Us V. Causby United States V. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946) In 1934 Lee Causby and his wife Tinie moved to a 2.8 acre plot of land just outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. Knowingly, they purchased the land, which was located only one-third of a mile from a municipal airport and began to raise chickens as a means of income.
All was well until the spring of 1942 when the United States Army began to fly four-engine bombers over the property during all hours of the day and night. Due to the constant clamor numerous problems arose on the farmstead and as a result Lee and Tinie filed suit against the United States Army for the taking of property defined under the Fifth Amendment. The Greensboro-Highpoint Municipal Airport was first established in 1928 eight miles from Greensboro, North Carolina. The airport was first commissioned to allow the take off and landing of small commercial flights and crop spraying planes. For approximately a decade and a half the Causby family, their chicken farm and the airport lived in harmony.
This harmony was broken in April of 1942 when a lease was negotiated between the airport and the United State Army over the employment of the airport from May until June 1st of 1942. The lease also included provisions for renewal that would have lasted until 1967. It was with this contract in which the Causbys problems first began. According to the original complaint that was filed by the Causbys in the Court of Claims, the planes flown by the Army directly over their land caused the family to lose sleep, become constantly nervous and afraid. On top of this the noise and light created by the large aircraft frightened the chickens so much that they would fly into the sides of the buildings and barns, which would kill them instantly.
Approximately six to ten chickens died in one day and a total of 150 chickens died altogether. Eventually production at the chicken farm fell off and the property became devaluated. After the courts examined the situation, the Court of Claims granted an easement of $2,000 for property damage. According to the findings of the Court of Claims, the Causbys home was 2,275 feet from the runway and the barn was only 2,220 feet away. Also due to the fact that the angle in which the planes took off, they flew directly over both the house and the barn. On April 1, 1946 the Supreme Court granted the petition of writ of certiorari to the Court of Claims even though Mr. Justice Jackson took no part in the decision.
Only a month later, on May 1st, the case was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States of America by Mr. Walter J. Cummings of Washington D.C. representing the petitioner. For the respondents, the Causbys, Mr.
William E. Comer of Greensboro, NC was in attendance. Once again Mr. Justice Jackson did not take part in the trial. Mr. Justice Douglas wrote the opinion of the court and upheld that decision should be reversed and remanded so that the findings of the Court of Claims are in conformity to the decision of the Supreme Court. This was due to the fact that the Army bombers and planes were flying so low, approximately sixty-seven feet above the house and sixty-three feet above the barn, and that the lease that was contracted between the United States and the Greensboro airport could not properly be determined whether it was a temporary or permanent in nature.
Also the court was not satisfied with the findings of the Court of Claims so they ordered them to recheck all items dealing with the complaint and to specify more details in their findings. He also found that the due to the extreme amount of disruption caused by the United States planes that there was hindrance to the enjoyment of property which the Causbys were granted through the United States constitution. According to laws set up by the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), at eighty-three feet above ground level it was declared that this altitude would be free airspace. The CAA declared all space that was above the reserved eighty-three feet to be public airspace. Therefore noise and other interruptions originating from this area would not be able to be a cause of a lawsuit unless declared as a nuisance. However, if the courts found any problems to be considered as nuisances, then there would be a reason for compensation.
The argument made by the U.S. was that since they were operating in what was a safe altitude and what was considered public airspace, so that under the CAAs laws this lawsuit would be declared null and void. Mr. Justice Black wrote the dissenting opinion in this case and was agreed with by Mr. Justice Burton and Mr. Justice Madden.
Mr. Justice Madden separated on the idea that although the noise frighten both the animals and people, they must get over it in order to allow technology to advance further. Also he pointed out that although noise and light was a problem, it is in the name of advancement that the Causbys should comply with it. Mr. Justice Black felt sympathy towards the United States in this manner by stating that flying regularly over the respondents property that it did not constitute a taking.
However, both Justices Black and Douglas agreed on one point. Technically, a landowner would own as much property above and below ground as they owned. Yet it was agreed that this would be unrealistic because it would hinder transportation both in the air and below ground. Mr. Justice Black also pointed out that in order to give compensation to the respondent that the Supreme Court would have to declare the Civil Aeronautics Authoritys decision as unconstitutional. It was said that the CAA would not put people into harms way by not also regulating the take off and landing of any aircraft.
This would have to be understood that the excess noise caused by the planes in these stages of flight would have to be tolerated according to the law. Black also said the CAA would carry all authority in this case since Congress had given such authority. Therefore by reversing the decision, the court would be interfering with Congresss decision and law making powers. The Supreme Court rendered their decision on May 27, 1946 in favor of the respondents and remanded the Court of Claims for a lack of specific findings. The Causbys were successful in portraying their complaint as an unconstitutional taking made by the federal government.