United States v. 93.970 Acres of Land

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: 93.970 Acres of Land
LOCATION: Sherry Frontenac

DOCKET NO.: 573
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 360 US 328 (1959)
ARGUED: May 21, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1959

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. 93.970 Acres of Land

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 21, 1959 (Part 1) in United States v. 93.970 Acres of Land

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 21, 1959 (Part 2) in United States v. 93.970 Acres of Land

Leonard R. Hartenfeld:

--the election of remedies issue and it isn't as simple as the Government's argument seems to -- might indicate.

First of all, if this Court is to -- does sustain our position on the lease, obviously, the election of remedies issue is no longer pertinent.

On the other hand, if this Court does not agree with our position on the lease then the election of remedy issue becomes of great importance to the condemnee.

Now, the facts in every case are important and it is pretty difficult to discuss general principles of law without saying, “What are the facts in the particular case?”

And therefore, on this argument of election of remedies, I would appreciate if this Court would start with the simple fundamental proposition that we are not in the position of squatters.

I don't know what the law is with reference to squatters but I do know that we held possession for seven and one-half years under color of a formal naval lease.

We operated the property and maintained that on behalf of the Navy and we did everything in compliance faithfully with that lease.

We think it's most unconscionable on the part of the Government to now seek to take advantage of the situation by taking two inconsistent positions, number one, that you don't have a title to this -- to the lease, under the lease.

Or number two, we're going to grab it anyhow regardless.

And I would like to show later in this argument how this works and will work a tremendous hardship upon all condemnees situated such as this lessee was situated if the Government's theory of this case on election of remedies is followed by this Court.

Prior to the case at bar, there are only four cases in the whole history of United States in which the right of the Government to contest title of the condemnee was an issue.

In all the other cases cited by the Government except the U.S. versus Turner and U.S. versus San Geronimo, in all the other cases, the issue of election of remedies was never made a part of the case so they weren't discussed in the case.

Now, it is important to understand that a determination in our favor in this case will not in any way affect the governmental procedures that have been going out for years about title contest as between claimants to different funds.

And the Court of Appeals makes this distinction very clearly.

In fact because of the paucity of election on remedy cases such us ours where there was a title contest in the condemnation proceeding and the point was actually argued and decided since there are only four of those cases in the whole history of the country, the occasion can't arise very often and the possibilities of it arising hereafter again is very remote.

Therefore, when the Government argues expediency, justifies the result in this case, it is a fallacious argument.

Now, the Government relies U.S. versus Turner and U.S. versus San Geronimo Development Company, both of which held that the condemnee's title can be contested in a condemnation proceeding.

In other words, these two cases do support the Government's position.

The Turner case was decided in 1949 by the Fifth Circuit and the First Circuit decided the San Geronimo case in 1946.

On the other hand, interestingly enough, there are exactly two cases supporting our position and the Court of Appeals below.

One was U.S. versus Chicago B & Q. Railroad decided by the Seventh Circuit back in very early days and U.S. versus 1148 of Acres decided by the Fifth Circuit in 1954.

U.S. versus 11 Acres is an election of remedies case saying that you cannot contest title in a condemnation proceeding.

You cannot test the title of the condemnee in a condemnation proceeding.

It directly overrules the holding in U.S. versus Turner which is relied upon by the Government and which was decided it by the same Fifth Circuit, seven or so years before.

Now, it overrules the Turner case, it doesn't refer to the Turner case.

But the net result is that it overrules that there's any doubt about it.

And the Turner case and -- and -- pardon me.

In the U.S. versus 11 Acres as cited by the Court of Appeals as one of the federal cases, the Court of Appeals below, as one of the federal cases establishing a federal law of this country to be, that you cannot contest title in a condemnation proceeding.

Now, the net result is that the Government in this case has only the old San Geronimo case to rely upon as far as what the Court of Appeals below has done.

The San Geronimo case, the Court in that case and there's no evidence if the parties really brought up the election of remedies point, in that decision, from reading it as, that may very well have been that the judge just passingly said that this is a hybrid proceeding justified only by the peculiar circumstances.