United States v. Causby

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
United States v. Causby
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued May 1, 1946
Decided May 27, 1946
Full case name United States v. Causby
Citations 328 U.S. 256 (more)
328 U.S. 256
Prior history 104 Ct.Cls. 342, 60 F.Supp. 751, reversed and remanded.
'a landowner's domain includes the lower altitude airspace, but that property does not extend "ad coelum" (indefinitely upward).
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Douglas, joined by Reed, Frankfurter, Murphy, Rutledge
Dissent Black, Burton
Jackson took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

United States v. Causby 328 U.S. 256 (1946) was a United States Supreme Court Decision related to ownership of airspace above private property. The Court held that title to land includes domain over the lower altitudes. The United States Government claimed a public right to fly over Causby's farm, while Causby argued such low altitude flights entitled the property owner to just compensation under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment."[1] The findings were two-fold. The court rejected the Federal assertion to “possess” and “control” all airspace above private lands, and it nullifed the doctrine that property extends indefinitely upward.


Under the common law, a person who owns the soil, owns the space indefinetly upward. ":ad coelum or to the heavens".[2][3][4]

The 1926 Air Commerce Act asserted that the US government possess all airspace. id 260 .

The lawsuit was about the contradiction between the common laws of property ownership and the Federal claim to possess all airspace above the United States.


The United States Supreme Court rejected the government's claim to possess the space down to ground level. The Court held low altitude flights to be a direct invasion of [the landowner's] domain, id 266 and that a "servitude has been imposed upon the land” by low altitude flights id 267. However, the Court also recognized that a claim of ownership indefinitely upward "has no place in the modern world,"[5]id 261

The court held that property does not extend indefinitely upward (rejecting "ad coelum"), nor did the public's right of flight extend down to the earths surface. Holding that "if the landowner is to have full enjoyment of the land, he must have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere. Otherwise buildings could not be erected, trees could not be planted, and even fences could not be run" …“The fact that he does not occupy [the space] in a physical sense -- by the erection of buildings and the like -- is not material. As we have said, the flight of airplanes, which skim the surface but do not touch it, is as much an appropriation of the use of the land as a more conventional entry upon it.” id 264[1]

By remand, the Court of Claims was tasked with defining the property that had been taken from Causby. The Court found the landowner's property to include the space between the altitudes from 83 feet up to 365 feet had been taken. Since the lowest flight was at 83 feet, and flight above 365 feet was lawful, only the property in between these altitudes required just compensation. see Causby v U.S. 75 F.262 Ct.Cl (1948)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Huebert, Jacob H. (2011-04-18) Who Owns the Sky?, Mises Institute
  2. ^ Thomas Merrill, Establishing Ownership: First Possession versus Accession, p. 14, fn. 22-23, Law and Economics Workshop (University of California, Berkeley 2007 Paper 3), found at CDLib website. Retrieved September 17, 2008.
  3. ^ Cjus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos. This has been translated as “To whomever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and the depths.” Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed. 1990). From Merrill, fn. 22, q.v..
  4. ^ "Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum, is the maxim of the law, upwards; therefore no man may erect any building, or the like, to overhang another's land: … the word "land" includes not only the face of the earth, but every thing under it, or over it.”28 Am. Jur.2d 618,2 Blackstone Commentaries Book 2 p18(1836). See also, United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256,260 261(1946), citing I Coke, Institutes, 19th Ed. 1832, ch. 1, § 1(4a); 2 Blackstone, Lewis Ed. 1902, bk 2 p.18; 3 Kent, Commentaries, Gould Ed. 1896, p.621
  5. ^ United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256, 261 (1942), see 328 U.S. 256 (1946). From Merrill, fn. 23, q.v..

External links[edit]

Text of United States v. Causby is available from:  Justia