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GRIFFIN v. UNITED STATES

November 20, 1995

WILLIAM E. GRIFFIN and JOHN H. TAYLOR 1, Plaintiffs
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PENN

 This matter comes before the Court on defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the Issue of Compensation or, in the Alternative, for Partial Summary Judgment and plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Granting Declaratory Relief. After careful consideration, the Court concludes: (1) That defendant's motion for summary judgment on the issue of compensation should be denied, (2) that plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment should be granted and (3) that defendant's motion for partial summary judgment should be granted.

 I.

 Background

 The Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974 ("PRMPA"), note following 44 U.S.C.A. § 2111, which became effective on December 19, 1974, directed the Administrator of General Services (as of April 1, 1985, the Archivist of the United States) to retain custody and control of the Presidential historical materials of Richard M. Nixon. Former President Richard M. Nixon filed this action under the PRMPA, § 105(a) alleging that these materials belonged to him personally, and he seeks compensation under the Fifth Amendment for their alleged "taking" by the United States.

 In 1991, this Court granted the defendant's (hereinafter also referred to as "the government") motion for summary judgment, concluding that the materials that were the subject of the PRMPA were not Mr. Nixon's private property, and that even if they were, they were not "taken" from him within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Mr. Nixon appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that on the basis of history, custom, and usage, Mr. Nixon owned the materials at the time the PRMPA became effective, and that the PRMPA constituted a per se taking of his personal property. Nixon v. United States, 298 U.S. App. D.C. 249, 978 F.2d 1269 (1992). Of additional significance, the Court of Appeals concluded that Mr. Nixon had a "compensable property interest in his presidential papers," *fn2" 298 U.S. App. D.C. at 250, 978 F.2d at 1270, noting that "history, custom, and usage indicated unequivocally that, prior to the PRMPA, Presidents exercised complete dominion and control over their papers." *fn3" 298 U.S. App. D.C. at 257, 978 F.2d at 1277. Notwithstanding that decision, the Court of Appeals recognized that "difficult questions regarding the measure of damages remain." 298 U.S. App. D.C. at 267, 978 F.2d at 1287 *fn4" Accordingly, the Court of Appeals remanded, leaving all questions of compensation "to [be addressed] in the first instance" by this Court. Id.

 On remand, the government asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment because plaintiffs are not entitled to any compensation for the taking of Mr. Nixon's presidential materials. This position is grounded in two theories.

 First, the government asserts that the Emoluments Clause, Article II, Section 1, Clause 7 of the Constitution, prohibits a President from receiving any "emolument" from the United States beyond the compensation fixed by Congress before he or she took office. The Framers of the Constitution forbade the President from receiving any emolument other than a fixed compensation, in part because they feared the consequences of allowing a President to convert his or her office into a vehicle for personal profit. Thus, according to the government, the salary and benefits provided to Mr. Nixon by the United States during his presidency were the only economic benefits the United States could have provided him in consequence of his holding the Office of benefits the United States could have provided him in consequence of his holding the Office of President. The government reasons that because these materials are the physical representation of Mr. Nixon's exercise of powers and duties of the Office of President given to him by the United States, plaintiffs are not entitled to any compensation by virtue of the Emoluments Clause.

 Second, the government contends that even if the Emoluments Clause does not bar an award of compensation by the United States to Mr. Nixon for his presidential materials, such an award would result in manifest unfairness to the public and, therefore, would not be "just" within the meaning of the Just Compensation Clause. The Supreme Court has recognized that the Just Compensation Clause does not require the United States to compensate a plaintiff for elements of value that derive directly from special public privileges granted by the government. Here, the government contends that a payment to plaintiffs would be unjust because the value of Mr. Nixon's presidential materials derives solely from his status as President.

 In the alternative, the government contends that even if the Court concludes that plaintiffs may be compensated for some of the materials, partial summary judgment should be granted with respect to materials which are excluded from the definition of "Presidential historical materials" in the Act's implementing regulations, or which had no fair market value at the time the Act became effective.

 In contrast, plaintiffs contend that the presidential materials produced through Mr. Nixon's exercise of the powers and duties given to him by the United States had an economic value. Thus, they argue, it is this value for which they now should be compensated.

 II.

 A. Emoluments Clause

 The government asserts that the Emoluments Clause to the Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 7, precludes the payment of compensation to Mr. Nixon for his presidential materials. The Emoluments Clause provides:

 The clause can be broken down into two parts. The first part provides that the amount of compensation, shall neither be increased nor diminished. This section was intended by the Framers to protect the independence of the President from manipulation by Congress. Because the President's salary can neither be increased nor diminished during his term, his financial interests are insulated from congressional augmentation or depreciation. As the government notes, "with no ability to persuade Congress to augment his [or her] compensation while in office, the President would 'have no pecuniary inducement to renounce or desert the independence intended for him by the Constitution.'" See Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment on the Issue of Compensation ("Defendant's Memorandum") at 9 (citing The Federalist No. 73, at 216 (Alexander Hamilton) (Roy P. Fairfield, 2d ed. 1981)).

 The second section of the clause is relevant to the instant case. That section states that "the President shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any individual state." This provision addressed the Framers' concern that the President should not have the ability to convert his or her office for profit.

 Defendant contends that the Emoluments Clause prohibits compensation for objects acquired or produced during the course of Mr. Nixon's presidency. Although the government acknowledges the Court of Appeals' conclusion that Mr. Nixon owned his papers at the time of the taking, it asserts that a sitting President is precluded from taking materials and selling them for personal profit during, or after, his or her presidency. The government bases this position on the fact that the presidential materials are the product of Mr. Nixon's exercise of the powers and duties given to him by the United States, and therefore the only compensation he was allowed to receive from the United States during his term of office was his salary and related benefits. See Defendant's Memorandum at 10-11.

 In opposition, plaintiffs assert that the mandate rule forecloses the government's argument that plaintiffs are not entitled to any compensation. In the alternative, plaintiffs argue that even if the mandate rule does not apply, they are still entitled to compensation.

 With respect to the Emoluments Clause, plaintiffs assert that for two independent reasons, the plain language of the Emoluments Clause does not foreclose just compensation for the taking of Mr. Nixon's compensable property rights. First, plaintiffs note that "Mr. Nixon's constitutional entitlement to just compensation for the taking of his property vested when the government took the property after he left office." See Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Plaintiffs' Opposition") at 12. Second, plaintiffs highlight the fact that Mr. Nixon acquired ownership rights in his presidential materials from the time they were created. They argue that since the presidential papers were never public property to begin with, the Emoluments Clause does not apply to them. Although Mr. Nixon acquired a compensable property interest in the materials at the time they were created, he did not seek compensation for the materials until after he left office. *fn5"

 Before addressing the merits of the these arguments, it is important to carefully note the language of the Court of Appeals' decision. The Court of Appeals stated:

 
Upon reviewing the long and unbroken history relating to the use, control, and disposition of presidential papers, we are convinced that Mr. Nixon had a well grounded expectation of ownership. In the light of this history, we hold that Mr. Nixon, like every President before him, had a compensable property interest in his presidential papers.

 298 U.S. App. D.C. at 250, 978 F.2d at 1270. The Court of Appeals recognized that "history, custom, and usage indicate unequivocally that, prior to PRMPA, Presidents exercised complete dominion and control over their presidential papers." 298 U.S. App. D.C. at 257, 978 F.2d at 1277. Thus, the court made clear that Mr. Nixon owned his papers at the time of the taking. Accordingly, the precise question before the Court is whether Mr. Nixon's estate is entitled to any ...


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