Miller v. Schoene Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Cedar trees were about to infect an apple orchard with a disease, so the state ordered the trees destroyed.

Facts of the case

Miller owned a large stand of ornamental red cedar trees on his property in Shenandoah County, Virginia. Schoene, the Virginia State Entomologist, ordered Miller to cut down his red cedar trees pursuant to the Cedar Rust Act of Virginia. Miller’s property was near an apple orchard, and Virginia did not want the cedar rust plant disease to spread from Miller’s trees to the apple orchard. The state provided no compensation for destroying the red cedars. Miller alleged that this was a government taking requiring compensation and that the Cedar Rust Act violated the due process clause. The Virginia courts upheld the tree removal order.

Question

When two classes property exist in dangerous proximity, may the state choose to preserve one, which is of greater value to the public over the other?

Answer

Yes.
Red cedar trees have occasional use and value as lumber. Its value throughout the state is shown to be small as compared with that of the apple orchards of the state. Apple growing is one of the principal agricultural pursuits in Virginia. Millions of dollars are invested in the orchards, which furnish employment for a large portion of the population, and have induced the development of attendant railroad and cold storage facilities.
The state needed to make a choice between the preservation of one class of property and that of the other because they existed in dangerous proximity. When forced to make such a choice, the state does not exceed its constitutional powers by deciding upon the destruction of one class of property in order to save another, which is of greater value to the public. There is a strong public concern in the preservation of one interest over the other. When the public interest is involved preferment of that interest over the property interest of the individual, to the extent even of its destruction, is one of the distinguishing characteristics of every exercise of police power, which affects property.

Conclusion

The United States Supreme Court affirmed the state supreme court’s judgment affirming the order directing plaintiffs to cut down the trees. The Court held that when forced to make the choice, the state did not exceed its constitutional powers by deciding upon the destruction of the cedar trees in order to save the apple orchards, which in the judgment of the legislature was of greater value to the public.

  • Case Brief: 1928
  • Petitioner: Miller
  • Respondent: Schoene
  • Decided by: Taft Court

Citation: 276 US 272 (1928)
Argued: Jan 20, 1928
Decided: Feb 20, 1928