Barron v. Baltimore in 1833: Summary & Significance

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

This case will teach you about the case entitled Barron v. Baltimore. You will review the summary of the facts of the case and then review its significance.


The plaintiff was the owner of a wharf in the City of Baltimore. The wharf was very profitable until the City started to install and pave roads. The road work caused a diversion of sand and earth in the water which deposited in the area near the wharf. The water then became shallow, making it impossible for boats to dock at the wharf. As a result, the plaintiff's business became less profitable and eventually he went out of business. He filed a lawsuit against the City of Baltimore and the Mayor. The case was entitled Barron v. Baltimore.

The plaintiff -- John Barron -- claimed that the City of Baltimore took his property without giving him any money for it. This is known as a taking of property. Under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, there is what is known as a Takings Clause, which means that the government cannot take property without paying due compensation.

Thus, the plaintiff claimed the City of Baltimore took the wharf in violation of the Takings Clause. The case went to the Supreme Court, and the issue was whether the Takings Clause of the Constitution, under the Fifth Amendment, applies to the local government of the City of Baltimore.

The Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment does not apply to the local government. Rather, the Constitution applies only to the federal government and not to the states. Moreover, the Court noted that if the plaintiff wanted to seek action against the City of Baltimore, his only recourse was to pursue state or local laws, not look to federal law to resolve the problem.

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