Monday, September 24, 2012

Klass on Takings and Transmission

Alexandra B. Klass (Minnesota) has posted Takings and Transmission, forthcoming in the North Carolina Law Review.  The abstract:

Ever since the Supreme Court’s controversial 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, courts, state legislatures, and the public have scrutinized eminent domain actions like never before. Such scrutiny has focused, for the most part, on the now-controversial “economic development” or “public purpose” takings involved in the Kelo case itself, where government takes private property for a redevelopment project that will benefit another private party as well as increase the tax base, create new jobs, assist in urban renewal, or otherwise provide economic or social benefits to the public. By contrast, until recently, there has been little change in law or public opinion with regard to takings involving publicly-owned projects such as hospitals or post offices or “use by the public” takings that involve condemnation for railroad lines, electric transmission lines, or other infrastructure projects. However, recent changes in electricity markets and the development of the country’s electric transmission system have raised new questions about the validity of “use by the public” takings in the context of electric transmission lines. With some transmission lines now being built by private, “merchant” companies rather than by publicly-regulated utilities, and with the push to build more interstate transmission lines to transport renewable energy to meet state renewable portfolio standards, what was once a classic public use is now subject to new statutory and constitutional challenges. This Article explores the potential impact of these developments on the use of eminent domain for electric transmission lines. Ultimately, it suggests that states should ensure that their eminent domain laws governing transmission lines are consistent with their policy preferences surrounding energy development in the state, and it outlines some ways for states to accomplish this goal.

I think you could make some analogous analysis about the newly-hot issue of eminent domain and pipelines, for example the controversy over the acquisition of rights of way for the Keystone Pipeline.  Interesting issues.

Matt Festa

September 24, 2012 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Oil & Gas, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Stern on Property's Constitution

James Y. Stern (Virginia) has posted Property's Constitution, forthcoming in the California Law Review.  The abstract:

Long-standing disagreements over the meaning of property as a matter of legal theory present a
special problem in constitutional law. The Due Process and Takings Clauses set forth individual rights that can only be asserted if “property” is at stake. Yet the leading cases interpreting constitutional property doctrines have never managed to articulate a coherent general view of property and in some instances reach opposite conclusions about its meaning. Most notably, government benefits are considered “property” for purposes of due process but not takings doctrines, a conflict the cases acknowledge but do not attempt to explain.

This Article offers a way to bring order to the confused treatment of property in constitutional law. It shows how a single definition of property can be adopted for all of the major constitutional property doctrines without the calamitous results that many seem to fear. It begins by arguing that property is best understood as the right to have some measure of legal control over the way a particular item is used, control that comes at the expense of all other people. It then argues that legal rights are a kind of private property and that, while courts and commentators are correct that legal entitlements to government benefits — so-called “new property” — should receive constitutional protection, they mistakenly believe the property at issue is the good that a recipient has a right to receive, rather than the legal right to receive it. The Article proceeds to show that legal rights are the only kind of things whose existence government can altogether extinguish and therefore that ownership of legal rights is the only kind of property right government can terminate without conferring equivalent property rights on others. The Article further argues that while due process protection should be read to apply whenever a person is denied an asserted property right (a deprivation), takings protection should only come into play when property rights are transferred from one party to another (a taking). Combining these observations, the Article concludes that termination not only of “new property” rights but also of old-fashioned in personam legal rights should trigger due process but not takings protection. This analysis provides theoretical coherence to constitutional doctrine that has thus far been lacking and it sheds light on the essential characteristics of property rights as a general matter, helping theoreticians understand more clearly the core structures of property law.

Matt Festa

August 24, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Federal Government, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mandelker book on Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs

Daniel R. Mandelker (Washington University) has published a new book on the important topic of sign regulation under the First Amendment: Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs (2012). Professor Mandelker's short summary:

The handbook explains the free speech law that determines how sign ordinances for on premise signs should be drafted. It first discusses the general free speech principles that apply, and next the free speech law that applies to different types of signs and the regulations that apply to these signs, such as height and setback requirements and design review.

Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs is available for free download at the United States Sign Council website, and also at Professor Mandelker's excellent website Land Use Law (the website--a companion to the Mandelker et al. Casebook, has a great collection of statutes, cases, scholarship, photos, and other resources for land use students and practitioners). 

One of my most interesting teaching experiences was having a nontraditional student who was semi-retired from the billboard business; his experiences of the interaction between free speech law and sign regulation were what inspired him to go to law school.  Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs, which explains these sophisticated legal concepts in a readable and practical way, will be very valuable to any planner, policymaker, or lawyer whose work brings them into this area.

Matt Festa

August 24, 2012 in Aesthetic Regulation, Books, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Signs, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bauer on Age-Restricted Communities and Civil Rights Laws & Regulation

Mark D. Bauer (Stetson) has posted ‘Peter Pan’ as Public Policy: Should Fifty-Five-Plus Age-Restricted Communities Continue to Be Exempt from Civil Rights Laws and Substantive Federal Regulation?  The abstract:

Although millions of Americans live in 55-plus age-restricted housing, little research has been done to determine whether these communities benefit their residents, or the nation as a whole. This is particularly ironic because these communities exist in contravention to anti-discrimination laws by virtue of a specific exemption granted to real estate developers by an Act of Congress. Ordinarily age discrimination is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Successful lobbying by special interest groups carved out an exemption for 55-plus housing.

