's offer to prove additional items for which it claimed compensation was overruled. The award was therefore limited to the market value of the occupancy of a vacant building. The question is whether any other element of value inhered in the interest taken.

The sovereign ordinarily takes the fee. The rule in such a case is that compensation for that interest does not include future loss of profits, the expense of moving removable fixtures and personal property from the premises, the loss of goodwill which inheres in the location of the land, or other like consequential losses which would ensue the sale of the property to someone other than the sovereign. No doubt, all these elements would be considered by an owner in determining whether, and at what price, to sell. No doubt, therefore, if the owner is to be made whole for the loss consequent on the sovereign's seizure of his property, these elements should properly be considered. But the courts have generally held that they are not to be reckoned as part of the compensation for the fee taken by the Government. [Footnote 6] We are not to be taken as departing

Page 323 U. S. 380

from the rule they have laid down, which we think sound. Even where state constitutions command that compensation be made for property "taken or damaged" for public use, as many do, it has generally been held that that which is taken or damaged is the group of rights which the so-called owner exercises in his dominion of the physical thing, and that damage to those rights of ownership does not include losses to his business, or other consequential damage. [Footnote 7]

The question posed in this case, then, is shall a different measure of compensation apply where that which is taken is a right of temporary occupancy of a building equipped for the condemnee's business, filed with his commodities, and presumably to be reoccupied and used, as before, to the end of the lease term on the termination of the Government's use? The right to occupy, for a day, a month, a year, or a series of years, in and of itself and without reference to the actual use, needs, or collateral arrangements of the occupier, has a value. The value of that interest is affected, of course, by the kind of building to be occupied, by its location, by its susceptibility to various uses, by its conveniences, or the reverse, and by many other factors which go to set the value of the occupancy. These were taken into consideration in fixing the market value of the floor space taken, as if that space were bare and in the market for rent.

While, as has been said, the Government's power to take for a short period, and to demand possession of the space taken freed of all equipment or personal property therein, cannot be denied, three questions emerge which are not presented when what is taken is a fee interest in land. They are: 1. Is the long-term rental value the sole measure of the value of such short-term occupancy carved out of the long-term? 2. If the taking necessitates the removal

Page 323 U. S. 381

of personal property stored in the building in conformity to the normal use of such a building, is the necessary expense of the removal to be considered in computing compensation? 3. If a tenant's equipment and fixtures are taken or destroyed or reduced in value by the Government's action, must it compensate for the value thus taken or destroyed in addition to paying the rental value of the occupancy?

1. If the Government need only pay the long-term rental of an empty building for a temporary taking from the long-term tenant, a way will have been found to defeat the Fifth Amendment's mandate for just compensation in all condemnations except those in which the contemplated public use requires the taking of the fee simple title. In any case where the Government may need private property, it can devise its condemnation so as to specify a term of a day, a month, or a year, with optional contingent renewal for indefinite periods, and with the certainty that it need pay the owner only the long-term rental rate of an unoccupied building for the short-term period, if the premises are already under lease, or, if not, then a market rental for whatever minimum term it may choose to select, fixed according to the usual modes of arriving at rental rates. And this though the owner may be damaged by the ouster ten, a score, or perhaps a hundred times the amount found due him as "fair rental value." In the present case, the respondent offered to prove that the actual expense of moving its property exceeded $46,000 and the loss due to destruction and removal of fixtures and fixed equipment exceeded $31,000, in addition to its continuing liability to pay rent for the year of approximately $40,000, whereas the award was $38,597.86. If such a result be sustained, we can see no limit to utilization of such a device, and, if there is none, the Amendment's guaranty becomes not one of just compensation for what is taken, but an instrument of confiscation fictionalizing "just compensation"

Page 323 U. S. 382

into some such concept as the common law idea of a peppercorn in the law of seizing or the later one of "value received" in that of contractual consideration. If the value to be paid in a case like the present is confined, as matter of law, to the long-term rental of bare space, the owner will not be secure, either in his rights of property or in his right to just compensation as a substitute for it, when the Government takes it for the use and benefit of all. Here, the use of a warehouse for a short time was taken. The property might have been the General Motors factory. Or several plants. Or a modest store or home. Whatever of property the citizen has, the Government may take. When it takes the property -- that is, the fee, the lease, whatever he may own -- terminating altogether his interest, under the established law, it must pay him for what is taken, not more, and he must stand whatever indirect or remote injuries are properly comprehended within the meaning of "consequential damage" as that conception has been defined in such cases. Even so, the consequences often are harsh. For these, whatever remedy may exist lies with Congress.

It is altogether another matter when the Government does not take his entire interest, but, by the form of its proceeding, chops it into bits of which it takes only what it wants, however few or minute, and leaves him holding the remainder, which may then be altogether useless to him, refusing to pay more than the "market rental value" for the use of the chips so cut off. This is neither the "taking" nor the "just compensation" the Fifth Amendment contemplates. The value of such an occupancy is to be ascertained not by treating what is taken as an empty warehouse to be leased for a long term, but what would be the market rental value of such a building on a lease by the long-term tenant to the temporary occupier. The case should be retried on this principle. In so ruling we do not suggest that the long-term rental value may not be shown

Page 323 U. S. 383

as bearing on the market rental value of the temporary occupancy taken. It may be evidence of the value of what is taken, but it is not the criterion of value in such a case as this.

