United States v. Clarke

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:E.L. Aaron & Co., Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 78-1693
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 445 US 253 (1980)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1980 / Jan 16, 1980
DECIDED: Mar 18, 1980

Harlon L. Dalton – for petitioner
Robert S. Pelcyger – for respondent Tabbytite supporting petitioner
Richard A. Weinig – for respondents Municipality of Anchorage, et al.

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Clarke

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 15, 1980 in United States v. Clarke
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 16, 1980 in United States v. Clarke

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 18, 1980 in United States v. Clarke

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in United States against Clarke will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist along with Rummel against Estelle.

William H. Rehnquist:

In United States against Clarke, the question presented is whether a federal authorizes a state or local government to “condemn” alloted Indian trust lands by physical occupation.

That section provides that lands alloted to the Indians may be condemned for any public purpose under the laws of the State or Territory where located in the same manner as land owned in fee may be condemned.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Section 357 which is the Act in question permits acquisition of alloted lands by what is come to be known as “inverse condemnation.”

We disagree with the Court of Appeals on this point and accordingly reverse its judgment.

We think this is a case in which the meaning of the statute may be determined by the admittedly old-fashioned by nonetheless entirely appropriate plain meaning canon of statutory construction.

And although the landowner action to recover just compensation for a taking by a physical intrusion has come to referred as inverse or reverse condemnation for the simple term condemn and condemnation which are used in the statute are not commonly used to describe such an action.

Rather, a condemnation proceeding is commonly understood to be an action brought by the condemning authorities such as the Government in the exercise of its power of imminent domain.

The legal and practical differences between condemnation and inverse condemnation convinces that Section 357 authorizes the condemnation of lands pursuant to laws of the State or Territory.

The term “condemned” refers not to an action by a landowner to recover compensation for a taking that has already occurred but to a formal condemnation proceeding instituted by the condemning authority.

Mr. Justice Blackmun joined by Mr. Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion.