Friday, June 1, 2012
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).
Monday, May 28, 2012
Today was Memorial Day in the US. There are lots of land use issues that we can associate with Memorial Day, which, stripped to its essence, is designed as a day to remember the military members who died in service to the nation. There is the obvious land use issue of cemeteries, and the related legal and cultural norms governing how we memorialize the dead (check out any of the interesting blog posts or scholarship by Al Brophy and Tanya Marsh on cemeteries). It gets even more relevant when we start talking about government-owned national or veterans' cemeteries, and the attendant controversies about First Amendment and other issues. [The photo is from last year's Memorial Day ceremony at Houston National Cemetery, which my daughter attended to honor fallen Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Sauer Medlicott.] Of course, there are always land use and local government issues involved with things like parades and public ceremonies, and in many communities there are specific rules that govern the "summer season" informally commenced on Memorial Day weekend.
For this post, though, I'll go back to the origins of the holiday. Interestingly, it started as a private or quasi-public endeavor (perhaps like most civic affairs in the nineteenth century). In the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War--and for much of the rest of the lives of the generations that fought it--Americans on both sides focused a great deal of attention on preserving its history and creating/controlling its public memory. In 1868 General John Logan, head of the Union veterans' organization the Grand Army of the Republic (a private society with a great deal of government involvement), issued General Order No. 11, creating what became known as Decoration Day:
The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
Even though this Decoration Day was only adopted in Union states until after World War I (when it was renamed Memorial Day and formally associated with all American wars), the former Confederate states had their own versions to remember the war dead at cemeteries and public venues. And according to eminent Yale historian David Blight, the first Memorial Day celebration was performed in Charleston, SC, by newly-liberated blacks:
Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters' horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course" . . . . Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders' race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy's horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople.
Anyone interested in the contested history of these issues--with full attention to the negative aspects as well--should read the magnificent book by Prof. Blight (with a name like that, it's a shame he didn't go into land use!), Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. And a related part of this history, along with the Decoration/Memorial Day commemorations, was the incipient historic preservation movement. This confluence of impulses, as well as the also-new movement for environmental conservation, led to the novel idea of having the federal government acquire and administer large tracts of land for the purpose of preserving Civil War history. As noted in the fascinating monograph by the late National Park Service Historian Ronald F. Lee, The Origin & Evolution of the National Military Park Idea, this was a new and not-uncontroversial exercise of government power over land use:
The idea of the Nation acquiring an entire battlefield and preserving it for historical purposes was new in 1890. It is therefore not surprising that it soon engendered a serious controversy, which arose, fittingly enough, at Gettysburg. The controversy involved two questions of fundamental importance to the future of historic preservation by the Federal Government. Is preserving and marking the site of an historic battlefield a public purpose and use? If so, is it a purpose for which Congress may authorize acquisition of the necessary land by power of eminent domain? The circumstances of this dispute, which had to be settled by the Supreme Court of the United States, are of unusual interest and provide an appropriate introduction to our story.
Lee describes the case, United States v. Gettysburg Electric Ry. Co., 160 U.S. 668 (1896), in the on-line version of the book provided by the NPS. The case was brought by a railway which objected to the federal government's use of eminent domain to condemn their right of way for construction of a railway to take tourists to the significant "Devil's Den" area of the battlefield, "claiming that establishment of Gettysburg National Park was not a public purpose within the meaning of earlier legislation and that 'preserving lines of battle' and 'properly marking with tablets the positions occupied' were not public uses which permitted the condemnation of private property by the United States." [What a long way from Kelo that was!] Justice Rufus Peckham wrote for the unanimous majority in upholding the taking for preservation purposes (and not simply because members of the public could visit the park):
Such a use seems necessarily not only a public use, but one so closely connected with the welfare of the republic itself as to be within the powers granted Congress by the constitution for the purpose of protecting and preserving the whole country.
The Court thus established the constitutionality of taking land by the federal government for national parks, and struck an important legal blow for historic preservation generally.
