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Miller v. Schoene

    Brief Fact Summary. Cedar trees were about to infect an apple orchard with a disease, so the state ordered the trees destroyed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The public interest outweighs the property interest of the individual, and the state may use its police power to preserve the public interest, even if that means property must be destroyed.

    Facts. The state entomologist (Defendant) ordered Plaintiffs to cut down a large number of ornamental red cedar trees growing on their property, in order to prevent the spread of a rust or plant disease to the apple orchards in the vicinity. A statute requires the state entomologist to discover infected trees and direct the owner to destroy them.

    Issue. When two classes property exist in dangerous proximity, may the state choose to preserve one, which is of greater value to the public over the other?

    Held. Yes.
    Red cedar trees have occasional use and value as lumber. Its value throughout the state is shown to be small as compared with that of the apple orchards of the state. Apple growing is one of the principal agricultural pursuits in Virginia. Millions of dollars are invested in the orchards, which furnish employment for a large portion of the population, and have induced the development of attendant railroad and cold storage facilities.
    The state needed to make a choice between the preservation of one class of property and that of the other because they existed in dangerous proximity. When forced to make such a choice, the state does not exceed its constitutional powers by deciding upon the destruction of one class of property in order to save another, which is of greater value to the public. There is a strong public concern in the preservation of one interest over the other. When the public interest is involved preferment of that interest over the property interest of the individual, to the extent even of its destruction, is one of the distinguishing characteristics of every exercise of police power, which affects property.

    Discussion. The state can take and destroy private property if doing so would be in the best interests of the public, including the public economic interest. Their authority derives from the police power given to states.


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