United States v. Twin City Power Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Twin City Power Company

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Oct 18, 1955
DECIDED: Jan 23, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Twin City Power Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 18, 1955 in United States v. Twin City Power Company

Earl Warren:

Number 21 on the docket, United States of America versus Twin City Power Company, et al.

Mr. Spritzer.

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Mr. Chief Justice and Your Honors.

This case involves an issue of just compensation arising out of eminent domain proceedings which were instituted by the United States in 1947 in the Western District of South Carolina.

The taking was made necessary by the building of a dam on the Savannah River, which forms the border between South Carolina and Georgia, at a location known as Clark's -- Clark Hill.

The Clark Hill Dam is a vital part of a comprehensive plan which is pictured on this map which has been reproduced by the engineers from the engineers' studies.

The Clark Hill Dam is a central part of the Savannah River Basin project and it's located at this point here, right at the tip of this brown area which represent the reservoir basin.

The project has as its declared purposes flood control, navigation improvement, and hydroelectric development.

The condemned lands, whose value is in question in this proceeding, are located some miles upstream from the Government's dam at Clark Hill.

They have been flooded as a result of the backing up of the river by the dam or, otherwise stated, they are now part of the reservoir basin.

Now, for this taking of its fast lands adjacent to the river, respondent is, of course, entitled to compensation.

Respondent, however, has been awarded what we believe to be a special increment of value to which it is not entitled.

Whether we are right in that view is -- is the issue here.The increment has been for the so-called water power value or dam site value of the lands condemned.

I might say that the award for water power value so-called was approximately eight times what the condemnee would have received under special findings which were made by the Commissioners if it had been concluded that such element was to be excluded from consideration.

I'd like to state very briefly, in summary form, without elaborating any of the propositions of this point and without discussing any of the cases which we think bear upon the propositions, the Government's legal position.

The Clark Hill project, we say, was undertaken in the exercise of the paramount authority of the United States over navigable waters.

The respondent's land, it is true, was suitable for the possible development of a power project, though the Government had, in fact, built its dam at a different location which is mutually exclusive.

We say, however, that respondent had no legal, no established, no vested right to throw a dam across a navigable stream of the United States.

Indeed, such action on its part, in the absence of expressed federal authorization, in the form of a likeness, would have been in direct violation of a statute which has penal sanctions.

Therefore, we say, respondent cannot assert as against the United States exercising its dominant reserved powers.

A claim of land value which is predicated upon a use of the waters which it is not entitled to make.

Here, the United States, far from delegating its prerogative, as it might have done, has chosen directly to exercise them by a public project.

Now, before attempting to go further with -- with the argument, I am -- would like to go back to treat some of the geography and history, the history of the proceedings and some of the physical facts.

We do so in some little detail because respondent, in its brief, has made a major attack upon the determination by Congress that this was a navigation project.

They argue that the Court should not so considerate.

And, consequently, I think, it's necessary to go into some of the background which led to congressional authorization and out of which these proceedings arose.

Felix Frankfurter:

I don't -- I'm not sure I understand.What's the effect?

Ralph S. Spritzer:

They claim that the Court should not regard this as being within the navigation power.

They say that this is not, in fact, a navigation improvement.

Felix Frankfurter:

And, from there, the -- it was suggested that there was no power to condemn this?