Armstrong v. United States

364 U.S. 40, 80 S. Ct. 1563 (1960)



The U.S. Const. amend. V guarantee that private property shall not be taken for a public use without just compensation is designed to bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.


Under a Maine statute, whoever furnishes material for building a vessel has a lien on the vessel and on the material furnished. Materialmen, who had not been paid for supplies furnished to a contractor engaged in constructing vessels for the federal government, asserted liens on the supplies and the uncompleted vessels in which the supplies had been incorporated. Because title to these vessels transferred to the federal government, under a provision of the contract between the contractor and the government permitting the government to terminate the contract in case of the contractor's default and require the contractor to transfer title to completed and uncompleted work and to manufacturing materials acquired by the contractor for building the vessels, the materialmen claimed a right to just compensation under the Fifth Amendment for the value of their liens. The Court of Claims held that the materialmen never acquired valid liens on the uncompleted vessels or materials transferred to the government and denied compensation. On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed the judgment.


Did the the government's action, having the effect of destroying all of petitioners' property rights under their otherwise valid liens, have every possible element of a compensable U.S. Const. amend. V taking?




First, the uncompleted vessels prior to their transfer to the United States did not constitute a public work immune from materialmen's liens. Second, the materialmen's liens gave them a compensable property interest within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment. Third, the government's requirement that the uncompleted vessels and supplies be transferred to it, under the terms of its contract with the contractor, amounted to a taking of the materialmen's property interest within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment.

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