United States v. Reynolds

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: W.G. Reynolds and Mary N. Reynolds
LOCATION: Nolin River Reservoir

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 397 US 14 (1970)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1970
DECIDED: Feb 24, 1970
GRANTED: Oct 13, 1969

Erwin S. Solomon - for the respondents
Shiro Kashiwa - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The United States sued to condemn over 250 acres of W.G. and Mary Reynolds land for use in the Nolin Reservoir Project. The Fifth Amendment authorized this type of taking as long as the government provided “just compensation”. The Reynolds’ claimed that the original project did not contain 78 of the acres the United States tried to claim. A jury awarded the Reynolds’ $20,000 as compensation for all the land taken. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and ordered a new trial, finding that the jury instructions referred to matters disclosed outside the jury’s presence. Both the trial court and the court of appeals rejected the United States’ argument that the “scope of the project” issue was a question for the judge to decide, not the jury.


(1) Should a judge or the jury decide whether the 78 acres were in the initial scope of the project?

(2) Does the “scope of the project” rule require the early planning stages to show specifically which land will be taken, or just a general area influenced by the planned project?

Media for United States v. Reynolds

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1970 in United States v. Reynolds

Warren E. Burger:

Number 88 United States against Reynolds.

Mr. Kashiwa, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Shiro Kashiwa:

May it please the Court.

This is a review of a session of the Sixth Circuit relating to the scope of project rule expressed by this Court in the Miller case in 1943, 317 U.S. 369.

Briefly, the factual situation was first of all, this had to do with the Nolin Reservoir Project in Kentucky.

The Reynolds owned a total of 390 acres.

The present case is a case of partial taking of 250 acres out of the 390, in other words after the taking in this case they were a 140 acres remaining.

Out of the 250 acres, 172 acres were for inundation and 78 acres were for recreational purposes and it's the 78 acres which causes the question in this case.

Now, with relation to the project, the project was congressionally authorized way back in 1958 as a flood control plan for the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

Incidentally, after 1938, in 1944, congress has passed the special statute authorizing acquisition of recreational areas in conjunction with reservoir projects.

In 1956, planning funds were appropriated for the Nolin project and in July 1958, a general design memoranda was approved.

This design memoranda, contained contemplated recreational areas definitely.

In September 1958, funds were provided by congress for the project and in January 1959, the project was started.

In October 1959, this 78 acres for recreational purpose was specifically set aside in a memo by the United States Engineers.

In April 18th 1962, a suit was filed and declaration of taking filed in the case.

Incidentally going back, the Reynolds's purchased this property in October of 1959, a portion of it in October 59 and the balance of it in 1960, of course before the case was filed.

We have to go into the proceedings in the trial court to fully understand the issues.

In the trial court, the Court held with relation to any enhancement testimony as to the 78 acres, this is a recreation area.

The Court held that it is a question for the trial court to decide and it held that it held that it will not allow any enhancement testimony, this is in the original, the first portion of the trial.

But just before the case went to the jury, the Court changed its mind and said no as to whether the 78 acres was within the scope of the project or not, it will allow the jury to consider and so the owners put on testimony with relation to the 78 acres with and without enhancement.

The case went to the jury and the jury in this case filed that the land was probably within the scope of the project under the instructions of the Court, if that was so then enhancement was not to be allowed.

Therefore, the jury returned a verdict of only $20,000.00.

In the Court of Appeals, the Court also following the trial court held that whether it was in the scope of the project this question was before the jury, but the Appellant Court reversed the case as $20,000.00 verdict because the jury was allowed to consider facts which were not an evidence, it happened in this way.

The Court at first took the scope of the project question and testimony was adduced only before the Court.

But later when it changed its mind, the witnesses testified but government attorney did not cover the testimony as fully as he did just before the Court but he remembered -- but the Court in considering the evidence --- commenting on the evidence went back to the evidence he heard while he was sitting at the Court and in this mix up, the grounds for reversal came up, I will go back to this later.

So the issue -- the first issue in this case is whether the scope of the project question is a determination for the Court or for the jury.

This Court in Miller in the Miller case, a case with substantially similar factual background as in this case held that it was for the trial court to rule upon and not a jury question.

In that case, the respondents, when he tried it to put on evidence with relation to the valuation of the particular parcel and the government attorney objected because whatever he offered included enhancement and the Court took part in the questioning and specifically directed the witness not to include that enhancement in that testimony and this was a direct ruling by the Court on that question.

But in the latter part of the opinion there is a reference to jury instructions given by the Court and with relation to these instructions, the Court commented that these instructions were not wrong.

It's this portion of the -- this Court's decision that has caused much difficulty in the Courts below.