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Miller v. United States

Citation: 6 ELR 20447
No. No. 296-74, 531 F.2d 510/(Ct. Cl., 03/17/1976)

Plaintiffs seek just compensation for lands taken by the United States under the Redwoods National Park Act, 16 U.S.C. § 79a-j, and for loss of access to other lands not taken. Plaintiffs deny that the Interior Department has power to remove, as it claims to have done, 90 acres from the legislatively drawn taking area in order to restore this access, and request $75 million in compensation. Normally, United States officials cannot dispose of federal land without express statutory authority to do so, but § 2(a) of the Act gives the Secretary of Interior power to "modify" the Redwood park boundaries in order to effectuate "the purpose of the Act." Plaintiffs err in contending that this power, which was provided for in early versions of the legislation, was drastically curtailed by the introduction of the legislative taking approach into the final version of the Act, even though the power to modify remained stated in similar terms. Their interpretation that the boundary can only be moved outward is likewise mistaken in view of the stautory 58,000 acre overall limitation for the park and the several preferred dictionary meanings of "modify," which are limited to diminution. Congress foresaw that, as the present case illustrates, the sudden legislative taking upon enactment of the statute would increase the need for authority to adjust the park boundary either in or out as the occasion might demand. Plaintiffs' other substantive contention, that the saving of liability from severance damages is not a "purpose of the Act" for which the Secretary can "modify" a boundary, is also in error. Title to the 90 acres in question thus remained continuously in the plaintiffs with no period of government ownership. The court also rules that plaintiffs had actual notice of the boundary changes. Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment is granted.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (5 pp. $0.75, ELR Order No. C-1037).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Manley B. Strayer
Davies, Biggs, Strayer, Stoel & Boley
900 S.W. Fifth Avenue
Portland OR 97204
(503) 224-3380

Counsel for Defendant
Peter Taft, Asst. Attorney General
Howard O. Sigmond
Department of Justice
Washington DC 20530
(202) 739-2781

Nichols, J. for himself, Skelton & Bennett, Jj.

[OPINION OMITTED BY PUBLISHER IN ORIGINAL SOURCE]