The original exemption required developers to offer elders special services and facilities in these communities in return for the exemption. Over time, those requirements were eliminated and now the only requirement is that these communities exclude families and children.

While lifestyles focused on golf and tennis may be attractive to younger retirees, older Americans often find themselves in communities bereft of the services and facilities they need for basic life activities and safety. The very nature of these communities result in elders left with depreciating homes, and many are without the financial means to retrofit their 55-plus home or to move into a community better adapted for their needs. This Article explores a popular form of “senior housing” that is unsuitable for most older Americans.

Matt Festa

August 19, 2012 in Community Design, Constitutional Law, Development, Federal Government, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, HUD, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Sun Belt | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Can Eminent Domain Solve the Mortgage Crisis?

There has been some discussion over the past couple of months over an innovative proposal to have governments use the eminent domain power to take ownership of underwater mortgages, to decrease the risk of default and then refinance the obligations, all to promote the common good.  Here are some links to give you a sense of the major points of this debate.

The launch of this idea comes from a proposal by Law Professor Robert C. Hockett (Cornell) in his piece It Takes a Village: Municipal Condemnation Proceedings and Public/Private Partnerships for Mortgage Loan Modification, Value Preservation, and Local Economic Recovery.  The abstract:

Respected real estate analysts now forecast that the U.S. is poised to experience a renewed round of home mortgage foreclosures over the coming 6 years. Up to 11 million underwater mortgages will be affected. Neither our families, our neighborhoods, nor our state and national economies can bear a resumption of crisis on this order of magnitude.

I argue that ongoing and self-worsening slump in the primary and secondary mortgage markets is rooted in a host of recursive collective action challenges structurally akin to those that brought on the real estate bubble and bust themselves. Collective action problems of this sort require duly authorized collective agents for their solution. At present, the optimally situated such agents for purposes of mortgage market clearing are municipal governments exercising their traditional eminent domain authority.

I sketch a plan pursuant to which municipalities, in partnership with investors, can condemn underwater mortgage notes, pay mortgagees fair market value for the same, and systematically write down principal. Because in so doing they will be doing what parties themselves would do voluntarily were they not challenged by structural impediments to collective action, municipalities acting on this plan will be rendering all better off. They will also be leading the urgently necessary project of eliminating debt overhang nationwide and thereby at last ending our ongoing debt deflation.

Professor Hockett's idea was then promoted in the media by, among others, Prof. Robert J. Shiller (Yale--Economics & Finance), in the New York Times Piece Reviving Real Estate Requires Collective Action.  As the title indicates, Schiller theorizes the mortgage crisis as in part a collective action problem that can be addressed by Hockett's proposal to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages. 

But eminent domain law needn’t be restricted to real estate. It could be applied to mortgages as well. Governments could seize underwater mortgages, paying investors fair market value for them. This is common sense too. The true fair market value for these mortgages is arguably far below their face value, given the likelihood of default, with its attendant costs.

Professor Hockett argues that a government, whether federal, state or local, can start doing just this right now, using large databases of information about mortgage pools and homeowner credit scores. After a market analysis, it seizes the mortgages. Then it can pay them off at fair value, or a little over that, with money from new investors, issuing new mortgages with smaller balances to the homeowners.

Yesterday in The Atlantic Cities, Amanda Erickson published an excellent overview story about the proposal, Can Eminent Domain Solve our Mortgage Woes?.  Of note to us are the comments by the eminent eminent domain expert (that's not a typo) Prof. Thomas Merrill (Columbia). 

It's a clever idea. But is it legal? "It's very unusual," says Thomas W. Merrill, a law professor at Columbia University who specializes in property law. But, he notes, "this doesn't mean it's unconstitutional."

Before the landmark 2005 Kelo vs. New London decision, Merrill says, there's little doubt that the courts have upheld this kind of law. "Before Kelo, courts took a hands-off approach," Merrill says. In the 1984 case Hawaii Housing Authority vs. Midkiff, the Supreme Court ruled that the Hawaiian legislature could take a property controlled by landlords and sell it back to leasees. "Condemning a landlord's interest in property to transfer to a tenant is not too different," Merrill says.

But Kelo changed that. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that cities could use eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another, and that doing so for economic development purposes constitutes a public use. "At this point, I guess you'd have to say all bets are off in terms of what is and isn't eminent domain," Merrill says.

And finally for now, Prof. Richard Epstein is critical of the idea. From More Nonsense on the Home Mortgage Front: Don't Let Municipal Governments Condemn Mortgages at Bargain Rates:

The idea has already been rightly panned by the Wall Street Journal. But the entire proposal needs still further consideration. First off, Hockett and his group insist that there is a huge collective action problem that prevents the rationalization of mortgage matters. And there is. It is called local government regulations that have blocked the foreclosure measures set out above. Handle those and the externalities to which they refer disappear. No longer do we have owners neglecting property or clogging the courts with endless motions.

