Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

Baltimore wharf owner John Barron alleged that construction by the city had diverted water flow in the harbor area. He argued that sand accumulations in the harbor deprived Barron of deep waters, which reduced his profits. He sued the city to recover a portion of his financial losses. The trial court awarded him $4,500 in damages, which the state appellate court struck down. 


  1. Does the Fifth Amendment deny the states as well as the national government the right to take private property for public use without justly compensating the property's owner?


  1. Writing for the unanimous Court, Chief Justice Marshall found that the limitations on government articulated in the Fifth Amendment were specifically intended to limit the powers of the national government. Citing the intent of the framers and the development of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) as an exclusive check on the federal government, Marshall reasoned that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in this case since the Fifth Amendment was not applicable to the states. This meant that Barron was not entitled to damages for his property loss from the city under the Fifth Amendment provision on just compensation for a government taking.