Summary of US Supreme Court Decisions
Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U.S. 393 (1922). In 1878, the coal company executed a deed conveying property rights of some surface land to Mahon but retained the right to remove all the coal under that surface. Mahon waived all rights to damages in this deed. Later, Mahon claimed a 1921 statute prohibited this type of mining which would cause his home to sink. Ruling that this statute destroyed the coal company’s mineral rights, the Court held that property could be regulated but if the regulation goes too far in diminishing the property’s economic value, it becomes a taking.
Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926). Concerned over urban sprawl from fast growing industrial Cleveland, suburban Euclid enacted a zoning plan that created multiple residential districts while restricting building use and size in various districts. A real estate company challenged the zoning because its vacant property was transferred from industrial to residential. Under the city’s new zoning ordinance, the property decreased 75% in value. The Court held that zoning was a valid use of police power not violating the constitutional protection of property rights.
Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954) A local department store owner brought suit claiming that the District of Columbia’s urban renewal program declaring an entire neighborhood a slum regardless of individual building characteristics was unconstitutional. The Court upheld Washington, D.C.’s master plan by accepting an expanded concept of “public welfare” to include public health and aesthetics.
Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104 (1978). New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission named Grand Central Terminal a landmark under the city’s Landmarks Preservation Law in 1967. In 1968, in order to increase terminal revenue, Penn Central, the terminal’s owners, entered into an agreement to lease the air rights over the structure for an office building. The Commission rejected Penn Central’s plans for the terminal. Penn Central alleged the landmarks law effected a taking. Upholding the landmarks legislation as part of a larger master plan, the Court determined the law did not effect a taking because it did not transfer control of the property but only restricted it. The Court noted that Penn Central’s reasonable return on investment was based on the structure’s primary role as a terminal for railroad service, concessions, and office space. Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp., 458 U.S. 419 (1982). An apartment building owner challenged as a taking a new York law that required landlords to allow cable system operators to install cable equipment on their properties. The Court held that a physical invasion of property, however slight, is a taking.
Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (1987). The Nollans leased a beachfront lot between two public beaches with the option to buy conditional on replacing the existing bungalow with a three-bedroom home similar to others in the area. Exercising their option to buy, the Nollans had to obtain a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission. The Commission recommended granting the permit conditional on allowing a public easement across the beach portion of their lot. The Nollans claimed this resulted in a taking. The Court held that this easement condition constituted a taking. The Commission did not demonstrate an “essential nexus” between the condition and the purpose that would have allowed the commission to withhold the permit.
Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992). The South Carolina State Legislature enacted a Coastal Zone Management Act in 1977 modeled after federal legislation. The state act restricted development on lands in critical areas including beaches and sand dunes. In 1986, Lucas, a developer, purchased two beachfront lots to build single family homes on a barrier island. The state legislature enacted the Beachfront Management Act in 1988 further prohibiting construction of occupiable improvements. Under the new act, Lucas could not build the planned homes and claimed a taking. The Court determined that the state legislation constituted a taking because it deprived Lucas of all economically productive uses of his property.
Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374 (1994). In the Central Business District opf the city of Tigard, Oregon, Florence Dolan owned a plumbing and electrical supply store. She asked the city for a permit to expand the store as well as construct an additional building and pave a parking lot. The planning commission granted her request subject to conditions by the Community Development Code. The permit required Dolan to dedicate 10% of her land for a torm water draining system and greenway easement for a bike path along the adjacent creek. The Court found that the condition satisfied Nollan’s “essential nexus” test but adopted a further “roughly proportional” test in this case to determine the constitutionality of regulations conditioning building permits on land donations by developers to obtain permits. Rejecting the city’s requirements, the Court determined Tigard did not demonstrate a reasonable relationship between granting Dolan’s permit to the public interests of reducing flooding problems and additional trips generated by the store expansion to the pedestrian/bicycle pathway.
Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, 533 U.S. 606 (2001). Rhode Island’s coastal wetland’s regulations prohibited development on wetland without a special permit for important public uses. Palazzolo appealed the denial of a permit to fill 11 acres of wetland for a beach club as a Lucas taking. The Court determined that a pre-existing regulation did not necessarily bar the claim and remanded the case for further consideration but held that the presence on the parcel of upland suitable for residential construction meant that the regulation was not a total taking.
Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 535 U.S.302 (2002). The Agency imposed a 32-month development moratorium in the area surrounding the lake to preserve the status quo while it prepared a land-use plan. The moratorium was challenged as a taking. The Court held that a temporary measure did not constitute a Lucas taking and that the impact of the regulation on the entire interest of the owner had to be considered.
Lingle v.Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 544 U.S. 528 (2005). Chevron, Hawaii’s principal petroleum products distributor, challenged as a taking a Hawaii law designed to control the price of gasoline at the pump by regulating the rent that oil companies could charge independent gas stations. The Court abandoned a principle announced in earlier cases that an act could be a taking if it did not substantially advance a governmental interest and held that a regulation did not constitute a taking unless it was the functional equivalent of direct condemnation by eminent domain. The result was to limit regulatory takings to four situations based on the holdings of other cases: (1) Where there was a permanent physical invasion of property, however slight (Loretto). (2) Where the regulation eliminated all economic value in the property (Lucas). (3) Where the action was the imposition of a condition on the grant of a permit that did not serve the purpose that would have allowed the commission to withhold the permit (Nollan) or the condition was not roughly proportional to the impact of the development (Dolan). (4) Where the regulation involved a substantial economic impact on the owner and Interfered with the owner’s “investment-backed expectations” or imposed an undue burden on the owner (Penn Central).
Kelo v. New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005). The City of New London, Connecticut, sought to revitalize its tax base by redeveloping part of its waterfront. The state appointed and authorized the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), a state-chartered, private non-profit, to assemble the property. When negotiations with eight property owners including Kelo broke down, NLDC sought to condemn properties through the use of eminent domain. While not claiming the properties were in poor condition, the city needed the properties to assemble the development plan. In a contentious decision, the Court held that a public use did not only mean “use by the public.” But use for a public purpose. So, even though the city may later transfer this property to another private owner, the NLDC used eminent domain within the scope of the development plan’s public purpose.