United States v. Fuller: Grazing Rights & Eminent Domain

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In United States v. Fuller, the issue of grazing rights and eminent domain were addressed. The case, which involved a rancher who owned land, leased land in Arizona, and had a permit to graze on Federal lands, began when the lands Fuller owned via eminent domain were taken by the Federal government. However, under the 5th Amendment, the Federal government is required to pay fair market value for these lands. The dispute arose over how to calculate the value.

  • The United States argued that since Fuller did not have much land and could not graze a lot of cattle, the land was not worth much. Additionally, it was argued that, under the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, permits do not create any property interests.
  • Fuller argued that although he did not own much of the land, he had permits for the use of much of the adjacent Federal grazing land, allowing him to use the small amount of land he owned to support a large cattle ranch. He argued this fact gave the land a great amount of value.

The Trial Court found in favor of Fuller, but the United States appealed the decision until the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where the decision was reversed, finding that Fuller had no property interest in the grazing permits. Although it acknowledged that Fuller’s grazing permits increased the amount someone would pay for Fuller’s land, the Supreme Court stated that eminent domain does not always require the government to pay fair market value. All that is required is “just compensation.”

Given that Fuller would have received a substantially higher selling price if he had sold his land on the open market, the decision was not fair to him.

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