The Fifth Amendment provides that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. "Just compensation" means the full monetary equivalent of the property taken. The owner is to be put in the same position monetarily as he would have occupied if his property had not been taken. In enforcing the constitutional mandate, courts have adopted the concept of market value: the owner is entitled to the fair market value of the property at the time of the taking. But this basic measurement of compensation has been hedged with certain refinements developed over the years in the interest of effectuating the constitutional guarantee.
Petitioner United States sought to condemn more than 250 acres of respondent landowners' property for a federal reservoir development. The landowners contended that 78 acres of the land, taken for construction of recreational facilities adjacent to the reservoir, had not been within the original scope of the project. A jury awarded the respondents $ 20,000 as just compensation for all the land taken. Although the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed on another ground, the trial and appellate courts were in agreement in rejecting the government's contention that the trial judge, rather than the jury, should have decided whether, for purposes of determining just compensation, 78 of the 250 acres taken for construction of recreation facilities adjacent to the reservoir had been probably within the original scope of the project.
Was the jury's role confined to determining a compensation award within ground rules established by the trial judge?
The right to a jury trial afforded by Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 71A (h) in a federal eminent domain proceeding on the issue of just compensation does not extend to the question whether the condemned "lands were probably within the scope of the project from the time the Government was committed to it" (either by the original plans or during the course of planning or original construction), and that question is for the trial judge to decide.