So from cemeteries to public memory to national parks and historic preservation and much more, Memorial Day is tied to land use law in many ways. I hope that our US readers have had a good one, and with remembrance for those whom the holiday commends.
May 28, 2012 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Environmentalism, Federal Government, First Amendment, Historic Preservation, History, Houston, Politics, Property Rights, Race, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, May 24, 2012
John R. Nolon (Pace) has posted Regulatory Takings and Property Rights Confront Sea Level Rise: How Do They Roll. The abstract:
Under the Beach and Shore Preservation Act, the State of Florida is authorized to conduct extraordinarily expensive beach renourishment projects to restore damaged coastal properties. The statute advances the State’s interest in repairing the damage to the coastal ecosystem and economy caused by hurricanes, high winds, and storm surges. The effect of a renourishment project conducted under the statute is to fix the legal boundary of the littoral property owner at an Erosion Control Line. Plaintiffs in Walton County v. Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. claimed that the statute took their common law property rights to their boundary, which would, but for the Act, move gradually landward or seaward, maintaining contact with the water. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether the state court reinterpreted Florida’s common law as a pretext for upholding the statute against the plaintiffs’ taking claim and, if so, whether that reinterpretation constituted a “judicial taking.” The Court ultimately decided that the Florida court’s interpretation was correct and that there was no regulatory taking. A majority of the Court could not agree as to whether a state court’s interpretation of state common law could constitute a “judicial taking.”
This article discusses greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, sea level rise, and the ferocity of coastal storms associated with climate change. It explores the tension between these movements in nature and the policy of the State of Florida to fix property boundaries, which under common law would move landward as sea level rises. The property rights and title to land of littoral landowners are described and the effect of the Beach and Shore Preservation Act on them discussed. The article contrasts the Florida coastal policy regarding beach and shore protection with the policies and programs of federal, state, and local governments that use other approaches such as accommodating rolling easements, prohibiting shoreline armoring, requiring removal of buildings, purchasing development rights or the land itself, and imposing moratoria on rebuilding after storm events. These may be less expensive and more realistic approaches to long-term coastal erosion and avulsive events and the inevitability of sea level rise as the climate warms and worsens. The article concludes with a recommendation that the framework for federal, state, and local cooperation in coastal management be revisited and strengthened so that the critical resources and knowledge are brought to bear on this critical issue. It suggests that strengthening those ties, rather than radically restructuring the relationship between state and federal courts, is a more productive method of meeting the needs of a changing society.
This is the latest in a series of articles by Prof. Nolon addressing how local land use law can be used to manage climate change, including The Land Use Stabilization Wedge Strategy: Shifting Ground to Mitigate Climate Change; Land Use for Energy Conservation: A Local Strategy for Climate Change Mitigation; and Managing Climate Change through Biological Sequestration: Open Space Law Redux. The article also discusses Stop the Beach and our favorite Texas Open Beaches Act "rolling easement" case Severance v. Patterson, and offers some solutions toward an integrated federal-state-local framework for coastal management.
May 24, 2012 in Beaches, Caselaw, Climate, Coastal Regulation, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, History, Judicial Review, Local Government, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Sustainability, Takings, Texas, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Eduardo M. Penalver (Cornell) and Gregory S. Alexander (Cornell) have posted the introduction to their new book on Property Theory. The book is An Introduction to Property Theory, in the series Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy and Law. The intro chapter is on SSRN, and here is the abstract:
This book surveys the leading modern theories of property – Lockean, libertarian, utilitarian/law-and-economics, personhood, Kantian, and human flourishing – and then applies those theories to concrete contexts in which property issues have been espe- cially controversial. These include redistribution, the right to exclude, regulatory takings, eminent domain, and intellectual property. The book highlights the Aristotelian human flourishing theory of property, providing the most comprehensive and accessible introduction to that theory to date. The book’s goal is neither to cover every conceivable theory nor to discuss every possible facet of the theories covered. Instead, it aims to make the major property theories comprehensible to beginners, without sacrificing accuracy or sophistication. The book will be of particular interest to students seeking an accessible introduction to contemporary theories of property, but even specialists will benefit from the book’s lucid descriptions of contemporary debates.
