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DISTRICT COLUMBIA v. THOMPSON

decided: February 24, 1930.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
v.
THOMPSON



CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, Stone; Hughes took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Sanford

[ 281 U.S. Page 28]

 MR. JUSTICE SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

Pursuant to an Act of March 1, 1912,*fn1 authorizing and directing them so to do, the Commissioners of the District of Columbia instituted in the Supreme Court of the District, under and in accordance with the District Code of Law, a proceeding in rem to condemn the land necessary to extend Lamont Street, northwest, with a width of ninety feet, through two designated squares west of its termination at 19th Street.*fn2 The strip of land necessary for this extension was condemned and title vested in the District, and the damages were awarded and the benefits assessed by a verdict of the jury. This was confirmed by the court in February, 1913. The sum of $200 was assessed as benefits against a lot owned by the respondent, Georgiana Thompson. Under the District Code this became a lien upon the lot, collectible as special improvement taxes and payable in five annual instalments.*fn3 In March, 1921, the lot was sold for nonpayment of the assessment, and in March, 1923, was redeemed by the respondent from such sale by the payment of the $200 and interest to the Collector of Taxes of the District.

In June, 1927, the respondent -- hereinafter called the plaintiff -- brought an action against the District in the Municipal Court, alleging that she had paid the assessment of benefits under obligation of law; that the District had wholly failed to extend Lamont Street through the

[ 281 U.S. Page 29]

     designated squares, the strip of land condemned being yet unimproved by a street extension, and had abandoned the purpose of the condemnation authorized by the Act of Congress; and that she was entitled to the repayment of the $200 assessment -- for which she claimed judgment. The District filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court over the cause of action; and also an affidavit of defense, denying that it had abandoned the purpose of the condemnation for the extension of Lamont Street, and alleging that more than three years had elapsed since the time when the plaintiff's right of action, if any, had accrued to her. It was not alleged that the District intended to extend Lamont Street over the condemned strip at any future time.

At the trial the following facts -- which are undisputed -- were shown: Lamont Street, when the condemnation proceeding for its extension was instituted, had been paved, graded and laid out, east of 19th Street, with a roadway, sidewalks, curbing and parking spaces, and was open for vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Since the acquisition of the strip west of 19th Street and the confirmation of the verdict in 1913, no official action had been taken by the Commissioners or by Congress looking to the abandonment of the title thereto, or of the right of the District to improve it. However, since that time and up to the filing of the plaintiff's suit in 1927, Lamont Street had not been extended as an improved street, and the condemned strip had not been laid out for a roadway, sidewalk or parking space, nor graded, paved or otherwise improved for highway purposes; nor had Congress made any specific appropriation therefor. And although lying between two improved highways, 19th Street and Adams Mill Road, it still remained open, vacant property. For a short distance along its south side, at a time not shown, a cement sidewalk had been laid by a private person as an entrance to an apartment house, under a District permit.

[ 281 U.S. Page 30]

     In March, 1924, the District had laid a cement sidewalk and curb along the west side of 19th Street and across the east end of the condemned strip, which constituted an effective obstruction to any vehicular traffic over it. And in January, 1926, in a letter declining to entertain an application made by the attorney for the plaintiff and others for a refund of the assessments on the ground that the District appeared to have abandoned the project for the extension of the street, the Auditor of the District had stated that the official files of the engineer department indicated that it had never been the intention to open the extension of Lamont Street to vehicular traffic because of the excessive grade, but that the principal reason for condemning the strip was to provide a vista and access to Zoological Park, and it was intended to treat the extension with terraces and steps.*fn4 It was not shown that the District had taken any step at any time looking towards the extension of Lamont Street over the condemned strip, or indicating its intention to make such extension at any future time.

The Municipal Court gave judgment for the plaintiff; and this, on writ of error, was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the District. 30 F.2d 476.

We think the judgment should be affirmed.

1. Pursuant to the Act of Congress the strip of land was condemned for the extension of Lamont Street, an improved thoroughfare open for vehicular and pedestrian traffic and all the ordinary uses of a street. In the ...


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