Benz v. New York State Thruway Authority

RESPONDENT: New York State Thruway Authority
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 369 US 147 (1962)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1962 / Mar 01, 1962
DECIDED: Mar 19, 1962

Facts of the case


Media for Benz v. New York State Thruway Authority

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1962 in Benz v. New York State Thruway Authority

Earl Warren:

Number 234, Benz versus New York State Thruway Authority.

Mr. Rachlin.

Lauren D. Rachlin:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a civil action brought in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in which the petitioner seeks to reform for an alternative rescind and agreement entered into between her and the respondent and the ground of the fraud of the respondent or a mutual mistake of facts.

Respondent appeared especially and moved to dismiss petitioner's complaint on the ground that the Court lacked jurisdiction over the person of the respondent and the subject matter.

A New York special term judge dismissed the complaint on the ground of a lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.

The appellate division affirmed in the New York Court of Appeals in a four to three decisions affirmed on the grounds that the respondent was immune from the suit.

Subsequent to the decision, the remittitur was amended to show that upon the appeal that was presented and necessarily passed upon a question under the Constitution of the United States to with but their plaintiff was deprived of just compensation in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The New York Court of Appeals held there was no such deprivation or violation.

The United State Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The petitioner now seeks to have this Court reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the New York Supreme Court for trial on the merits.

The facts of this case are most important.

Petitioner and her husband are elderly town's people living in town -- in the Village of Hamburg outside of Buffalo, New York.

Petitioner owned a large track of land outside of Buffalo fronting on a main highway that she had received by inheritance.

The New York State Thruway Authority, the respondent, under its power of eminent domain appropriated a strip of land through this track which effectively bisected the track of land and making -- and made the rear portion of the track which was in fact the major portion of the track completely inaccessible.

Under the New York Appropriation method, title passed immediately upon the filing of the maps.

The respondent, Thruway Authority, employs agents whose job it is to go around to these persons whose land has been appropriated to get what they called agreements of adjustment with them whereby they attempt to agree on a price to be paid for the property.

One of these agents came to the petitioner.

And after much negotiation, it was agreed that the price which was to be paid would be $3500 in cash plus 90% of the value of the rear track of land which had been rendered practically useless by this appropriation, plus the cost of the purchase of an excess route which would allow you at least to obtain access to backtrack.

Now, the agreement was entered into.

And this agreement recites only the sum of $3500 and purports to be in full compensation for the land which was taken.

The agent, however, at the time of the execution of the contract stated that the $3500 which was expressed in the agreement was only part of the compensation which was to be paid.

Now, we have alleged in our complaint and the allegation must be accepted as true for the purpose of this proceeding, that $3500 represented but at one-twentieth of the value of this property which was taken and that the petitioner has in fact been deprived of the sum of $70,000 by this action on the part of the state.

And as we say, that is a premise we must be taken.

Though subsequent to the execution of this agreement, petitioner sought to obtain the money which she felt was coming to her.

These representations were repeatedly -- repeated by the representatives of the State and petitioner, being an elderly person as I've said, relied upon these representations made by the representatives of the State and she consistently refused to accept the $3500 check which was offered.

And finally, she consulted her attorney and found the true nature of the agreement and action was promptly brought in the Supreme Court of the State of New York to rescind or reform this agreement, to show the true nature of the agreement or what petitioner felt that the agreement that has been made.

The defendant respondent appeared in the proceeding, especially claims sovereign immunity and this claim has been consistently upheld throughout the courts of the State of New York.

Now, petitioner's contentions are very basic.

One, just compensation is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to a person whose properly is taken for public use.