Eloisa C. Rodriguez-Dod and Olympia Duhart (Nova Southeastern) have posted Evaluating Katrina: A Snapshot of Renters’ Rights Following Disasters, Nova Law Review Vol. 31, p. 467. The abstract:
Hurricane Katrina destroyed the homes of many people living in parts of the Gulf Region. The storm displaced as many as 800,000 victims and it is still difficult for them to return home. Consequently, many homeowners have turned to renting because of the slow recovery process. Renters face added difficulties; they are often the last in line for government benefits and other assistance. There is much hostility towards the rights of renters, creating even more difficulties for them.
This article focuses on the difficulties facing evacuee renters in New Orleans following the disaster. These renters face such obstacles as scarcity of land, increases in costs for repairs, higher insurance, infrastructure uncertainty, rental property inflation, uncertainty over flood protection, zoning restrictions, and criminalization. This article discusses legislation and attempted legislation impacting renters post Katrina. The article explores the increase in rent after disasters and a suggested control. It further discusses the manner in which criminal backgrounds determine rental options following disasters. Specifically, the article focuses on legislation limiting access to rentals and suggests, with the right legislation in place, New Orleans will be able to successfully rebuild its lower and middle income housing.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Steven J. Eagle (George Mason) has posted Judicial Takings and State Takings, forthcoming in the Widener Law Journal. The abstract:
In Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a Supreme Court plurality asserted that takings liability could arise from judicial acts, as well as from state or local legislation and executive agency decisions. The Plurality’s rationale supporting “judicial takings” was that the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment applies to State acts, not to particular State actors.
This article starts by reviewing the doctrinal bases for the Stop the Beach plurality opinion. It provides prudential reasons why rulings affecting property rights might be legitimate under state law, but nevertheless constitute compensable takings under the federal constitution. It then analyzes the implications of the “state acts and not state actors” doctrine to existing regulatory takings law. Viewed through the lens of “state acts,” the rationales of the Supreme Court’s Williamson County “state litigation” prong and its Dolan “legislative vs. adjudicative” bifurcation are undermined. Similarly, takings distinctions pertaining to whether small-scale rezonings are “legislative” or “quasi-judicial” acts are drawn into question.
Lisa Grow Sun posted this paper last year. It should be of great interest to land users: Smart Growth in Dumb Places: Sustainability, Disaster, and the Future of the American City. The abstract:
One of the many lessons of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan is that we cannot mitigate disaster risk through building codes and other structural solutions alone. Location is key to a community’s natural hazard vulnerability. Consequently, the most far-reaching and important question for disaster mitigation today is where we will channel the growth that will be needed to accommodate our expanding population. Yet, both environmental scholars and policymakers are promoting sustainability initiatives that will channel our country’s future growth into existing urban areas that are already extremely vulnerable to disaster. Indeed, many of these policies - and the legal tools used to implement them - are channeling growth, not only into particularly vulnerable cities, but into the riskiest areas of those cities. This Article is the first to identify and explore this critical tension between disaster mitigation and current sustainability policies.
The impact of current and future disasters on land use is a very important policy issue. Sun offers a different take on the conventional wisdom--which I have indulged in too--that more urbanism is always better. Sun suggests that we should be more discerning with our prescriptions.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Last week the NYU Furman Center published its latest research on the State of New York City's Housing and Neighborhoods.
The Furman Center is pleased to present the 2011 edition of the State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods. In this annual report, the Furman Center compiles statistics on housing, demographics and quality of life in the City, its five boroughs and 59 community districts.
This year we examine the distribution of the burden of New York City’s property tax, analyze the changing racial and ethnic makeup of city neighborhoods, evaluate the state of mortgage lending in New York City and highlight the Furman Center’s latest research on public and subsidized rental housing.
Here is a link to the full report: http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/SOC_2011.pdf
The Furman Center does the leading empirical analysis of land use policy today. This report shows that "owners of New York City’s large rental apartment buildings are subject to a higher effective property tax rate than owners of one-to three-family homes, and bear a disproportionate share of the city’s overall property tax burden." Very interesting stuff. Thanks to Meghan Lewit for the link. Here is the web link to the project, and the full report is here.
