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Miller v. Schoene

Law Dictionary
CASE BRIEFS

Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Constitutional Law Keyed to Stone

Citation. 276 U.S. 272, 48 S. Ct. 246, 72 L. Ed. 568, 1928 U.S. 78.

Brief Fact Summary. An official for the State of Virginia ordered the destruction of Plaintiffs’ diseased cedar trees in order to protect their neighbors nearby apple trees. The Plaintiffs were given no compensation.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A State does not exceed its constitutional powers by deciding upon the destruction of one class of property in order to save another which, in the judgment of the legislature, is of greater value to the public.


Facts. Acting pursuant to the Virginia Cedar Rust Act (the “Act”), a state official ordered Plaintiffs to cut down a large number of red cedar trees growing on their property. The purpose of the order was to prevent the spread of a plant disease, with which the cedar trees were infected, to apple orchids that lay in the vicinity of the cedar trees. The plant disease was destructive of apple trees but not cedar trees. The only practicable means for protecting the apple trees was the destruction of all of the cedar trees. The Plaintiffs were not compensated for their loss of the cedar trees.

Issue. May a State constitutionally order the destruction of one class of private property in order to save another class of property when the property to be saved is considered of higher value to the public?

Held. Yes. The lower court is reversed.
A State does not exceed its constitutional powers by deciding upon the destruction of one class of property in order to save another which, in the judgment of the legislature, is of greater value to the public. The State had to choose between preserving one class of property or another. If the State had done nothing, it still would have been making a choice: it would have been choosing to permit the apple trees to perish. When faced with this type of dilemma, the State does not exceed its constitutional powers by sacrificing one class of property for the sake of another whose value is greater to the public. It was obvious that the apple trees here where of greater public concern than the cedar trees. Thus, the State’s action here cannot be said to constitute a denial of due process.

Discussion. This case only concerns the States’ police powers. As a predicate for any interference with private property, the State must have a public purpose. The Supreme Court of the United States found one here. The issue of whether Plaintiffs should have been compensated for a government taking was not discussed.

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