Griggs v. Allegheny County

RESPONDENT: Allegheny County
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 369 US 84 (1962)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1962
DECIDED: Mar 05, 1962

Facts of the case


Media for Griggs v. Allegheny County

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1962 in Griggs v. Allegheny County

Earl Warren:

Number 81, Thomson Griggs, Petitioner, versus County of Allegheny.

Mr. Blair.

William A. Blair:

Mr. Chief Justice Warren, may it please the Court.

This case comes before your Honorable Court on the laws of a certiorari to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and involves an eminent domain proceedings before a Board of Viewers which made an award to the petitioner for the taking of an easement over his airspace by reason of the flight of planes in and out of the Greater Pittsburgh Airport owned by the County of Allegheny.

The award was affirmed by the Court of Common Pleas.

Our exceptions filed embracing simply the question of risk of liability of the County for the taking.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed -- reversed the lower court and then set aside the award made to the petitioner on the sole ground that the County of Allegheny did not operate the planes involved in going to and from the airport.

The question before of this Court seems to us then is as to whether or not, on the undisputed facts in this case, the respondent took property of the petitioner and the petitioner has been deprived of his property without due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States.

It is our contention that the petitioner under authority of the decision of this Court in United States versus Causby 328 -- or 328 U.S. at page 256 that the regular, frequent, and necessary low flights of the planes over the plaintiff’s property in order -- of petitioner's property in order to get to and from this airport constant -- which interfered with this proper use and enjoinment of property constitute a taking and that the petitioner is entitled to just compensation from the County which owns airport.

The Causby case, as you may recall, involved flights of bomber planes operated by United States Government in 19 -- around 1942 at Greensboro.

The Government there had leased the airport and the planes, the bombers and other heavy military craft flew over the property of the Causby family which operated a chicken farm.

Their property was located on a guide path or approach zone leading from the airport and the planes passed over at a height as it was testified and shown in that case as low as 83 feet.

As a consequence of this regular constant flights the chickens, were -- some of them were killed and were affected so that the Causby family had to give up operating the chicken farm and in addition to that, by reason of the noise, the vibration, the lights, they were disturbed in their regular occupancy and became frightened and nervous.

The Court of Claims made an award to the Causbys on a basis that there had been depreciation in the value of the property in the taking.

The Government appealed to this Court on the ground that these flights were lawful flights that they were made within the navigable airspace as defined by the Civil Aeronautics Board, and therefore, were lawful privileged flights.

This Court said briefly that those flights were not privileged that the space below the safe navigable airspace of 500 feet or thousand feet heading upon the location of property was not within the navigable airspace as defined in the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1926 and also on 1930 of rather the Air Commerce Act of 1926 and of Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938.

Our situation is similar to that of Causby in their public use.

The County of Allegheny sometime prior to 1952, determined that the existing airport facilities were not adequate for the public of Allegheny County.

They acquired an extensive acreage in the Western part of the County and proceeded to lay out an airport.

This was in the vicinity of the -- our petitioner's property and included in the arrangements for the airport or the plans for the airport is what they called a master plan.

Now this master plan showed the runways, the three runways and also the approach zones to those runways which must be followed by planes entering and leaving the airport.

In addition, under the Federal Airport Act which was passed in 1946, the County of Allegheny made application as the sponsor to the Civil Aeronautics Authorities for the grant of funds.

I should say that the master plan had to be approved by the Civil Aeronautics Authority here in Washington and it was approved.

In addition, as I say, they made application for funds under this federal aid to airports as a result of which, they didn't get extensive or quite large sums of money to aid in the building of the airport and enter into agreements with the Federal Government could -- in which included among other things agreement that they would get -- they were to adopt zoning ordinances or obtain easements in airspace where necessary in order to permit the safe operation of planes in and out of the airport.

Now, the petitioner's property is located on the Northeast approach zone and that is the zone leading to the Northeast runway.

It's about 3200 feet from the end of the approach zone.

I might say that the approach zone as shown on these master plan extends from the airport at the end of the runway a distance of 10,000 feet Northeast from the airport on a path and glider on gradient of 42:1 which means for every foot forward it rises one foot.

Our property is situated probably about 30 feet higher than the level of the airport so that on the glide angle, the approach to and from this airport, the planes on the glide angle would be according to the testimony in the record, about 12 feet above the chimney of the petitioner's property.

After the opening, the airport was opened on June 1st, 1952 by -- pursuant to a resolution of the Board of County Commissioners other -- the Board of View found as result of its independent investigation and testimony taken before, and said as what we found in directly the page 33, since the opening of the airport in Northeast runway and its approach area has been on regular operational use for landing and taking off of commercial and other aircraft in regular flight patterns of heights near and over petitioner's residence from take off has been from 30 to 300 feet and on let down from 53 to 153 feet.

The result of this operation is constant operation, a regular operation.