Again, this post is just to give you some links to look at the arguments.  From my perspective, these are some fascinating arguments that illuminate not only the mortgage crisis but also the general debate over eminent domain. 

Matt Festa

August 11, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Finance, Housing, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Politics, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bronin & Byrne Casebook on Historic Preservation Law

Bronin byrne HPSara C. Bronin (Connecticut) and J. Peter Byrne (Georgetown) recently published a new casebook called Historic Preservation Law, Foundation Press 2012.  HP is quickly becoming a central part of land use planning, as the authors make clear in this excerpt from the Preface:

This book was written for anyone interested in the increasingly important area of historic preservation law.  With this book, we hope to advance and encourage the teaching of preservation law, shape the way the field is conceived, and create a practical resource that will be consulted by attorneys and other preservation professionals. 

Our approach to the subject is reasonably straightforward.  We present the most significant legal issues in preservation and place them in a contemporary context, identifying contested questions and areas of reform.  The format of the book is traditional: edited leading cases with notes that provide explanation, extension, and issues for discussion.  Given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, we belive that the legal issues can only be understood in light of historical, aesthetic, political, and administrative issues that make up the larger realm of preservation.  Accordingly, we provide secondary materials, both legal and non-legal.

Because we focus on preservation of buildings and sites, we present preservation as part of land use or urban development law.  Thus, we provide extensive treatment of local preservation law, which regulates private property, as well as relevant issues in real estate finance and project development.  We also provide comprehensive treatment of federal law, including the National Historical Preservation Act and related statutes.  In addition, we explore federal laws that address preservation vis-a-vis cultural property issues, particularly regarding Native American and archaelogical sites.  Preservation has also generated important and interesting constitutional questions related to takings, religious freedoms, and free speech rights, which we address.

This is the first, or at least the most recent, major casebook on the law of historic preservation that I know of.  Professors Bronin and Byrne, who are also accomplished scholars in the land use field generally, have provided us a major contribution with this book, which looks to be *the* significant text in HP law.  Land use scholars and professionals should definitely have this one on their shelves.

Matt Festa

August 9, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Development, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, History, Local Government, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Police Powers, Free Speech, and the Chick-fil-A Land Use Controversy

The Chick-fil-A land use controversy has mostly focused on freedom of speech, but I think there is a larger point about the police-power basis of land use regulation that has been overlooked.  In the wake of the Chick-fil-A CEO's comments on gay marriage, and the subsequent statements of public officials in Chicago and Boston indicating their opposition to building new Chick-fil-A franchises in their jurisdictions, there seems to be a general agreement that it would be illegal to deny building rights on the basis of the CEO's speech.  Ken Stahl and Stephen Miller have offered additional insights on the political, tax, and other potential motivations behind this controversy, with which I completely agree.  In this post, I want to expand on Ken's point about a potential Fourteenth Amendment violation of basing a land use decision on "animus" against the owner, and to peel back the onion a little bit and consider what might be the primary legal basis to a challenge to such a land use denial.

The general agreement seems to focus on the First Amendment free speech issue.  Eugene Volokh seems to have the definitive analysis that, whether or not one agrees with the CEO's opinions, it would be a First Amendment violation to deny a building permit on that basis (h/t Property Prof).  Viewed through the general prism of free speech and the Bill of Rights, this is entirely correct, and is probably sufficient for the public understanding of the issue.  As Prof. Volokh's caselaw indicates, there can be a First Amendment violation in denying a permit based on the property owner's speech.  But I think that's actually a secondary issue when it comes down to hypothetical litigation here.  What's really the primary issue, as I see it, is whether or not such a denial would be a violation of the police power itself.

The Chick-fil-A hypothetical permit denial does not on its face regulate speech: neither the CEO's personal remarks, nor the official speech of the corporation are being suppressed.  While there is a colorable as-applied claim of retaliation through the land use process in this hypo, the way I see it is that the primary cause of action would be that the permit denial was a violation of the statutory zoning/regulatory power itself.  In other words, Chick-fil-A would start by arguing that the city's denial of permission to build is not legitimately related to the purposes for which the state legislature granted the power to regulate.

The power of local governments to engage in planning, zoning, and building regulations comes from the police powers--the state legislature's plenary authority to regulate.  The Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, promulgated by Secretary Hoover's Commerce Department in 1926, starts with the standard description of the police-power font of authority for all modern land use regulation, which is "[f]or the purpose of promoting health, safety, morals, or the general welfare of the community . . . ."  This means that in theory, as long as there is a legitimate reason for regulating on those broad bases, a local government can be empowered to regulate land use in its political discretion.  Therefore there is a "presumption of constitutionality" granted to land use regulations (see Mandelker & Tarlock 1992 for a nuanced analysis of the presumption in judicial review).  Judicial review--again, in theory--has generally centered on whether the regulation itself (whether a use restriction, site requirement, etc.) is legitimately related to one of the police-power purposes.  A classic Euclidean example would be restriction of industrial uses from a residential area, for health and safety purposes.  