Regular readers know that we love the National Building Museum. And any land use professional knows that we all love to talk about Jane Jacobs. So here's an event that might be of great interest: Urban Forum: What Would Jane Jacobs Do?
Fifty one years after Jane Jacobs published her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her ideas on liveable, walkable, and diverse neighborhoods continue to impact how urban environments are designed. A panel discusses Jane Jacobs’ legacy, including urban renewal, historic preservation, mixed-use zoning, and public space. Light refreshments will be served.
- Bing Thom, Bing Thom Architects
- Harriet Tregoning, director, Washington D.C. Office of Planning
- Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief, Metropolis Magazine (moderator)
- John Zuccotti, co-chairman of the board, Brookfield Properties Corporation and former Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission
Free (but required) registration is available for the event on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 10:00-11:30. Check it out! If you are able to go to WWJJD, I'd love to hear about it.
Up until now the Keystone Pipeline issue has been cast mainly as a contest between an economic development imperative and environmental conservation. Legal commentators have analyzed it as an environmental issue. As most people can infer, though, the notion of building an "infrastructure" project from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico will require some land rights. Perhaps only in Texas can we see the underlying tension between two principles that are very often in direct conflict: the exploitation of oil and gas resources, and the property owner's rights to her land. The New York Times last week did a fascinating story on one Texas landowner's fight against the eminent domain authority of the Keystone Pipeline, An Old Texas Tale Retold: The Farmer versus the Oil Company.
Ms. Crawford is worried about the possible contamination of her creek. She pointed out that the Keystone 1, TransCanada’s first pipeline, had a dozen spills in its first year of operation.
“I called my farm insurance agent and asked what happens if there’s a spill, I can’t water my crops, and my corn dies,” she said. “He said my insurance won’t cover that. I’d have to sue TransCanada for damages.”
The Crawfords are the last holdouts in Lamar County. (It is unclear how many are left in Texas; the company says it has 99 percent of the rights of way secured.) TransCanada asserts that it has used eminent domain only as “an absolute last resort” in an estimated 19 out of 1,452 land tracts in Texas. Critics dispute this number. . . .
Asked if she would take TransCanada’s offer now — if it meant the full $21,000, with all of her conditions met — she did not hesitate. “No,” she said. “There’s a $20,000 check sitting in the courthouse waiting for us,” she said. “But if we touch it, game over. We lose the use of our land, and we admit what they’re doing is right.”
This is a longstanding issue, both historically and today, but it often gets overlooked when people conflate Texas stereotypes about both property rights and solicitude for oil and gas. Ilya Somin commented on the article at the Volokh Conspiracy, noting correctly that despite its pro-property rights reputation and cosmetic legislation, Texas law still empowers quite a bit of eminent domain for economic development purposes:
Such efforts are unlikely to succeed in Texas. As I described in this article, Texas is one of many states that have passed post-Kelo reform laws that pretend to constrain economic development takings without actually doing so. They might have a better chance in one of the other states through which the pipeline must pass.
The larger question that he poses is whether and how environmental concerns will play a part in future discussions about eminent domain and the never-ending debate over the essentially contested concepts of property rights and the common good. In the real world of land use, the alignment of stakeholders, interests, policy preferences, and legal interpretations isn't always as easy to predict as the cartoon versions might imply.
