APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA.
Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker, Stewart
Opinion of the Court by MR. JUSTICE STEWART, announced by MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER.
This action was instituted in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by owners of property abutting a section of highway which runs between downtown Pittsburgh and the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. The complaint stated that the Secretary of Highways and the Governor of Pennsylvania were about to designate that section of the road a "limited access highway" under authority of a Pennsylvania statute. Claiming that such action would deprive them of their property without due process of law, since the Pennsylvania statute allegedly did not provide compensation for loss of access to the highway, the plaintiffs asked for injunctive relief and for a judgment declaring the statute unconstitutional.
The legislation under which it was asserted the state officials were planning to act is the Pennsylvania Limited Access Highways Act of 1945.*fn1 The Act defines a limited
access highway as "a public highway to which owners or occupants of abutting property or the traveling public have no right of ingress or egress to, from or across such highway, except as may be provided by the authorities responsible therefor."*fn2 It authorizes the Secretary of Highways, with the approval of the Governor, to declare any highway, or part thereof, to be a limited access highway.*fn3 Section 8 of the statute, as amended in 1947, provides:
"The owner or owners of private property affected by the construction or designation of a limited access highway . . . shall be entitled only to damages arising from an actual taking of property. The Commonwealth shall not be liable for consequential damages where no property is taken . . . ."
The latter section was specifically attacked by the plaintiffs, who claimed that in the light of the Pennsylvania courts' interpretation of other statutes, this provision would be construed to mean that compensation was to be paid only if land were taken. The Limited Access Highways Act itself had never been construed by the courts of Pennsylvania.
The district judge issued a temporary restraining order. Thereafter a three-judge court was convened pursuant to 28 U. S. C. §§ 2281 and 2284. After stipulations of fact were filed, the District Court entered an order staying proceedings to permit the parties to seek a determination of their rights under the statute in the courts of Pennsylvania.
Thereupon the plaintiffs filed an equitable proceeding in the Common Pleas Court of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. That court pointed out that the plaintiffs were asking for a determination of "whether or not a taking
of property has occurred and what damages shall be awarded therefor, and that, if the depriving them of access is found to be a taking of a compensable property right, that plaintiffs' legitimate interests will be constitutionally safeguarded by a resort to viewers proceedings and, if ...