2. Some of the elements which would certainly and directly affect the market price agreed upon by a tenant and a sublessee in such an extraordinary and unusual transaction would be the reasonable cost of moving out the property stored and preparing the space for occupancy by the subtenant. That cost would include labor, materials, and transportation. And it might also include the storage of goods against their sale or the cost of their return to the leased premises. Such items may be proved not as independent items of damage, but to aid in the determination of what would be the usual -- the market -- price which would be asked and paid for such temporary occupancy of the building then in use under a long-term lease. The respondent offered detailed proof of amounts actually and necessarily paid for these purposes. We think that the proof should have been received for the purpose and with the limitation indicated. [Footnote 8] Proof of such costs as affecting market value is to be distinguished from proof of value peculiar to the respondent, or the value of goodwill or of injury to the business of the respondent which, in this case, as in the case of the condemnation of a fee, must be excluded from the reckoning.

3. For fixtures and permanent equipment destroyed or depreciated in value by the taking, the respondent is entitled to compensation. An owner's rights in these are no

Page 323 U. S. 384

less property within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment than his rights in land and the structures thereon erected. And it matters not whether they were taken over by the Government or destroyed, since, as has been said, destruction is tantamount to taking. [Footnote 9] This is true whether the fixtures and equipment would be considered such as between vendor and vendee, [Footnote 10] or as a tenant's trade fixtures. [Footnote 11] In respect of them, the tenant whose occupancy is taken is entitled to compensation for destruction, damage, or depreciation in value. [Footnote 12] And since they are property distinct from the right of occupancy, such compensation should be awarded not as part of, but in addition to, the value of the occupancy as such.

The judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals, as modified by this opinion, is

Affirmed.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, and MR. JUSTICE MURPHY took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

[Footnote 1]

Compare with the decision below, 140 F.2d 873, Gershon Bros. Co. v. United States, 284 F. 849; National Laboratory & Supply Co. v. United States, 275 F. 218; United States v. Entire Fifth Floor, 54 F.Supp. 258; United States v. Improved Premises, 54 F.Supp. 469; United States v. Certain Parcels of Land, 54 F.Supp. 561; United States v. 0.64 Acres of Land, 54 F.Supp. 562; United States v. Building Known as 651 Brannan Street, 55 F.Supp. 667; Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. v. United States, 75 Ct.Cl. 569; Howard Co. v. United States, 81 Ct.Cl. 646.

[Footnote 2]

C.199, 56 Stat. 176, 177, 50 U.S.C.App., § 632.

[Footnote 3]

After judgment had been entered on the verdicts, the court, on the Government's motion, opened the judgment and permitted the Government to amend its petition for condemnation to describe the interest taken as "a term for years . . . expiring June 30, 1943, renewable for additional yearly periods thereafter . . . at the election of the Secretary of War," on specified notice of intent so to renew. The court then entered a new judgment awarding the amount of the verdict to respondent and retaining jurisdiction for the ascertainment of further compensation for damage to the property, if any, beyond ordinary wear and tear, due to the Government's occupancy. We do not understand that these facts alter the question before us. The case now presented involves only the original taking for one year. If, on remand, the case be treated as involving the Government's option of renewal, the additional value of that interest must be included in the compensation awarded. We express no opinion as to the Government's power to condemn service, such as the furnishing of heat and light.

[Footnote 4]

Lewis, Eminent Domain, 3d Ed., §§ 63, 64.

[Footnote 5]

See e.g., United States v. Welch,217 U. S. 333; Richards v. Washington Terminal Co.,233 U. S. 546.

[Footnote 6]

Bothwell v. United States,254 U. S. 231; Mitchell v. United States,267 U. S. 341; Mullen Benevolent Corp. v. United States,290 U. S. 89; Orgel, Valuation under Eminent Domain, Chap. V, pp. 220-252.

[Footnote 7]

Orgel, op.cit., p. 253.

[Footnote 8]

Patterson v. City of Boston, 23 Pick., Mass. 425; Getz v. Philadelphia & Reading R. Co., 105 Pa. 547; Philadelphia & Reading R. Co. v. Getz, 113 Pa. 214, 6 A. 356; McMillin Ptg. Co. v. Pittsburgh, C. & W. R. Co., 216 Pa. 504, 65 A. 1091; North Coast R. Co. v. Kraft Co., 63 Wash. 250, 115 P. 97; National Laboratory & Supply Co. v. United States, 275 F. 218.

[Footnote 9]

Supra,Note 5

[Footnote 10]

Jackson v. New York, 213 N.Y. 34, 106 N.E. 758.

[Footnote 11]

Matter of City of New York, 66 Misc. 488, 122 N.Y.S. 321; Matter Willcox, 165 App.Div.197, 151 N.Y.S. 141; Bales v. Wichita Midland Valley R. Co., 92 Kan. 771, 141 P. 1009; Matter of City of New York, 219 App.Div. 27, 219 N.Y.S. 353; Matter of City of New York, 256 N.Y. 236, 176 N.E. 377; In re Widening of Gratiot Ave., 294 Mich. 569, 293 N.W. 755; cf. Pause v. Atlanta, 98 Ga. 92, 26 S.E. 489.

[Footnote 12]

United States v. Seagren, 50 F.2d 333; Matter of the City of New York, 118 App.Div. 865, 103 N.Y.S. 908; St. Louis v. St. Louis I.M. & S. R. Co., 266 Mo. 694, 182 S.W. 750; People v. Ganahl Lumber Co., 10 Cal.2d 501, 75 P.2d 1067, and cases cited in Note 11

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, concurring in part.

I agree that respondent is entitled to compensation for fixtures and permanent equipment destroyed or depreciated in value by the taking. I likewise agree that respondent is entitled to a further increase in its award. The award granted is less than the rental which it is under a continuing obligation to pay the lessor. The United States is occupying the premises and paying about 40

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