1. The general purpose of a statute to authorize acquisition of
property only to carry out existing agreements of the government
will not control a specific provision therein for the acquisition
of property specifically mentioned, as to which there was no
agreement. Act of March 8, 1922, c. 100, § 1, 42 Stat. 418. P.
269 U. S.
2. The United States erected costly buildings on land which it
leased during the war, and, after expiration of the term, began
proceedings to condemn the land on the last day of a period allowed
by the lease for removing improvements. Held
buildings were the property of the United States, and not to be
considered in fixing the land owners' compensation. P. 269 U. S.
3. Therefore, the Act of March 8, 1922, supra,
excluding compensation for such improvements on the land in
question, is not unconstitutional. Id.
4. Whether the purpose of saving the loss of buildings erected
on leased land by the government may be a public purpose justifying
condemnation of the land is not here decided. P. 269 U. S.
5. Although the purpose moving the Secretary of War to request
condemnation proceedings may not be a public one, yet, if the
authorizing Act import an implied declaration of purpose by
Congress to acquire the land for military uses, which are public,
this must be accepted, if not shown to involve an impossibility. P.
269 U. S.
Page 269 U. S. 56
6. Jurisdiction over a condemnation suit brought at the request
of the Secretary of War under the Act of August 1, 1888, is not
dependent upon the precise shade of opinion expressed by him in his
letter of request to the Attorney General concerning the necessity
or advantage to the government of procuring the land in question.
P. 269 U. S.
296 F. 20 affirmed.
Error to a judgment of the circuit court of appeals which
affirmed a judgment of the district court condemning land in a
proceeding brought by the United States.
Page 269 U. S. 63
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a proceeding for the condemnation of land in Newport
News, Virginia, for the use of the United States. Act of August 1,
1888, c. 728, 25 Stat. 357. It has resulted in a condemnation
fixing the sum to be paid, subject to questions of law reserved by
the plaintiff in error, the Old Dominion Land Company at the trial
and decided by the circuit court of appeals. 296 F. 20. During the
late war, the government took leases of the land from the Old
Dominion Land Company for military purposes and put structures upon
it costing more than a million and a half dollars. The leases were
for short terms, and were renewed until, in 1922, the lessor
refused to renew them again. By the terms of the agreements, the
United States had a right to remove the structures, but not beyond
thirty days from the termination. An offer to purchase the land was
made by the United States, but was refused, and this proceeding was
instituted on July 29, 1922, just before the thirty days allowed by
the leases had run out. The main contentions of the plaintiff in
error are that the Acts of Congress relied upon do not authorize
the taking attempted here; that one of those Acts is
unconstitutional, and that the taking although it might be for the
benefit of the United States, to save its buildings, was not a
taking for public use. We are of opinion that these contentions, so
far as material to the case, cannot be sustained, and that the
decision below was right.
The statute authorizes this proceeding. The Appropriation Act of
July 11, 1919, c. 8, 41 Stat. 104, 128, and its amendments of the
same year, c. 44; ibid.
278, and c. 90, ibid.
453, had stopped the purchase of land in connection with military
purposes generally, except in certain cases when it was more
economical to buy than to pay rent or damages. This Act was further
Page 269 U. S. 64
by the Act of March 8, 1922, c. 100, § 1, 42 Stat. 418, so as
"authorize completion of the acquisition of the real estate
hereinafter specified in respect whereof requisition notices had
been served or given before July 11, 1919, . . . or in respect
whereof agreements had been made for purchase thereof, or
proceedings begun for condemnation thereof. . . . For the purpose
of carrying out the provisions of this section, the following
amounts are hereby authorized to be appropriated, to-wit: . . . For
quartermaster warehouses, Newport News, Virginia, $223,670."
This is the land in question. By § 3 of the same Act, the
Secretary of War was authorized to renew leases in order to enable
the government to remove its buildings and other property, and to
approve awards and to have new awards made for the purchase or
condemnation of land necessary in his judgment for the operation of
water plants now located thereon, etc., provided
"that any addition to the value of the premises resulting from
the improvements thereto or in the vicinity thereof made by or at
the expense of the United States shall be excluded from the sum
paid to or recovered by the owners."
