Where, for any reason, property has no market, resort must be had to other data to ascertain its value; and, even in the ordinary case, assessment of market value involves the use of assumptions, which make it unlikely that the appraisal will reflect true value with nicety. It is usually said that market value is what a willing buyer would pay in cash to a willing seller. Where the property taken, and that in its vicinity, has not in fact been sold within recent times, or in significant amounts, the application of this concept involves, at best, a guess by informed persons.
Petitioner government appealed from a judgment of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found in favor of respondent landowners in eminent domain proceedings on the ground that the district court was without jurisdiction to award government a judgment for amounts overpaid to respondents. Petitioner government condemned a strip across respondent landowners' lands and an action in eminent domain was tried to a jury. Landowners offered evidence as to fair market value of tracts involved on date of filing of the complaint. Government objected on the ground that, as government was definitely committed to the project, landowners were not entitled to have included in the estimate of value, as of date the lands were taken, any increment of value due to government's authorization of, and commitment to, the project. As such, the market value was determined from the date of the taking due to the authorization of the project. On certiorari, the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed and that of the District Court affirmed.
Were respondents' lands within the scope of the project from the time the Government was committed to it?
Since the landowners' lands were probably within the scope of the project from the time the government committed to it, the government did not have to pay any increase in value arising from the known fact that the lands would probably be condemned. The court held the district court was within its jurisdiction and properly ordered landowners to repay the government for the amounts the landowners had received in excess of the verdicts with interest. The district court was dealing with money deposited in its chancery to be disbursed in connection with a pending action.