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Law School Case Brief

Kohl v. United States - 91 U.S. 367 (1875)


If the right of eminent domain exists in the Federal government, it is a right which may be exercised within the States, so far as is necessary to the enjoyment of the powers conferred upon it by the Constitution. So far as the general government may deem it important to appropriate lands or other property for its own purposes, and to enable it to perform its functions, -- as must sometimes be necessary in the case of forts, light-houses, and military posts or roads, and other conveniences and necessities of government, -- the general government may exercise the authority as well within the States as within the territory under its exclusive jurisdiction; and its right to do so may be supported by the same reasons which support the right in any case; that is to say, the absolute necessity that the means in the government for performing its functions and perpetuating its existence should not be liable to be controlled or defeated by the want of consent of private parties or of any other authority.


The plaintiffs in error, Kohl and others, owned a perpetual leasehold estate in a portion of the property in Cincinnati. The United States Congress then enacted three legislations which allowed for the appropriation of the property. The plaintiffs moved to dismiss the proceeding on the ground of want of jurisdiction which the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio overruled. They then demanded a separate trial of the value of their estate in the property, which demand  also overruled by the Circuit Court. Plaintiffs appealed.


Did the circuit court have the jurisdiction to conduct the condemnation proceedings?




In its ruling, the United States Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to conduct the condemnation proceedings. The Judiciary Act of 1789 conferred upon the circuit courts of the United States jurisdiction of all suits at common law or in equity, when the United States, or any officer of it, operating under the authority of any act of Congress, was a plaintiff. The condemnation proceeding was a suit, so the circuit court had jurisdiction over the matter. It was not error to refuse the tenants' demand for a separate trial in the matter. Under Ohio law, all owners of a parcel were treated as one party, so combining the tenants and their landlord in one trial was proper.

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