The later Deficiencies Appropriation Act of July 1, 1922, c.
258, 42 Stat. 767, 777, supplies deficiencies: "Sites for military
purposes: For completion of acquisition of real estate as
authorized by" the last mentioned Act: "For quartermaster
warehouses, Newport News, Virginia, $223,670."
It is argued that the general purpose of this exception to the
stopping of expenditures was only to carry out agreements by which
the government already was bound, and that the specific
appropriations were made only in case the property mentioned was
the object of such previous agreement. No doubt the general purpose
was that suggested, but the rest of the Act showed that the
appropriation was not confined to that alone, and the specific
unqualified mention of the land in question as land of
Page 269 U. S. 65
which the acquisition was to be completed overrides the general
statement, however much confirmed by citations from the
Then it is said that the Act of March 8, 1922, was
unconstitutional by reason of the proviso that we have stated,
excluding from the compensation improvements upon the land or in
the vicinity thereof made by the United States. There might be
cases in which this provision could not be sustained, but there is
no trouble here. For, supposing that the proviso were extended
beyond the taking in aid of a water plant to which it immediately
referred, it could have no bearing except upon the issue agreed to
"whether the value of the warehouses constructed by the United
States government on the lands sought to be condemned should be
included in the valuation of said lands."
But upon this issue, the statute was superfluous. When these
proceedings were begun, the buildings belonged to the United
States. It would not be just to allow the delay necessary in legal
proceedings to deprive the United States of rights that it had and
endeavored by this suit to assert. Consolidated Turnpike Co. v.
Norfolk & Ocean View Ry. Co., 228 U.
, 228 U. S. 602
In the often quoted language of Chief Justice Shaw:
"If a pie-powder court could be called on the instant and on the
spot, the true rule of justice for the public would be to pay the
compensation with one hand while they apply the axe with the
Parks v. Boston,
15 Pick.198, 208. It in no way
appeared that the value of the land was increased by other
improvements in the vicinity, or otherwise than by the structures
upon the land so that the most indefensible aspects of the statute
are not before us here. Furthermore, the instructions to the jury
were that they were to determine the fair market value of the land
as well for its present purposes as for those for which it might be
Page 269 U. S. 66
adapted at the time or in the immediate future, and to take into
consideration the facts and circumstances of its location, etc.,
with no language that excluded consideration of improvements in the
vicinity, if any there were.
But it is said that the taking was not for a public use, because
it is said that the Secretary of War at least was thinking not of a
future use of the land by the public or the government, but of
saving the country from the loss of the buildings. We shall not
inquire whether this purpose was or was not so reasonably
incidental to the necessarily hurried transactions during the war
as to warrant the taking, upon the principle illustrated by
Brown v. United States, 263 U. S. 78
Congress has declared the purpose to be a public use, by
implication if not by express words. If we disregard the heading
quoted from the latest Act, "Sites for Military Purposes," which we
see no reason for doing, and treat "For quartermaster warehouses"
as descriptive, rather than prospective, still there is nothing
shown in the intentions or transactions of subordinates that is
sufficient to overcome the declaration by Congress of what it had
in mind. Its decision is entitled to deference until it is shown to
involve an impossibility. But the military purposes mentioned at
least may have been entertained and they clearly were for a public
Some question is made as to whether a letter from the Secretary
of War to the Attorney General sufficiently authorized the present
proceedings by showing that, in his opinion, it was necessary or
advantageous to the government to take them. The Act of August 1,
1888, c. 728, 25 Stat. 357, allows the Secretary to acquire by
condemnation lands which he is authorized to procure for public
purposes "whenever in his opinion it is necessary or advantageous
to the government to do so," gives jurisdiction to the courts of
the United States, and makes it the duty of the Attorney General
upon every application of such officer to cause proceedings to be
Page 269 U. S. 67
perceive no requirement that the Secretary should go further
than to apply to the Attorney General. Moreover, the Secretary's
letter certainly showed that he thought the suit would be
advantageous to the government, and we should be slow to suppose
that the precise shade of his opinion upon the point affected the
jurisdiction of the Court.