Lucas v.  South Carolina Coastal Council Summary | quimbee.com

Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council Summary | quimbee.com

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– [Narrator] Under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, if the government takes private property for public use, it must pay the owner just compensation. In the 1992 case of Lucas
versus South Carolina Coastal Council, the
United States Supreme Court considered when merely regulating land use rises to the level of a taking. David Lucas purchased two undeveloped South Carolina beachfront parcels. Lucas intended to build a
single family home on each. Before construction could start South Carolina banned permanent
residential development on the parcels, forcing
Lucas to let them sit idle. Lucas sued in state court arguing that the new regulation was
a Fifth Amendment taking requiring just compensation. The trial court awarded compensation finding the ban tantamount to a taking because it destroyed the
parcels’ economic value. On appeal, the South Carolina
Supreme Court reversed. It held that the ban was not a taking but rather a legitimate exercise of the state’s police power. The police power includes authority to regulate land for the public health, safety, morals, and welfare. The United States Supreme
Court granted cert to determine whether a land-use regulation that completely destroys
the land’s economic value is a taking requiring just compensation. Justice Scalia, for the
majority, answered yes. He held that a land-use regulation that destroys the land’s economic value is a taking unless the state can show that when the owner acquired the land the prohibited use
could have been enjoined under state nuisance law. Clearly a taking results when the government appropriates land. More often though governments simply regulate the use of land. These otherwise legitimate restrictions may produce so-called regulatory takings. To decide whether a
regulation is a taking, the court typically employs the analysis articulated in Penn Central
Transportation Company versus City of New York. In short, the Penn
Central framework balances the public interest the
regulation is meant to serve against the regulation’s interference with the owner’s legitimate
investment-backed expectations concerning the land’s use. If the public interest is too unimportant to justify the degree of interference, then the regulation is a taking. But Justice Scalia held
that when the regulation altogether destroys the
property’s economic value to the owner, Penn Central does not apply. In that event the almost categorical rule is that the regulation is a taking requiring just compensation. Justice Scalia justified
this rule on three grounds. First, from the owner’s perspective a regulation rendering the land worthless is just like an outright appropriation. Second, because regulations rarely erase the land’s value completely, the rules shouldn’t
impede the state’s ability to regulate land use for the public good. Third, without a rule like this states could use regulation as a pretext to effectively take private property for public benefit without
paying just compensation. This would circumvent the takings clause. This rule does acknowledge one exception. Historically, the law of
nuisance has contemplated restricting one owner’s use of land to prevent unreasonable interference with another’s use and
enjoyment of different land. All title to land
incorporates this principle. So, if the state regulation
operates consistently with pre-existing nuisance principles, the government takes
nothing by regulating. Instead, the government simply recognizes the scope of title as
the owner acquired it. Accordingly, the regulation is no taking if, when the owner acquired the land, the prohibited use
could have been enjoined under the state’s nuisance law. At this point no court had decided whether South Carolina’s nuisance law would have enjoined developing
the beachfront parcels when Lucas purchased them. Justice Scalia thought
South Carolina’s courts should determine that. Accordingly, the court reversed the South Carolina
Supreme Court’s decision and remanded the case
for further proceedings. Justice Kennedy, concurring,
would have applied Penn Central and focused
on Lucas’ reasonable investment-backed expectations. Under that framework
Justice Kennedy concluded that more findings were
needed justifying remand. Justice Blackmun, dissenting, argued that the rule announced
in Lucas wrongly upended the court’s prior Takings
Clause jurisprudence. This was not necessary
to decide Lucas’ narrow, rare, and relatively insignificant case. Justice Stevens, dissenting, felt that the Lucas rule was
arbitrary and unworkable, showing too little respect
for the states’ police powers. After Lucas, courts and practitioners were uncertain how it would impact future Takings Clause cases. That remained so until
the court’s 2002 decision in Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council versus Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. There the court clarified
that Lucas applies only when the challenged regulation permanently enjoins all
valuable use of the land. In all other regulatory-takings cases, it seems that Penn Central still applies.

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