May 16, 2012 in Agriculture, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, History, Houston, Judicial Review, Oil & Gas, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Takings, Texas | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, May 7, 2012
Michael C. Blumm (Lewis & Clark) and Tim Wigington have posted The Oregon and California Railroad Grant Lands’ Sordid Past, Contentious Present, and Uncertain Future: A Century of Conflict, forthcoming at 40 Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review No. 1 (2013). The abstract:
This article examines the long, contentious history of the Oregon & California Land Grant that produced federal forest lands now managed by the Bureau of Land Management (“O&C lands”), including an analysis of how these lands re-vested to the federal government following decades of corruption and scandal, and the resulting congressional effort that created a management structure supporting local county governments through overharvesting the lands for a half-century. The article proceeds to trace the fate of O&C lands through the “spotted owl wars” of the 1990s, the ensuing Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), the timber salvage rider of 1995, and the George W. Bush Administration’s unsuccessful attempts to change the compromise reached in the NWFP. The article then explains how decreases in timber harvesting and declines in federal payments have brought the counties reliant on these lands to the brink of bankruptcy, and analyzes two current legislative proposals aimed at increasing harvests on the O&C lands in order to bolster flagging county economies. The article concludes by identifying significant economic and environmental flaws in these proposals and suggests several alternative revenue-producing options that could provide economic security and diversity to the counties without eviscerating the key environmental protections provided by the NWFP and other federal environmental protection statutes.
The article looks like a fascinating interdisciplinary blend of law, policy, and history.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
It's May 1, 2012, and that means a few different things around the world. Regular readers know that we like to do the occasional holiday-themed post on related land use issues, but this one needs to be disaggregated!
The original May Day celebrations were pagan rituals throughout Europe, particularly in Celtic, Germanic, and other Northern European societies. These tended to focus on the traditional spring/early summer themes of rebirth and fecundity, with venerations of the deities of earth and flowers and so on. As Christianity spread, the Church tended to co-opt these pagan celebrations, which continued the tradition of Maypoles and public festivities. This tradition obviously relates to land use in its focus on the renewal of the earth and its bounty going into the new summer.
Then in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, May Day became a nearly universal labor holiday known as International Workers Day, as well as a day that became associated with socialism and communism. Because the American Labor Day is not until September, I always assumed that this must have some European or Soviet origin. But my exhaustive Wikipedia-based research for this post led me to realize that May 1 as International Workers Day originated right here in the U.S. of A., thanks to the 1886 Haymarket Riots in Chicago, where police fired shots into the crowd at a worker's strike after a bomb exploded. This galvanized the interational labor movement, which led the Second International to declare May 1 as International Workers Day in 1889. In fact, the reason the American Labor Day is set in September seems to have been a desire to disassociate it with the Haymarket anniversary. Any time we're talking about riots, strikes, public demonstrations, or urban politics, there is always a host of land use issues involved.
The theme of May 1 as an international labor day has led some of the Occupy Movement to plan to Occupy May 1 to urge a general strike and as a chance to relaunch their protest movement in cities around the world. The Occupy Movement deserves some further study for the interesting land use issues it presents, both in terms of its attempts to, well, "occupy" public and private spaces in cities, and also for its organization of those spaces-- I have heard from more than one observer that in some of the Occupy encampments they have instituted an informal sort of zoning apparatus. At this hour it seems that the Occupy May Day affairs have been generally peaceful.
Another prominent commemoration of May 1 in the U.S. comes with Law Day. While not widely known outside the legal profession, bar associations across the land have programs to celebrate and educate members on the importance of law (e.g., today I went to the local bar's Law Day banquet to recognize a major award earned by one of my students). Land use law being a field of growing importance in the profession, it goes without saying that any commemoration of law generally should include a nod to those who practice land use law in our communities. I had thought that Law Day was mostly an inside-baseball event for lawyers and bar organizations, but again (thanks to Wikipedia) I just learned that the origin of Law Day was really an anti-communist maneuver. In response to the growing importance of May 1 in the communist and particularly the Soviet sphere (think back to parades of tanks and nuclear missiles down the central square), President Eisenhower declared the first Law Day as a celebration of the rule of law and its critical importance to democracy and civilization. The commemoration of Law Day is codified at 36 U.S.C. 113.
So whether you celebrate May 1 for it's pagan/Christian celebration of earthly renewal; it's relevance to the international labor movement and urban politics; or for it's commemoration of the importance of the rule of law in society, May Day has an important relationship with land use. The last use of the term "Mayday," as a distress signal, comes not from the first day of this month, but rather from the French venez m'aider (come help me). The only academic connection I can think of from that usage, however, is that it is perhaps being muttered right now by the students who are taking my exam tomorrow.
