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United States v. Keller

Citation: 28 ELR 21193
(04/27/1998)

The court affirms the denial of landowners' untimely demand for a jury trial on the issue of just compensation in a condemnation proceeding initiated by the United States. The United States was attempting to obtain 42 acres of the landowners' property for the purposes of administering, preserving, and developing the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The court first notes that it is settled law that there is no constitutional right to a jury trial in a federal condemnation proceeding. Furthermore, to obtain even the limited access to a jury in federal condemnation proceedings, a party must make a timely demand for such a trial.

The court then holds that the facts urged by the landowners did not require the district court to grant the belated jury request. The fact that the landowners were unrepresented by counsel resulted from the landowners' deliberate choice not to consult or retain counsel. The government repeatedly urged the landowners to obtain counsel. In addition, the government complied with the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 71A(d)(2) and was not required to inform the landowners when or how they may demand a jury trial. Further, the government complied with Fed. R. Civ. P. 71A(h), which does not prohibit the government from withdrawing its prior jury demand.

Counsel for Plaintiff
M. Alice Thurston
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendants
R. Edwin Brown
Brown & Sturm
260 E. Jefferson St., Rockville MD 20850
(301) 762-2555

Before Campbell, J.