While the courts have given broad interpretation to the police power justifications of land use regulations, the outer limit is supposed to be--again, in theory--that the nature of the restriction is itself somehow related to the objective.  What it can't be is an arbitrary and capricious restriction based on considerations outside the police power. It's very similar to the "rational basis" standard of scrutinty that all lawyers learn about in consitutional law.

The reason this is important is because the presumption of constitutionality usually holds, the police powers usually win, and "arbitrary and capricious" challenges to land use decisions are hard to prove and usually lose.  Steve Clowney noted Matt Yglesias' insight that almost any seemingly-legitimate content-neutral reason could give a police-power justification to regulate despte ulterior motives (though I think his example of a Sunday-opening requirement isn't the best one--just about anything involving traffic, for example, would be much easier to justify), and this is obviously a longstanding issue in land use law.  But if I were trying to prove that a negative land use decision was outside the bounds of the police power basis of government regulation, I couldn't ask for a better piece of evidence than a published statement by a City Alderman like this:

"Because of this man's ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A's permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward."

(emphasis added).  In other words, the primary reason for the negative land use decision does not have anything to do with the actual use of the land itself, but instead is based primarily on the government official's opinion about the property owner's opinions about topics extraneous to the land use (again, the decision is not based on any discriminatory practice, or on speech taking place on the site).  This may in fact be a decision that is not rationally related to the police power basis for regulation, and could be struck down for that reason alone.  This is important because while the First Amendment angle that had dominated the discussion of the issue could apply "strict scrutiny" to the decision, this situation could be the much rarer case where a court could find a government decision to be arbitrary and capricous, and therefore to flunk the rational basis test itself.   Which means that this is potentially much more than just a case of an individual right trumping the regulatory power; it means that the city didn't have the power to do it in the first place.

This way of looking at the controversy allows us to consider the larger issue of what are the outer bounds of legitimate land use regulation, in a way that we don't often get to see in the real world.  I'm still no fan of the substance of the CEO's remarks on gay marriage, but as a land use specialist, I'm also very disturbed by what Ken identified as an attitude of "entitlement" to near-absolute discretion over land use decisions by government officials in informal systems such as Chicago's traditional "aldermanic privilege," which is apparently so ingrained that it can lead an elected official to say things like:

"You have the right to say what you want to say, but zoning is not a right."

Well, maybe not, but the latter certainly can't depend on what a government official thinks of the former.  Zoning still has to comport with the rule of law.

Matt Festa

August 4, 2012 in Chicago, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, History, Judicial Review, Local Government, Politics, Property Rights, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Politics of Chick Fil-A Bans

Matt has the legality of the various proposed Chick Fil-A bans covered.  As numerous commentators have pointed out, prohibiting Chick Fil-A stores based on the opinions of the store's owner is flagrantly unconstitutional.  While most commentators have focused on the First Amendment, I think Chik Fil-A has an equally strong legal argument under the Fourteenth Amendment given the Supreme Court's decision in Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562 (2000): it is a violation of the equal protection clause to discriminate against a particular landowner due to "animus" against the landowner. 

To me, the more interesting question is why city officials would propose something that is obviously unconstitutional (leaving aside the possibility that these officials are dumb, which is of course a legitimate possibility).  In fact, if city officials really wanted to prevent Chick Fil-A from locating in their towns, the very worst thing they could have done is announce publicly their discriminatory animus toward the franchise.  As land use folks have seen time and again, it's really easy for communities to exclude land uses they don't like (e.g., affordable housing) by citing vague concerns about traffic, noise, congestion, and so on.  They rarely make the mistake of saying "we just don't want poor people living here."  Now, because of what the various officials in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, etc have said, it will only be harder to exclude Chick Fil-A even if the city has legitimate concerns about traffic, noise, etc because the inference of discriminatory animus will be so hard to shake.  So why, to repeat my question, are city officials doing this?  There are two possible answers, as I see it:

1) City officials see themselves as having nearly absolute power over zoning. Such a sense of entitlement may stem from a variety of sources: 1) city officials' authority is rarely challenged by repeat-player developers who would rather not anger city officials they may have to deal with again and again; 2) the news media rarely takes up zoning issues as causes celebre, and 3) courts are largely deferential toward local zoning practices.  This sense of entitlement may be especially acute in Chicago, where the informal practice of "aldermanic privilege" essentially grants the alderman in each ward the unfettered right to dole out land use permissions.

This is the less likely of two alternatives, however.

2) City officials knew all along that what they were proposing was unconstitutional, and never had any serious intention of banning Chick Fil-A.  The real reason for their strident statements: signalling that they are gay-friendly communities.  Under the public choice model of local governance, cities are conceptualized as "firms" who compete for affluent residents and tax revenues.  Richard Florida has provocatively argued that one of the greatest potential resources for cities are gay residents, who tend to have high disposable incomes and have had a history of revitalizing depressed neighborhoods in many urban areas.  Thus, it makes sense that these cities would want to signal their friendliness toward gays, and it especially makes sense that once one city so signalled, others did the same to ensure that they're not seen as any less gay-friendly.  In this sense, the proposed Chick Fil-A bans are very similar to then-mayor Gavin Newsom performing gay marriages in San Francisco in 2004 in flagrant violation of California law. 

