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United States v. Delaware

decided: February 26, 1959.


Author: Mclaughlin

Before BIGGS, Chief Judge, and McLAUGHLIN and KALODNER, Circuit Judges.

McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge.

This is a land condemnation case which on appeal presents three questions of law. The property involved is 15.3 acres in the heart of Scranton, Pennsylvania and was formerly used by the defendant railroad for repair and upkeep of its steam locomotives. On the land there are four main structures with from 450,000 to 480,000 square feet of space, including basements and mezzanines.

During the Korean War the United States contracted with the United States Hoffman Machinery Corporation for the production of large caliber shells. The arrangement was in the form of a supplies contract calling for the actual production of the shells and a facilities contract by which Hoffman undertook to obtain the use of a heavy industrial property which could be adapted at government expense to the required use. Hoffman's profit was to be realized solely on the production contract.

The property involved was subsequently leased in January 1953 by Hoffman from the D. L. & W. R. R. for a term of fifteen months at a rental of $500,000 with annual options for four years to renew at the end of each term for another year at a rent of $400,000 annually. Hoffman thereafter effected substantial repairs and improvements to the property in adapting it for the required use; the expert testimony variously estimated that the value of the premises was thereby enhanced by between $250,000 and $300,000. The United States reimbursed Hoffman for all these repairs and improvements under the terms of the facilities contract.

In August 1954 this condemnation proceeding was initiated by the United States; a jury trial was demanded. The defendant, however, moved for the appointment of a commission which the district court granted. The commission held hearings at which both sides introduced testimony primarily with regard to valuation of the property by experts. Following these the commission with findings of fact, conclusions of law and an opinion largely summarizing the testimony decided that the defendant property-owner was entitled to $1,720,700. The district court affirmed this and overruled the objections of both parties.


The first question we have to decide is whether the district court erred in referring the matter to a commission rather than granting the jury trial requested by the government. Rule 71A (h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure affords the choice.*fn1 From the wording of the rule it is apparent that the choice is vested in the discretion of the court. The circumstances of the rule's genesis, which are set out both in 28 U.S.C.A. (Supp.1957) following its text and in 7 Moore's Federal Practice, PP. 71 A.01-71 A.08; 71 A.90, confirm this.

Only one case from a Court of Appeals has reversed the reference to a commission, see United States v. Theimer, 10 Cir., 1952, 199 F.2d 501, although the Second Circuit has twice in connected cases expressed its disapproval of a reference. See United States v. Vater, 2 Cir., 1958, 259 F.2d 667; United States v. Bobinski, 2 Cir., 1957, 244 F.2d 299. Cases from the Fourth,*fn2 Fifth,*fn3 Eighth,*fn4 and Tenth*fn5 Circuits, however, have affirmed references under widely varying conditions. All these citations, plus those reported decisions of the district courts on the problem*fn6 (most of which made the reference) say nearly all that can be said on the point. Since the choice is so largely within the discretion of the district court, since the character of the property involved is complex, and since the evaluation thereof is only to be fairly arrived at by a method involving complicated comparisons of numerous other properties, we are unwilling to say that the court erred in ordering the case to a commission.*fn7 However, we do not lose sight of the fact that among other things a reference to a commission tends unduly to prolong the proceedings, thereby causing vexation to all concerned and additional expense, in this instance to the government for accruing interest.


The second question presented is whether the United States was prejudiced by admission of evidence as to the terms of the lease between Hoffman and the defendant. It is asserted that the lease represented special value to the condemnor and is not evidence of market value and that since the commission failed to indicate the relevancy which it attributed to this evidence, the United States was prejudiced. Even if it be assumed arguendo that the lease in effect was not evidence of fair market value we think it is clear that the commission recognized this. The only witness to rely on the annual rental was Doud, one of the defendant's three experts. By employing the usual income capitalization rates of 10% to 12% for this type of property, he arrived at an estimated value of from $3,330,000 up to $4,000,000, depending on which capitalization rate was used. Hinerfeld, defendant's second expert, took the annual rental as a starting point, but recognizing it as peculiar, capitalized it at 18% rather than at the usual rates.He also applied the capitalization method to what he considered a fair rental value for the property at the more usual rate of 10%. By these alternatives for the same method he arrived at a value of $2,250,000 for the property. Defendant's third witness, Gordon, also set up what was in his judgment a fair annual rental and capitalized this at 10% to arrive at a valuation of $2,250,000 also. Potter, the government's lone expert, set up a hypothetical fair rental value by a comparative method similar to that employed by Hinerfeld and Gordon, concluding that it would be $116,200; making allowance for the portion of that value contributed by the land and capitalizing the remainder at an annual return of 10% discounted for an estimated life of the buildings for twenty-five years, the witness ultimately arrived at a value for the property of $1,092,000. From this review it seems plain that the commission followed three of the four witnesses in attributing no relevancy to the annual rental afforded by the lease.


The final question is whether there shall be included in the value of the land at the date of taking the enhancement wrought through the repairs and improvements accomplished under the facilities contract. The district court agreed with the commission that the United States should pay for taking these since they had been incorporated into and had become an integral part of the realty, even though they had been made at government expense originally.

Whatever the rights of the parties concerned with the transaction might be in the absence of provisions in the lease, it is unquestionable that expressed intentions and understandings will govern. The twenty-ninth provision of the lease declares that upon termination Hoffman will vacate the premises and surrender them in good order, condition, and repair, ...

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