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Richards v. Washington Terminal Co., 233 U.S. 546 (1914)

Richards v. Washington Terminal Company

No. 52

Argued November 7, 1913

Decided May 4, 1914

233 U.S. 546


Although in England, Parliament, being omnipotent, may authorize the taking of private property for public use without compensation, the English courts decline to place an unjust construction on its acts, and, unless so clear as not to admit any other meaning, do not interpret them as interfering with rights of private property.

Legislation of Congress is different from that of Parliament, as it must be construed in the light of that provision of the Fifth Amendment which forbids the taking of private property for public use without compensation.

While Congress may legalize, within the sphere of its jurisdiction, what otherwise would be a public nuisance, it may not confer immunity from action for a private nuisance of such a character as to amount in effect to a taking of private property for public use.

While the owners of a railroad constructed and operated for the public use, although with private property for private gain, are not, in the absence of negligence, subject to action in behalf of owners of neighboring private property for the ordinary damages attributable to the operation of the railroad, a property owner may be entitled to compensation for such special damages as devolve exclusively upon his property and not equally upon all the neighboring property.

In this case, held that an owner of property near the portal of a tunnel in the District of Columbia constructed under authority of Congress, while not entitled to compensation for damages caused by the usual gases and smoke emitted from the tunnel by reason of the proper operation of the railroad, is entitled to compensation for such direct, peculiar and substantial damages as specially affect his property and diminish its value.

37 App.D.C. 289 reversed.

The facts, which involve the right, under the Fifth Amendment, of an owner to be compensated for special and peculiar damages to his property by reason of the operation of a railroad near the premises, are stated in the opinion.

Page 233 U. S. 548

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