One footnote here: If I'm right, why did New York mayor Mike Bloomberg so forcefully diverge from these other big-city officials and declare that cities have no right to ban Chick Fil-A?  Perhaps Bloomberg felt he already had sufficient credibility with gays that this was an unnecessary stunt.  In addition, cities aren't just competing for gays but for business.  Bloomberg's corporate instincts probably led him to conclude that potential investors in NY real estate might be deterred if the city started engaging in viewpoint-discrimination among different businesses.  This shows the delicate tap-dance big city officials have to constantly engage in: give sufficient tribute to the liberal constituencies while not alienating big business. 

Ken Stahl

July 30, 2012 in Chicago, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Food, Local Government, New York, Politics, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chick-fil-A, Gay Marriage, Constitutional Law, and Land Use

Even the culture wars often end up in a land use controversy.  Over the past few days, public officials in Boston and Chicago made statements that Chick-fil-A restaurants would not be welcome in their jurisdictions because of the anti-gay-marriage opinions expressed by the company's CEO.  According to the Wall Street Journal's Jack Nicas, one Chicago alderman went so far as to state that he would personally deny a permit solely on that basis.  From First Amendment Trumps Critics of Chick-fil-A:

Chicago Alderman Proco Moreno wrote in the Chicago Tribune Thursday, "Because of [Mr. Cathy's] ignorance, I will deny Chick-fil-A a permit to open a restaurant in my ward."

I don't agree with the CEO's statements either, but it's pretty clear that, under the Constitution, his opinions can't legitimately be the basis for granting or denying land use permission.  Cleveland State law prof Alan Weinstein put it best:

Alan Weinstein, a professor of law at Cleveland State University who specializes on the intersection of land-use law and constitutional issues, said he has seen officials try to use zoning laws to block adult stores or religious institutions, but never a commercial enterprise because of political views. He said that beyond the First Amendment, "in the land-use sphere, the government has no legitimate interest" in the political views of an applicant.

That last observation is key.  Most of the commentary on this issue has revolved around the CEO's First Amendment rights.  And it's true that free speech is one of the only areas where the courts will apply strict scrutiny to overturn government land use decisions.  But as Prof. Weinstein notes, this question isn't even really about regulating actual speech on land; it's about the rational basis for land use regulation itself under the police powers. 

From a pragmatic perspective, it's pretty easy to imagine a counterfactual scenario where an unpopular political opinion on the other side of the spectrum could likewise result in negative land use decisions under such a precedent.  It appears that this constitutional reality is setting in, and the public officials are backtracking.  Here's a video interview with the WSJ reporter:

 

I was one of the other "land use experts" who talked to the reporter, but Prof. Weinstein definitely said it best.   

So to sum up: Many of us disagree with the Chick-fil-A CEO's opinions, but everyone seems to agree that it would be unconsitituional to prohibit the company's land use on that basis.

Matt Festa

July 28, 2012 in Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Food, Local Government, Politics, Property Rights, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Power on Stop the Beach: Property Rights, the 'Gang of Four' & the Fifth Vote

Garrett Power (Maryland) has posted Property Rights, the 'Gang of Four' & the Fifth Vote: Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection (U.S. Supreme Court 2010), 25 Widener Law Journal (2012).  The abstract:

In 2010 The U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection (SBR v. Fla. EPA). Justice Antonin Scalia announced the judgment of the Court. All Justices agreed that Florida had not violated the Takings Clause of the Federal Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. But then in a plurality opinion Justice Scalia joined by the Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito proposed profound changes in the law of “regulatory takings.” As the spokesman for the Court’s property rights absolutists Scalia advanced two novel legal propositions. First he argued that federal courts had the power to collaterally attack and reverse state court decisions which evaded the requirements of the Taking Clause with pretextual background principles of the State's law of property. Second he opined that each of the “essential sticks in the bundle of rights that are commonly characterized as property” was a separate distinct property right, and that any deprivation of an “established property right” was a compensable Taking under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. If the “Gang of Four” can find a fifth vote, the law of regulatory takings will be radically revised.

Matt Festa

July 18, 2012 in Beaches, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Property Rights, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Murfreesboro Mosque Supporters Obtain US District Ct. TRO

It's been exactly a year since we last blogged about the siting of the mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn.  Last month, opponents of the mosque convinced a county judge to enjoin its construction by alleging that they were not given adequate notice of the zoning proceedings.  Today, US District Court Todd Campbell granted the proponents an injunction based on RLUIPA to allow construction to proceed.  The members of the local Muslim community were represented by the The Becket Fund for Religious LibertyHere's a copy of the TRO.

Jim K.

