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Supreme Court of the United States
May 1, 1946, Argued ; May 27, 1946, Decided
[*258] [**1064] [***1208] MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a case of first impression. The problem presented is whether respondents' property was taken, within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment, by frequent and regular flights of army and navy aircraft over respondents' land at low altitudes. [****5] The Court of Claims held that there was a taking and entered judgment for respondents, one judge dissenting. 104 Ct. Cls. 342, 60 F.Supp. 751. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted because of the importance of the question presented.
Respondents own 2.8 acres near an airport outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. It has on it a dwelling house, and also various outbuildings which were mainly used for raising chickens. The end of the airport's northwest-southeast runway is 2,220 feet from respondents' barn and 2,275 feet from their house. The path of glide to this runway passes directly over the property -- which is 100 feet wide and 1,200 feet long. The 30 to 1 safe glide angle 1 approved by the Civil [***1209] Aeronautics Authority 2 passes over this property at 83 feet, which is 67 feet above the house, 63 feet above the barn and 18 feet above the highest tree. 3 The use by the United States of this airport is pursuant to a lease executed in May, 1942, for a term commencing June 1, 1942 and ending June 30, 1942, with a provision for renewals until June 30, 1967, or six [*259] months after the end of the national emergency, [****6] whichever is the earlier.
Various aircraft of the United States use this airport -- bombers, transports and fighters. The direction of the prevailing wind determines when a particular runway is used. The northwest-southeast runway in question is used about four per cent of the time in taking off and about seven per cent of the time in landing. Since the United States began operations in May, 1942, its four-motored heavy bombers, other planes of the heavier type, and its fighter planes have frequently passed over respondents' land and buildings in considerable numbers and [****7] rather close together. They come close enough at times to appear barely to miss the tops of the trees and at times so close to the tops of the trees as to blow the old leaves off. The noise is startling. And at night the glare from the [**1065] planes brightly lights up the place. As a result of the noise, respondents had to give up their chicken business. As many as six to ten of their chickens were killed in one day by flying into the walls from fright. The total chickens lost in that manner was about 150. Production also fell off. The result was the destruction of the use of the property as a commercial chicken farm. Respondents are frequently deprived of their sleep and the family has become nervous and frightened. Although there have been no airplane accidents on respondents' property, there have been several accidents near the airport and close to respondents' place. These are the essential facts found by the Court of Claims. On the basis of these facts, it found that respondents' property had depreciated in value. It held that the United States had taken an easement over the property on June 1, 1942, and that the value of the property destroyed and the easement [****8] taken was $ 2,000.
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328 U.S. 256 *; 66 S. Ct. 1062 **; 90 L. Ed. 1206 ***; 1946 U.S. LEXIS 3008 ****
UNITED STATES v. CAUSBY ET UX.
Prior History: [****1] CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CLAIMS.
The Court of Claims granted respondents a judgment for the value of property destroyed and damage to their property resulting from the taking of an easement over their property by low-flying military aircraft of the United States, but failed to include in its findings of fact a specific description of the nature or duration of the easement. 104 Ct. Cls. 342, 60 F.Supp. 751. This Court granted certiorari. 327 U.S. 775. Reversed and remanded, p. 268.
Disposition: 104 Ct. Cls. 342, 60 F.Supp. 751, reversed and remanded.
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