Where the state statute requires condemnation Commissioners to
determine the just and equitable compensation, any wrong done, so
far as amount is concerned, is due not to the statute, but to
errors of the court as to evidence or measure of damages.
A judgment by which an owner of condemned property gets less
than he ought, and in that sense is deprived of his property,
cannot come to this Court on the constitutional question unless
there is something more than an ordinary honest mistake of law in
the proceedings. Backus v. Fort Street Depot, 169 U.
The final judgment of a state court in condemnation proceedings
should not be held to violate the due process provision of the
Fourteenth Amendment unless the rulings of law prevented the owner
from obtaining substantially any compensation. Appleby v.
Buffalo, 221 U. S. 524
Enhanced value of property as a part of a great public work
depends upon the whole land necessary being taken therefor. The
chance that all the property necessary can be acquired without the
exercise of eminent domain is too remote and speculative to be
allowed. C., B. & Q. Ry. v. Chicago, 166 U.
The owner of property taken in eminent domain proceedings is
entitled to be paid only for what is taken as the title stands,
Chamber of Commerce v. Boston, 217 U.
; hypothetical possibilities of change cannot be
considered. United States v. Chandler-Dunbar Water Co.,
p. 229 U. S. 53
followed, and Boom Co. v. Patterson, 98 U. S.
A wide discretion is allowed the trial court in regard to
admission of evidence as to the value of property taken by eminent
domain, and this Court will not interfere on the ground of denial
of due process of law where there was no plain disregard of the
195 N.Y. 573 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the validity of an award in a
proceeding for condemnation of land for the water supply system of
New York City, are stated in the opinion.
Page 229 U. S. 369
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a proceeding for the taking of land to be used for a
reservoir to secure an additional supply of water for the City of
New York. Commissioners were appointed, as provided by the
constitution of the state, to ascertain the compensation to be
paid. Land belonging to the plaintiff in error, McGovern, was among
the many parcels taken, and the question brought here arises on the
refusal of the Commissioners to admit certain evidence as to the
exceptional value of the land for a reservoir site, the exclusion
of which, it was alleged, had the effect of depriving McGovern of
his property without due process of law, contrary to the Fourteenth
Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The offer of
proof as first made embraced many facts and covers six octavo pages
of the record. This was rejected, the Commissioners, as we
understand their ruling, considering it only as a unit, and as
containing inadmissible elements, which probably it
Page 229 U. S. 370
did. The offer then was made
"to prove the fair and reasonable market value of this piece of
property, taking into consideration that element of value which
gives it an enhanced value because it is part of a natural
also "to prove the fair and reasonable value of the Ashokan
reservoir site which the City of New York is now condemning," and
that the Ashokan reservoir site (as a whole) was the best and most
available site for the purpose of obtaining an additional water
supply. These offers were enough to raise the question discussed,
although the last one was only a reiteration of what was alleged in
the original petition for the taking of the land, and stood
admitted on the record. The action of the Commissioners was
affirmed by the courts of New York. 130 App.Div. 350, 356, 195 N.Y.
The statute requires the Commissioners to determine "the just
and equitable compensation which ought to be made." If there has
been any wrong done, it is due not to the statute, but to the
courts' having made a mistake as to evidence, or, at most, as to
the measure of damages. But, of course, not every judgment by which
a man gets less than he ought, and in that sense is deprived of his
property, can come to this Court. The result of a judgment in
trover, at least, if satisfied (Lovejoy v.
3 Wall. 1; Miller v. Hyde,
Mass. 472), is to pass property as effectually as condemnation
proceedings; yet no one would contend that a plaintiff could come
here under the Constitution simply because of an honest mistake to
his disadvantage in laying down the rule of damages for conversion.
If the plaintiff could bring such a case to this Court, one might
ask why not the defendant for a mistake in the opposite direction
that will deprive him of money that he is entitled to keep?