 

July 18, 2012 in Constitutional Law, First Amendment, NIMBY, RLUIPA, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Letters from the field: Buying a share of utopia in Copenhagen

I’ve just returned from several weeks of travel, and thought I’d post on several items I saw along the way.  The first of these was a utopian community in Copenhagen, Denmark, called Christiana.  Christiana is on an island, Christianhavn, adjacent to the central city of Copenhagen that had been used for military purposes for centuries.  When the Danish military closed a base on the island in the Sixties, some freedom-loving hippies and other radicals set up shop  by squatting on the land, declared their independence from the Danish state (adverse possession is for sissies, apparently), refused to pay taxes, and otherwise have engaged in community- and ganja-based decision-making ever since.  About 1,000 residents now call Christiana home.

There are several aspects of Christiana that I think land use folks will find interesting.  First, after four decades of tolerating open rebellion in its midsts, the Danish government finally decided that it needed to do something about Christiana.  You might be anticipating a “throw the bums out” approach; but remember, this is Denmark, not Rudy Giuliani’s New York City.  Instead of mounting riot troops at Christiana’s borders, the Danish government sent in their lawyers with an ultimatum:  Christiana’s residents could stay, but they would have to buy the land from the Danish government.  But the Danish government did not demand the market price for the property; instead, they offered the property to Christiana’s residents for a song.  In a sense, all the Danish government is seeking to do is to legitimate the ownership of the land; in other words, if Christian’s residents “own” the land, there is some acknowledgment of the government’s control and sovereignty over that land.  But, of course, the Christiana residents disdain this idea of ownership even though they need to raise capital to purchase the land.  

The result has been one of the most peculiar of solutions:  a stock offering of nominal ownership that investors can purchase. 

As the New York Times described it:

[Christiana's residents] decided to start selling shares in Christiania. Pieces of paper, hand-printed on site, the shares can be had for amounts from $3.50 to $1,750. Shareholders are entitled to a symbolic sense of ownership in Christiania and the promise of an invitation to a planned annual shareholder party. “Christiania belongs to everyone,” Mr. Manghezi said. “We’re trying to put ownership in an abstract form.”

Since the shares were first offered in the fall, about $1.25 million worth have been sold in Denmark and abroad. The money raised will go toward the purchase of the land from the government.

I found this struggle over the idea of ownership to be fascinating.  After all, the amount the Danish government is seeking from Christiana is far below the market price of the land in the now trendy area of Christianhavn.  However, what the government is doing is forcing the utopian community out of its stance of declaring “independence” from the Danish state, while Christiana’s residents attempt to use arcane legal structures to avoid sullying their hands with the prospect of “ownership.”  Am I the only one who thinks of Johnson v. M'Intosh on these facts?

The second interesting issue in Christiana was a poster located on the community’s main meeting Christiana Common Lawroom, which establishes the community’s “common law.”  A picture is to the right.  Now, at first blush, this will not look much like common law, but rather a visual statutory scheme, or maybe even something like the Ten Commandments if written for a biker gang.  But it was the kind of rules that interested me:  they speak, I think, to the kinds of problems that must have evolved in Christiana over time:  hard drugs, biker’s colors, firearms, and so on.  Each of these rules, you can imagine, resulted from a particular incident, and so a “common law” evolved in this place where all decisions are made collectively.  Such a common law speaks to the potentially rough nature of standing as a state independent from the protection of the sovereign.  It made me think of the devolution of all of the United States’ utopian communities, from New Harmony on down.  Is such a slide into anarchy, or the fight against anarchy, inevitable in such utopian movements?  I don’t know, but Christiana remains, and it seems to continue to thrive despite its troubles.  It eeks out a living on the sale of rasta trinkets and “green light district” paraphernalia.  And even in this space where there is supposedly no sovereign, there is still some law, borne of hard experience, common to all.  Its future, cast somewhere between lawfully-abiding property owner and anti-property ownership crusaders, between freedom and the "common law's" protections, will be interesting to watch in the coming decades.

Stephen R. Miller

July 12, 2012 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Constitutional Law, Development, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Globalism, Planning, Property, Property Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mulvaney on Exactions for the Future

Timothy M. Mulvaney (Texas Wesleyan) has posted Exactions for the Future, Baylor Law Review vol. 64, p. 101 (2012).  The abstract:

New development commonly contributes to projected infrastructural demands caused by multiple parties or amplifies the impacts of anticipated natural hazards. At times, these impacts only can be addressed through coordinated actions over a lengthy period. In theory, the ability of local governments to attach conditions, or “exactions,” to discretionary land use permits can serve as one tool to accomplish this end. Unlike traditional exactions that regularly respond to demonstrably measurable, immediate development harms, these “exactions for the future” — exactions responsive to cumulative anticipated future harms — admittedly can present land assembly concerns and involve inherently uncertain long-range government forecasting. Yet it is not clear these practical impediments are sufficient to warrant the near categorical prohibition on such exactions that is imposed by current Takings Clause jurisprudence. After analyzing the features of takings law that constrict the use of such an exactions scheme, this article offers an alternative approach to exaction imposition involving temporal segmentation of the government’s sought-after interest, which could provide a public tool to address anticipated future harms while offering at least some protection against takings claims.

