SW Legal studies in Business

Government Not Liable for Taking of Property that Burned Due to Fire Suppression Policy

Appeals court held that homeowners who claimed their homes were destroyed by a forest fire because of the Forest Service policy to let forest fires run their natural course rather than suppress fires, had no claim against the government for an uncompensated taking of property.

Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words

Fifth Amendment; Taking; Forest Fire; Land Management Policies

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

A deer hunter got lost in a national forest near San Diego. He lit a signal fire to attract rescuers. The fire spread, killing 15 people, burning 273,000 acres of land, and destroying more than 2,000 homes. Forest Service policy is to allow fires to run their natural course rather than suppress them. Cary and other property owners were among the affected homeowners. They sued the government, contending that the Forest Service policy of not containing forest fires resulted in an uncompensated taking, by inverse condemnation, of their property. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims granted the government’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiffs appealed.


Affirmed. The injuries suffered by the landowners were not the direct, natural or probable result of government acts, as required on a taking claim based on inverse condemnation. The destruction of their property did not provide any benefit for the government, so there was not a takings.


Cary v. U.S., 552 F.3d 1373 (Fed. Cir., 2009)

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