Tuesday, December 4, 2012
A unanimous Supreme Court (with Justice Kagan recused) ruled today in Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. U.S. that government temporary flooding may constitute a taking. The ruling is not particularly surprising and only reversed and remanded a lower court decision that read precedent to give temporary floods a pass under the Takings Clause. Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court that temporary floods get no such pass and may well constitute a taking, depending on a number of well-settled factors.
We covered the oral argument here.
The case arose out of the Army Corps of Engineer's varying water release rates from the Clearwater Dam, upstream from the Commission's Management Area. The release rates caused a series of temporary floods in the Management Area during key tree-growing season, thus harming certain tree species and the wildlife that they supported. The Commission sued, arguing that the floods constituted a taking. The Federal Circuit read Supreme Court precedent to say that temporary floods (as opposed to permanent ones) were categorically exempt from the Takings Clause.
The Supreme Court reversed. Justice Ginsburg wrote that the Federal Circuit misread Court precedent and that even temporary floods could constitute a taking. How do we know when?
When regulation or temporary physical invasion by government interferes with private property, our decisions recognize, time is indeed a factor in determining the existence vel non of a compensable taking. . . .
Also relevant to the takings inquiry is the degree to which the invasion is intended or is the foreseeable result of authorized government action. So, too, are the character of the land at issue and the owner's "reasonable investment-backed expectations" regarding the land's use. . . . Severity of the interference figures in the calculus as well.
Op at 14-15.
The Court sent the case back to the Federal Circuit to take a crack at applying these factors.