United States v. Causby
328 U.S. 256 (1946)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946)

United States v. Causby

No. 630

Argued May 1, 1946

Decided May 27, 1946

328 U.S. 256

Syllabus

Respondents owned a dwelling and a chicken farm near a municipal airport. The safe path of glide to one of the runways of the airport passed directly over respondents' property at 83 feet, which was 67 feet above the house, 63 feet above the barn and 18 feet above the highest tree. It was used 4% of the time in taking off and 7% of the time in landing. The Government leased the use of the airport for a term of one month commencing June 1, 1942, with a provision for renewals until June 30, 1967, or six months after the end of the national emergency, whichever was earlier. Various military aircraft of the United States used the airport. They frequently came so close to respondents' property that they barely missed the tops of trees, the noise was startling, and the glare from their landing lights lighted the place up brightly at night. This destroyed the use of the property as a chicken farm and caused loss of sleep, nervousness, and fright on the part of respondents. They sued in the Court of Claims to recover for an alleged taking of their property and for damages to their poultry business. The Court of Claims found that the Government had taken an easement over respondents' property, and that the value of the property destroyed and the easement taken was $2,000; but it made no finding as to the precise nature or duration of the easement.

Held:

1. A servitude has been imposed upon the land for which respondents are entitled to compensation under the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 328 U. S. 260-267.

(a) The common law doctrine that ownership of land extends to the periphery of the universe has no place in the modern world. Pp. 328 U. S. 260-261.

(b) The air above the minimum safe altitude of flight prescribed by the Civil Aeronautics Authority is a public highway and part of the public domain, as declared by Congress in the Air Commerce Act of 1926, as amended by the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. Pp. 328 U. S. 260-261, 328 U. S. 266.

(c) Flights below that altitude are not within the navigable air space which Congress placed within the public domain, even though they are within the path of glide approved by the Civil Aeronautics Authority. Pp. 328 U. S. 263-264.

Page 328 U. S. 257

(d) Flights of aircraft over private land which are so low and frequent as to be a direct and immediate interference with the enjoyment and use of the land are as much an appropriation of the use of the land as a more conventional entry upon it. Pp. 328 U. S. 261-262, 328 U. S. 264-267.

2. Since there was a taking of private property for public use, the claim was "founded upon the Constitution," within the meaning of § 141(1) of the Judicial Code, and the Court of Claims had jurisdiction to hear and determine it. P. 328 U. S. 267.

3. Since the court's findings of fact contain no precise description of the nature or duration of the easement taken, the judgment is reversed, and the cause is remanded to the Court of Claims so that it may make the necessary findings. Pp. 328 U. S. 267-268.

(a) An accurate description of the easement taken is essential, since that interest vests in the United States. P. 328 U. S. 267.

(b) Findings of fact on every "material issue" are a statutory requirement, and a deficiency in the findings cannot be rectified by statements in the opinion. Pp. 328 U. S. 267-268.

(c) A conjecture in lieu of a conclusion from evidence would not be a proper foundation for liability of the United States. P. 328 U. S. 268.

104 Ct.Cls. 342, 60 F.Supp. 751, reversed and remanded.

The Court of Claims granted respondents a judgment for the value of property destroyed and damage to their property resulting from the taking of an easement over their property by low-flying military aircraft of the United States, but failed to include in its findings of fact a specific description of the nature or duration of the easement. 104 Ct.Cls. 342, 60 F.Supp. 751. This Court granted certiorari. 327 U.S. 775. Reversed and remanded, p. 328 U. S. 268.

Page 328 U. S. 258

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