Monday, April 30, 2012
Kirsten Matoy Carlson (Wayne State) has posted Priceless Property, forthcoming in the Georgia State University Law Review. The abstract:
In 2011, the poorest Indians in the United States refused to accept over $1 billion dollars from the United States government. They reiterated their long held belief that money – even $1.3 billion dollars – could not compensate them for the taking of their beloved Black Hills. A closer look at the formation of the Sioux claim to the Black Hills helps us to understand why the Sioux Nation has repeatedly rejected over $1 billion dollars in compensation for land taken by the United States over 100 years ago. This article seeks to understand why the Sioux view the Black Hills as priceless by studying the formation of the Black Hills claim. It constructs a new, richer approach to understanding dispute formation by combining narrative analysis with the sociolegal framework for explaining dispute formation. The article argues that narratives enrich the naming, claiming, and blaming stages of dispute creation and illustrates the usefulness of this new approach through a case study of the Black Hills claim. It uses the autobiographical work of an ordinary Sioux woman to provide a narrative lens to the creation of the Sioux claim to the Black Hills. American Indian Stories by Zitkala-Sa presents a narrative of Sioux life around the time of the claims emergence. By contextualizing and humanizing the claim, my analysis provides insights into why the Sioux claim to the Black Hills emerged into a legal dispute and helps to explain why the Black Hills remain priceless property to the Sioux Nation today.
This article employs more of a law-and-humanities approach focusing on social and historical context and personal stories, which I think makes it an interesting read.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
This looks like a fascinating legal history/land use story. Bruce Ziff (Alberta) has posted The Great Onyx Cave Cases--A Micro-History. The abstract:
Controversies surrounding property rights to the Great Onyx Cave in Kentucky have given rise to two legendary decisions with enduring legal importance. The first of these, Edwards v. Sims (1929), is a leading authority on the extent of ownership rights below the surface of land. The second, Edwards v. Lee's Administrator (1936), concerns the appropriate measure of damages for trespass. Stripped to essentials, the facts that led to these two important rulings are quite straightforward: E discovered a cave beneath his surface, which he developed into a thriving tourist attraction. However, it turns out that approximately one-third of the cave passes below, well below, the surface of land owned by L, who had no ready means of access to the cave. Should title to the cave as a whole belong to the party who owns the mouth and who has taken possession? If not, how might one assess damages for trespass where E has benefited financially by the acts of trespass, but L has no practical use for his portion of the cave?
Of course, life is rarely as simple as that suggested by these sparse facts, and if one delves into the background of these famous cases -- a story that has been neglected over the years -- additional insights emerge. As it turns out, this dispute is one episode in a tempestuous time, the so-called 'cave wars' period, in which confrontations and lawsuits over cave rights and tourism in the region were commonplace. Moreover, the fight over Great Onyx Cave arose amid a campaign to acquire the caves in the region for a national park. As the clouds of the Depression formed, the park project must have held out hope for the local landowners. In addition, one member of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, Marvel Mills Logan, played a significant and somewhat unconventional role in the Great Onyx Cave litigation and the events surrounding it. His place in the story is examined in detail.
Monday, April 9, 2012
I hope you all have had a happy holiday--not Passover or Easter, which were celebrated this weekend-- but rather today's holiday: Dyngus Day! Readers know that we like to do the occasional holiday land-use post, so here goes.
Dyngus Day is an east-central European tradition, primarily from Poland, that is celebrated on Easter Monday. It appears to come from a pre-Christian veneration of the pagan gods of water (Dingus) and earth (Smigus). It's linked to the spring themes of rebirth, renewal, and even "spring cleaning." Apparently the tradition is that on Dyngus Day the young men get to pursue the young women whom they wish to court with buckets of water and willow branches. Today, both sexes can participate and there seems to be much use of squirt guns and water balloons.