This is the latest important piece of Prof. Mulvaney's work on exactions and time.  Check it out, and Gig 'em Aggies! 

Matt Festa

June 28, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ryan on Obamacare, Federalism, and . . . Land Use

No, this is not a lame attempt by me at expanding the bounds of the "what can't Festa turn into a land use issue" parlor game that I play in class, in order to reach the hot issue du jour.  Erin Ryan (Lewis & Clark) recently posted a fascinating essay on the Environmental Law Prof Blog about the potential effects of the ACA decision on federalism and, in turn, on land use and environmental issues.  From Obamacare and Federalism's Tug of War Within:

In the next few days, the Supreme Court will decide what some believe will be among the most important cases in the history of the institution--the Obamacare decisions.  And while they aren't directly about environmental law, they may as well be--because the same issues animate environmental governance conflicts from cross-boundary pollution management to nuclear waste disposal.  For that reason, I thought I'd take this opportunity to go deep on the federalism issues at the heart of the long-awaited health reform decisions.

. . . .

In service of this balance, the Constitution clearly delegates some responsibilities to one side or the other—for example, the federal government guarantees equal protection of the laws and regulates interstate commerce, while the states manage elections and regulate local land use. But between the easy extremes are realms of governance in which it’s much harder to know what the Constitution really tells us about who should be in charge. Locally regulated land uses become entangled with the protection of navigable waterways that implicate interstate commerce and border-crossing environmental harms.

Read the whole thing for a good legal analysis that goes well beyond the immediate politics of the decision.  Professor Ryan has a new book on the subject called Federalism and the Tug of War Within

And, so yes, there is a land use angle to the Obamacare decisions.  But you already know that there's a land use angle to everything

Matt Festa

June 26, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Federal Government, Local Government, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kearney & Merrill on Private Rights in Public Lands

Joseph D. Kearney (Marquette) and Thomas W. Merrill (Columbia) have posted Private Rights in Public Lands: The Chicago Lakefront, Montgomery Ward, and the Public Dedication Doctrine, 105 Northwestern University Law Review (2011).  The abstract:

The Chicago Lakefront, along Grant Park, is internationally regarded as an urban gem. Its development - or, perhaps more accurately, lack of development - has been the result of a series of legal challenges and court rulings, most famously involving the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Illinois Central R.R. v. Illinois (1892), and four decisions of the Illinois Supreme Court, from 1897 to 1910, involving Aaron Montgomery Ward. The former invented the modern public trust doctrine, which continues as much the favorite of environmental groups; the latter involved the now largely forgotten public dedication doctrine.

This article begins with a description of the evolution of what is now known as Grant Park. After tracing the origins of the public dedication doctrine in the nineteenth century, the article describes how the doctrine was invoked in controversies over the use of the Chicago lakefront before Montgomery Ward came on the scene. The article then details Ward’s remarkable crusade to save Grant Park as an unencumbered open space, which created a powerful body of precedent having a lasting impact on the use of the park. Next, the article describes the limits of the public dedication doctrine that was recognized in the Ward precedents. The article concludes with some brief observations about why the public trust doctrine eclipsed the public dedication doctrine, a comparison of the efficacy of the two doctrines in the context of the Chicago lakefront, and by offering general reflections about what this history tells us about the promises and pitfalls of recognizing 'antiproperty' rights to contest development of public spaces.

A terrific example of how legal history and land use case studies can illuminate important issues of legal doctrine.

Matt Festa

June 13, 2012 in Chicago, Constitutional Law, Development, Environmentalism, History, Planning, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 4, 2012

New SCOTUS ruling on infrastructure assessments

Interesting decision out of the US Supreme Court today on infrastructure assessments.  In a 6-3 ruling in Armour v. Indianapolis, the Court refused an equal protection challenge from property owners to a municipal sewer assessment.  Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, summarized the case and the Court's decision as follows:

For many years, an Indiana statute, the “Barrett Law,” authorized Indiana’s cities to impose upon benefited lot owners the cost of sewer improvement projects. The Law also permitted those lot owners to pay either immediately in the form of a lump sum or over time in installments. In 2005, the city of Indianapolis (City) adopted a new assessment and payment method, the “STEP” plan, and it forgave any Barrett Law installments that lot owners had not yet paid.

A group of lot owners who had already paid their entire Barrett Law assessment in a lump sum believe that the City should have provided them with equivalent refunds. And we must decide whether the City’s refusal to do so unconstitutionally discriminates against them in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, Amdt. 14, §1. We hold that the City had a rational basis for distinguishing between those lot owners who had already paid their share of project costs and those who had not. And we conclude that there is no equal protection violation.

The slip opinion is here.