When property is taken by eminent domain, it equally is
recognized that there must be something more than an ordinary
honest mistake of law in the proceedings for
Page 229 U. S. 371
compensation before a party can make out that the state has
deprived him of his property unconstitutionally. Backus v. Fort
Street Union Depot Co., 169 U. S. 557
169 U. S.
-576. As it is put in the case most frequently cited
in favor of the right to a writ of error,
"we are permitted only to inquire whether the trial court
prescribed any rule for the guidance of the jury that was in
absolute disregard of the company's right to just
And again, the final judgment of a state court
"ought not to be held in violation of the due process of law
enjoined by the Fourteenth Amendment unless by the rulings upon
questions of law the company was prevented from obtaining
substantially any compensation."
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R. Co. v. Chicago,
166 U. S. 226
166 U. S.
-247; Appleby v. Buffalo, 221 U.
, 221 U. S.
The present case, of course, does not show disregard of
McGovern's rights, or that he was prevented from obtaining
substantially any compensation. Even if the plaintiff in error is
right, it shows only that the Commissioners and courts of New York
adopted too narrow a view upon a doubtful point in the measure of
damages. It hardly even is so strong as that; for the ruling of the
Commissioners is not to be taken as an abstract universal
proposition, but the judgment concerning this particular case,
found by men, presumably, as the plaintiff in error says, men of
experience, who had or were free to acquire outside information
concerning the general conditions of the taking and the selected
site. The plaintiff in error quotes authority that, probably for
this reason, the New York courts will not set aside an award of
such Commissioners unless so palpably wrong as to shock the sense
of justice. It is conceded "that the owner is not permitted to take
advantage of the necessities of the condemning party," and it would
seem that it well might be that the Commissioners regarded it as
too plain to be shaken by evidence, on the public facts, that the
value of the land for a reservoir
Page 229 U. S. 372
site could not come into consideration except upon the
hypothesis that the City of New York could not get along without
it, and that its only means of acquisition was voluntary sale by
owners aware of the necessity, and intending to make from it the
most they could. It is just this advantage that a taking by eminent
But if the rulings complained of be taken as universal
propositions, they present no element of the arbitrary, even if
they should be thought to be wrong. The enhanced value of the land
as part of the Ashokan reservoir depends on the whole land
necessary being devoted to that use. There are said to have been
hundreds of titles to different parcels of that land. If the
parcels were not brought together by a taking under eminent domain,
the chance of their being united by agreement or purchase in such a
way as to be available well might be regarded as too remote and
speculative to have any legitimate effect upon the valuation.
See Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R. Co. v. Chicago,
166 U. S. 226
166 U. S. 249
The plaintiff in error was entitled to be paid only for what was
taken from him as the titles stood, and could not add to the value
by the hypothetical possibility of a change unless that possibility
was considerable enough to be a practical consideration and
actually to influence prices. Boston Chamber of Commerce v.
Boston, 217 U. S. 189
217 U. S. 195
In estimating that probability, the power of effecting the change
by eminent domain must be left out. The principle is illustrated in
an extreme form by the disallowance of the strategic value for
improvements of the island in St. Mary's River in United States
v. Chandler-Dunbar Water Power Co., ante,
p. 229 U. S. 53
The plaintiff in error relies upon cases like Mississippi
&c. Boom Company v. Patterson, 98 U. S.
, to sustain his position that, while the valuation
cannot be increased by the fact that his land has been taken for a
water supply, still it can be by the fact that the land is valuable
for that purpose. The difficulties in the way of such evidence
Page 229 U. S. 373
the wide discretion allowed to the trial court are well brought
out in Sargent v. Merrimac,
196 Mass. 171. Much depends on
the circumstances of the particular case. We are satisfied on all
the authorities that, whether we should have agreed or disagreed
with the Commissioners if we had been valuing the land, there was
no such disregard of plain rights by the courts of New York as to
warrant our treating their decision, made without prejudice, in due
form, and after full hearing, as a denial by the state of due
process of law.