What's the land use angle? Well, first, the whole seasonal/earth/water/renewal theme resonates with the land. But the next chapter of the Dyngus Day story is how it flourished in America from the height of 19th Century Polish immigration to today, and that story involves the same local government and politics issues that are familiar to land use observers. Dyngus Day first became a big deal in northern U.S. cities with large Polish-American immigrant populations. The sources I've read haven't quite come out and said so, but my impression is that the original American Dyngus Day celebrations probably had the intention of serving as the Polish-American equivalent of an ethnic pride/civic engagement day along the likes of what St. Patrick's Day was for the Irish and Columbus Day for the Italians. Dyngus Day traditionally involved a mix of festival and politics, such as when RFK gave an important campaign speech at the West Side Democratic Club's Dyngus Day affair in South Bend, Indiana. So Dyngus Day is part of the great American history of urban politics and local government.
In the last couple of decades there seems to have been something of a Dyngus Day revival. Buffalo is leading the way on the Dyngus front. It claims to have the world's largest Dyngus Day festival. There are also significant Dyngus events in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, South Bend, Milwaukee, and other cities. Of course these community events require the involvement of planners, street closures, and permits. The Buffalo Dyngus Parade is a centerpiece, and everyone knows that civic parades have land use implications. They even have a facebook page. Mostly, it's just a good time, an important community event, and a good example of local public-private cooperation.
I studied a lot of Polish history as an undergraduate, and I have my own fond memories of one Easter Monday striking out away from campus into South Bend (once one of the world's largest Polish-speaking cities), seeing the parade, and ending up down at the American Legion's Dyngus Day party, with good kielbasa, pierogies, and music. Remember, Everybody's Polish on Dyngus Day!
Thursday, April 5, 2012
A front-page story in today's LA Times throws some cold water on the celebratory mood surrounding the recent sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the upcoming 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. The story recounts how the city of Los Angeles acquired the land to build the stadium by uprooting (through the use of eminent domain) more than 1,000 mostly Mexican-American families who lived in the area. The story concludes with a chilling quote from one of the uprooted: "There's an old Mexican custom that where you're born, the umbilical cord is buried. Mine's buried under third base....And I hate home runs, 'cause every time they step on third base, my stomach hurts." The story of Chavez Ravine has been well told before, including by my friend Matt Parlow in his article Unintended Consequences: Eminent Domain and Affordable Housing, 46 Santa Clara L. Rev. 841, 843–46 (2006).
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Henry E. Smith (Harvard) has posted what looks to be a very important property theory piece, Property as the Law of Things, forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review. The abstract:
The New Private Law takes seriously the need for baselines in general and the traditional ones furnished by the law in particular. One such baseline is the “things” of property. The bundle of rights picture popularized by the Legal Realists downplayed things and promoted the expectation that features of property are detachable and tailorable without limit. The bundle picture captures too much to be a theory. By contrast, the information cost, or architectural, theory proposed here captures how the features of property work together to achieve property’s purposes. Drawing on Herbert Simon’s notions of nearly decomposable systems and modularity, the article shows how property employs a thing-based exclusion-governance architecture to manage complexity of the interactions between legal actors. Modular property first breaks this system of interactions into components, and this begins with defining the modular things of property. Property then specifies the interface between the modular components of property through governance strategies that make more direct reference to uses and purposes, as in the law of nuisance, covenants, and zoning. In contrast to the bundle of rights picture, the modular theory captures how a great number of features of property – ranging from in-rem-ness, the right to exclude, and the residual claim, through alienability, persistence, and compatibility, and beyond to deep aspects like recursiveness, scalability, and resilience – follow from the modular architecture. The Article then shows how the information cost theory helps explain some puzzling phenomena such as the pedis possessio in mining law, fencing in and fencing out, the unit rule in eminent domain, and the intersection of state action and the enforcement of covenants. The Article concludes with some implications of property as a law of modular things for the architecture of private law.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
While visiting New York City recently for the Association of American Geographers' annual meeting, I took in a great exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York entitled The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan 1811-2011. The exhibit coincides with the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the famous street grid for the island of Manhattan. It is a fascinating exploration of one of the most significant urban planning endeavors in American history. You can see an overview of the exhibit here, and the New York Times Review of the exhibit here. My thoughts on the exhibit, with pictures, are below:
J. Peter Byrne (Georgetown) has posted Historic Preservation and its Cultured Despisers: Reflections on the Contemporary Role of Preservation Law in Urban Development, George Mason Law Review, Vol. 19 (2012). The abstract:
The past years have seen widely noticed critiques of historic preservation by “one of our leading urban economists,” Edward Glaeser, and by star architect Rem Koolhaas. Glaeser, an academic economist specializing in urban development, admits that preservation has value. But he argues in his invigorating book, Triumph of the City, and in a contemporaneous article, Preservation Follies, that historic preservation restricts too much development, raises prices, and undermines the vitality of the cities. Koolhaas is a Pritzker Prize-winning architect and oracular theorist of the relation between architecture and culture. In his New York exhibit, Cronocaos, he argued that preservation lacks an organizing theory, imposes inauthentic consumer-friendly glosses on older structures, and inhibits architectural creativity. Although these critiques are as different as the cultural spaces inhabited by their authors (although both are professors at Harvard), both seemed to strike nerves, suggesting an underlying unease about how large a role preservation has come to play in urban development. This article assesses these critiques as part of an ongoing effort to make sense of historic preservation law.