Stephen R. Miller

June 4, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Impact Fees | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lefcoe on California Redevelopment Decision

George Lefcoe (USC) has posted CRA v. Matosantos: The Demise of Redevelopment in California and a Proposal for a Fresh Start.  The abstract:

This paper describes how redevelopment in California came to an end with the California Supreme Court’s decision in California Redevelopment Association v. Matosantos and how redevelopment could be resuscitated. The first part of the paper highlights the precipitating events leading up to the case: California’s unique property tax history, the successes and drawbacks of redevelopment, how redevelopment is financed, and the text and politics of Proposition 22, the state constitutional predicate for the Court’s opinion. The second section describes the arguments and outcome of the case in which the Court upheld a statute dissolving redevelopment agencies (RDAs) and simultaneously struck down a companion bill — a “pay-to-stay” law — that would have enabled cities and counties to preserve their RDAs by pledging local funds to the state. A concluding section proposes that California legislators consider a new redevelopment enabling law, modeled along the lines of Texas’s tax increment reinvestment zones (TIRZs). Such a statute would conform to the guidelines for constitutionality from the concluding paragraph of the Court’s opinion in Matosantos, and it would be fiscally responsible because it limits the use of tax increment financing.

Matt Festa

June 3, 2012 in California, Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Local Government, Politics, Redevelopment, Scholarship, State Government, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Widener's Constitutional Environmenal Rights Workshop

Yesterday, I spent a delightful jam-packed six hours at a constitutional environmental rights workshop at Widener Law School (Delaware not Pennsylvania) hosted by James May and Erin Daly. The workshop brought in scholars from many corners of the US and elsewhere to talk about how environmental rights are and should be embodied in national and subnational constitutions.

The participants indulgently listened to me ramble about a very new project I have examining the constitutionalization of the Public Trust Doctrine. While many others have written cogently and persuassively about the role of the public trust doctrine (Sax, Thompson, and Blumm jump quickly to ming) and powerhouses like Robin Kudis Craig (I love that she has a wikipedia page) have even helpfully catalogued public trust language in state constitutions, I am seeking to explore the "so what" part of the question. If a state chooses to constitutionalize their public trust doctrine, does that result in any on the ground changes? Are those state more likely to have healthier environments? Are those courts likely to be more protective of the environment? Will the state legislatures feel obligated empowered to pass legislative protecting natural resources? These are the questions I am seeking to explore. (Any advice on how to do so would be warmly welcomed).

Jessie Owley

June 1, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, History, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ely on Property Rights and the Supreme Court in the Gilded Age

James W. Ely, Jr. (Vanderbilt) has posted Property Rights and the Supreme Court in the Gilded Age, forthcoming in the Journal of Supreme Court History. The abstract:

This article challenges the conventional wisdom about the property-rights jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in the period 1870-1900. It asserts that the Court was animated to protect the rights of property owners as a means of upholding individual liberty against governmental overreaching. The justices saw private property as essential for the enjoyment of liberty. This commitment to individualistic values was reinforced by utilitarian considerations. The Court repeatedly stressed the vital role of property and contractual rights as the basis of economic growth. In upholding property right the justices drew upon the long-standing Anglo-American tradition of property-conscious constitutionalism. The essay concluded that there was a close affinity between the views of the framers of the Constitution concerning the sanctity of property rights and the jurisprudence of the Gilded Age.

Professor Ely's article makes a really important connection between constitutional property theory in the founding era and a century later in the gilded age. These two eras have been largely treated as completely separate in the scholarship about the development of property as a constitutional concept--and these stories in turn have influenced the understanding of property rights through the twentieth century to today. The analysis contributes to a historical understanding of property rights as a central component of individual liberty in the Constitution.

Matt Festa

May 30, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Lawsuit Challenges San Francisco Billboard Settlement

Most land use profs are familiar with Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego, 453 U.S. 490 (1981), a U.S. Supreme Court case that helped to clarify the extent to which billboards could be regulated under the First Amendment.  In the years following Metromedia, several cities have adopted billboard restrictions based on the case's holding, which generally allows for greater restrictions on offsite and commercial signage.  Still, despite decades of case law on the subject, billboard regulation remains a relatively risky and controversial endeavor.  A new lawsuit against the City of San Francisco is the latest example of cities' ongoing difficulty in restricting billboards.

In 2002, San Francisco voters passed Proposition G--a ballot measure later codified as City Planning Code Section 611 that severely restricts offsite commercial billboards within city limits.  Earlier this month, the citizen group "San Francisco Beautiful" filed a complaint alleging that a settlement agreement between an outdoor advertising company and the City of San Francisco violated the provisions of Proposition G.  According to local newpaper articles posted here and here, the settlement required Metro Fuel LLC, a billboard company, to remove several large billboards and pay $1.75 million in fines. However, the settlement also effectively forgave more than $5 million in other fines and allowed Metro Fuel to replace its decommissioned billboards with an even greater number of smaller signs. 

In a new complaint filed in a California Superior Court, San Francisco Beautiful is alleging that the City's settlement violated Proposition G by allowing an overall increase in billboards.    Assuming that Metro Fuel's aggregate square footage of signage is reduced under the settlement, should it matter that the company's actual number of signs is allowed to increase?  This may be a worthwhile case for land use profs to follow in the coming months, particularly since most of us will be covering Metromedia in our courses again next year.

Troy Rule

May 29, 2012 in Aesthetic Regulation, California, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Local Government, Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)