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United States v. 1 629.6 Acres of Land

decided as amended october 9 1974.: September 3, 1974.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
1,629.6 ACRES OF LAND, MORE OR LESS, IN THE COUNTY OF SUSSEX, STATE OF DELAWARE, THE ISLAND FARM, INC. JENNIE H. J. LAYTON ET AL., UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT IN NO. 73-1832, JENNIE H. J. LAYTON, APPELLANT IN NOS. 73-1833 AND 73-1834



ON APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE.

Rosenn and Hunter, Circuit Judges and Hannum District Judge. Rosenn, Circuit Judge, with whom Hannum, District Judge, joins, Concurring.

Author: Hunter

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

This appeal arises out of a suit by the United States government to condemn 1,629.6 acres of land in Sussex County, Delaware. The defendants in the action were Island Farm, Inc. (Island Farm) and Jennie H. J. Layton (Layton). The government and Layton have appealed from the decision of the district court and Island Farm has responded with a motion that seeks dismissal of Layton's appeal or in the alternative a "summary affirmance."

Layton's appeal takes issue with the district court's determinations on the boundary and title disputes that arose, between herself and Island Farm, in the litigation. The district court's decisions on these issues generally favored Island Farm and had the effect of increasing its compensation award and reducing Layton's. The government's appeal is concerned primarily with what it contends are errors made in computing the compensation that Island Farm is to receive for the taking of its land.*fn1

Since the facts relevant to these issues are fully explained by the district court, United States v. 1,629.6 Acres of Land, 335 F. Supp. 255 (D. Del. 1971), we will not repeat them here. Further, with the exception of a single issue, we are in full agreement with the district court's analysis and discussion of the questions raised on appeal. As a result, on all issues other than one dealt with below, we affirm on the basis of the district court's fine opinions. 335 F. Supp. 255 (D. Del. 1971); 360 F. Supp. 147 (D. Del. 1973).*fn2

Our only disagreement with the district court concerns its determination on the question of title to the barrier beach land in the area designated by the court as Segment II (hereinafter referred to as "Segment II beach land"). See 335 F. Supp. at 277. We feel that the district court erred when it concluded that this land belonged to Island Farm rather than to Layton.

Before discussing the merits of this issue, we must deal with a preliminary objection raised by gappellant Layton -- that is, that the district court lacked jurisdiction to decide this title question. This contention is based on the fact that the Segment II beach land is not a part of the land condemned, but instead is a piece of land severed from the property taken. As a result, resolution of the dispute over title to this land affects these proceedings only through the effect that it has on the severance damages to be awarded to each defendant. This relation to the proceedings is, according to Layton, insufficient to create jurisdiction.

We do not agree. The district court clearly has jurisdiction in a condemnation proceeding brought by the United States government to fix the amount of compensation awarded, and to apportion it among the claimants, 6 J. Moore, Federal Practice para. 71A.10[1]. Moreover, this latter right necessarily includes the power to determine who among competing claimants owns the condemned land. See United States v. 22,680 Acres of Land, 438 F.2d 75 (5th Cir. 1971); United States v. Atomic Fuel Coal Co., 383 F.2d 1 (4th Cir. 1967); Tyson v. Iowa, 283 F.2d 802 (8th Cir. 1960); Clark v. White, 185 F.2d 528 (5th Cir. 1950).

We believe that the court's jurisdiction to determine the amount of compensation and its allocation would be significantly hampered if we were to hold that the power to resolve title questions extends only to disputes involving title to the condemned land itself. First, such a ruling would make it impossible for the court to exercise its power to apportion the compensation among competing claimants, in any case involving a dispute as to the ownership of severed land, since it would be impossible to determine which party was entitled to the severance damages awarded. Second, since damages to the severed land are likely to vary from claimant to claimant, this ruling would also make it impossible, in many cases (including this one), to determine even the amount of compensation to be awarded.

Thus, as a practical matter, the jurisdiction of the district court should include the right to resolve title disputes involving severed, as well as condemned, lands so that it can handle all phases of condemnation cases effectively. Since such a holding is entirely compatible with the language of the statutes conferring jurisdiction in this area, 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 1345, 1358 (1970), we adopt this approach. Accord United States v. 11,993.32 Acres of Land, 116 F. Supp. 671 (D.N.D. 1953).*fn3

With regard to the merits of the dispute over title to the Segment II beach land, we feel that the judgment in favor of Island Farm must be reversed. The district court took the position that Island Farm was vested with riparian rights and that as such it was entitled to accretions forming in front of its property. While we can assume arguendo that the Court's discussion of the law as it applies to landowners with riparian rights is correct, we cannot accept its initial premise; that is, that Island Farm is vested with riparian rights.

As the district court itself noted the general rule is that "riparian rights attach to land adjacent to natural watercourses, but do not attach to land adjoining an artificial channel." 335 F. Supp. at 271, (emphasis added). Since the Broadkill Inlet was formed by artificial means, this would seem to prevent riparian rights from attaching to the lands owned by Island Farm. However, the district court went on to point out that ...


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