This article proceeds as follows: First, it presents Glaeser’s critique in detail, placing it within the context of his larger argument about what makes cities attractive and dynamic. Grappling with the strengths and weaknesses of Glaeser’s critique leads to a discussion of how preservation regulation actually works and clarification of some of the benefits it confers. Second, this Article will attempt to specify Koolhaas’s critique, connecting it to similar complaints about preservation by more linear thinkers. Weighing objections to the coherence or authenticity of preservation leads to further discussion of the role that preservation plays in the larger culture. This article concludes with a call for future research.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Ilya Somin (George Mason) has posted What if Kelo v. City of New London had Gone the Other Way?, published at Indiana Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 21-39, 2011 (What If Counterfactuals in Constitutional History Symposium) . The abstract:
Kelo v. City of New London is one of the most controversial decisions in U.S. Supreme Court history. The Kelo Court held that the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment allows government to condemn private property and transfer it to other private parties for purposes of “economic development.” This Article considers the question of what might have happened if the Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London in favor of the property owners. Such counterfactual analysis may seem frivolous. But it is, in fact, useful in understanding constitutional history. Any assessment of the impact of a legal decision depends on at least an implicit judgment as to the likely consequences of a ruling the other way. Analysis can be improved by making these implicit counterfactual assumptions clear and systematically considering their implications.
Part I briefly describes the Kelo case and its aftermath, focusing especially on the massive political backlash. That backlash led to numerous new reform laws. However, many of them turned out to be largely symbolic. Part II discusses the potential value of a counterfactual analysis of Kelo. It could help shed light on a longstanding debate over the effects of Supreme Court decisions on society. Some have argued that court decisions have little impact, mostly protecting only those rights that the political branches of government would protect of their own accord. Others contend that this pessimistic view underrates the potential effect of Supreme Court decisions.
Part III considers the possible legal effect of a ruling in favor of the property owners. Such a decision could have taken several potential forms. One possibility is that the Court could have adopted the view advocated by the four Kelo dissenters: that economic development condemnations are categorically forbidden by the Public Use Clause. This would have provided strong protection to property owners and significantly altered the legal landscape. On the other hand, the Court could easily have decided in favor of the property owners on one of two narrower grounds. Such a ruling would have led to much weaker protections for property owners.
Part IV weighs the potential political impact of a decision favoring the property owners. Such an outcome might have forestalled the massive political backlash that Kelo caused. Ironically, a narrow ruling in favor of the owners that did not significantly constrain future takings might have left the cause of property rights worse off than defeat did. On the other hand, a strong ruling categorically banning economic development takings would likely have done more for property rights than the backlash did, especially considering the uneven nature of the latter. Furthermore, political movements sometimes build on legal victories, as well as defeats, as happened in the case of the Civil Rights movement in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. It is possible that property rights advocates could have similarly exploited a victory in Kelo.