MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The basic question presented in this case is whether the United States can have adjudicated under one complaint (1) the claim by a third person of a valuable possessory interest in government property and (2) condemnation and value of that interest, if any. In 1947 the United States leased an airfield to respondent Illinois Aircraft Services & Sales Co. The preamble to the lease stated that because of the strategic value of the field the Government considered it essential to retain it "in a stand-by status for post-war use in connection with Naval Aviation activities . . . ."
In order to obtain possession and use of the land as soon as possible—and without waiting to try out the validity of the prior revocation in a separate action or actions—the Government filed a complaint to condemn whatever possessory interest respondent might be adjudicated to have. Although the Government's complaint alleged that it had revoked the lease and, in effect, that respondent had no compensable interest in the property taken, the District Court ruled that by suing for condemnation the United States had "elected" to abandon its prior revocation. On this basis the court found that respondent had a compensable interest and let a jury determine its value. Under instructions that the lease was revocable only if needed for "aviation purposes" and that a NIKE site was not such a purpose, the jury returned a $25,000 verdict for respondents. On appeal the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed this verdict by a divided court. 258 F.2d 17. It held (1) that the doctrine of "election of remedies" applied and barred consideration of the revocation whether state or federal law governed and (2) that the lease could only be validly revoked under its terms if the Government planned to use the land for "aviation purposes." To review the
We cannot agree that the lease permitted revocation only if the Government wanted the land for "aviation purposes." It is true that the preamble to the agreement states that the airfield was leased, rather than sold, because it was needed in stand-by status for naval aviation activities. It is also true that immediately following the preamble there is a statement, common in many contracts, that "Now Therefore, in consideration of the foregoing, and of the covenants hereinafter mentioned, the Government" leases the airport. There is no indication, however, either in the lease itself or as far as we have been shown in the history of the agreement, that this preamble and the formal legal statement immediately following it meant to limit the express and unequivocal clause of the lease allowing revocation at the will of the Secretary of the Navy in the event of a national emergency. Instead the preamble can be easily understood, in view of the Surplus Property Act of 1944, which required all surplus property to be disposed of, as a mere statement of why the property was not considered surplus.
It follows necessarily from this that application of the doctrine of "election of remedies" would put the Government in an impossible situation. For under the doctrine, the Government must choose either to abandon its power to revoke the lease or to give up its right to immediate possession under condemnation law, a right which is not here questioned. We see no reason either in justice or authority why such a Hobson's choice should be imposed and why the Government should be forced to pay for property which it rightfully owns merely because it attempted to avoid delays which the applicable laws seek to prevent. Such a strict rule against combining different causes of action would certainly be out of harmony with modern legislation and rules designed to make trials as efficient, expeditious and inexpensive as fairness will permit.
Respondents argue, however, that election of remedies is part of the law of Illinois and that Illinois law applies here. We cannot agree with this view. Condemnation involves essential governmental functions. See Kohl v. United States, 91 U.S. 367. We have often held that where essential interests of the Federal Government
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
"Whereas, because of its strategic value, it is considered essential that the said airfield and the facilities thereon, comprising the said United States Naval Outlying Airfield, be retained in a stand-by status for post-war use in connection with Naval Aviation activities; and
"Whereas, the use of the airfield and facilities by the Lessee . . . will in no wise be detrimental to the present activities of the Navy Department, but is on the contrary deemed to be in the best interest of the Government."