Kohl v. United States/Dissent Field

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Kohl v. United States by Stephen Johnson Field
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United States Supreme Court

91 U.S. 367

KOHL  v.  UNITED STATES


MR. JUSTICE FIELD dissenting.

Assuming that the majority are correct in the doctrine announced in the opinion of the court,-that the right of eminent domain within the States, using those terms not as synonymous with the ultimate dominion or title to property, but as indicating merely the right to take private property for public uses, belongs to the Federal government, to enable it to execute the powers conferred by the Constitution,-and that any other doctrine would subordinate, in important particulars, the national authority to the caprice of individuals or the will of State legislatures, it appears to me that provision for the exercise of the right must first be made by legislation. The Federal courts have no inherent jurisdiction of a proceeding instituted for the condemnation of property; and I do not find any statute of Congress conferring upon them such authority. The Judiciary Act of 1789 only invests the circuit courts of the United States with jurisdiction, concurrent with that of the State courts, of suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity; and these terms have reference to those classes of cases which are conducted by regular pleadings between parties, according to the established doctrines prevailing at the time in the jurisprudence of England. The proceeding to ascertain the value of property which the government may deem necessary to the execution of its powers, and thus the compensation to be made for its appropriation, is not a suit at common law or in equity, but an inquisition for the ascertainment of a particular fact as preliminary to the taking; and all that is required is that the proceeding shall be conducted in some fair and just mode, to be provided by law, either with or without the intervention of a jury, opportunity being afforded to parties interested to present evidence as to the value of the property, and to be heard thereon. The proceeding by the States, in the exercise of their right of eminent domain, is often had before commissioners of assessment or special boards appointed for that purpose. It can hardly be doubted that Congress might provide for inquisition as to the value of property to be taken by similar instrumentalities; and yet, if the proceeding be a suit at common law, the intervention of a jury would be required by the seventh amendment to the Constitution.

I think that the decision of the majority of the court in including the proceeding in this case under the general designation of a suit at common law, with which the circuit courts of the United States are invested by the eleventh section of the Judiciary Act, goes beyond previous adjudications, and is in conflict with them.

Nor am I able to agree with the majority in their opinion, or at least intimation, that the authority to purchase carries with it authority to acquire by condemnation. The one supposes an agreement upon valuation, and a voluntary conveyance of the property: the other implies a compulsory taking, and a contestation as to the value. Beekman v. The Saratoga & Schenectady Railroad Co., 3 Paige, 75; Railroad Company v. Davis, 2 Dev. & Batt. 465; Willyard v. Hamilton, 7 Ham. (Ohio), 453; Livingston v. The Mayor of New York, 7 Wend. 85; Koppikus v. State Capitol Commissioners, 16 Cal. 249.

For these reasons, I am compelled to dissent from the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).