Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Hanoch Dagan (Tel Aviv) has posted his anthology entry entitled Expropriatory Compensation, Distributive Justice and the Rule of Law in Rethinking Public Interest in Expropriation Law (Mostert & Verstaapen eds., forthcoming 2014). Here's the abstract:
This Essay examines the possible justification for providing less than full (fair market value) compensation for expropriation. One obvious justification applies in cases of public measures, where the burden is deliberately distributed progressively, namely, where redistribution is the desired goal of the public action or, at least, one of its primary objectives. Beside this relatively uncontroversial category, two other explanations are often raised: that partial compensation is justified by reference to the significance of the public interest, even if it is not redistributive, and that it can serve as a means for adjusting the amount of the compensation to the specific circumstances of the case. This Essay criticizes both justifications, arguing that the former is normatively impoverished while the latter affronts the rule of law. The notion of partial and differential compensation, however, can serve as a powerful tool for developing a nuanced expropriation doctrine that serves important property values, and also targets the potentially regressive effects of a uniform rule of full market value. The proposed doctrine draws careful, rule-based distinctions between types of injured property (fungible vs. constitutive) and types of benefited groups (local communities vs. the broader society).
One of the wonderful benefits of participating in the annual gatherings of the Association of Law, Property and Society is the opportunity to emgage with scholars from other countries. A 2011 panel focusing on his book Property: Values and Institutions (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011), which Dean Dagan participated in personally, was one of the best discussions of property theory that I've ever had the chance to hear.
Monday, November 11, 2013
How can the Constitution protect landowners from government exploitation without disabling the machinery that protects landowners from each other? The Supreme Court left this central question unanswered — and indeed unasked — in Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District. The Court’s exactions jurisprudence, set forth in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Dolan v. City of Tigard, and now Koontz, requires the government to satisfy demanding criteria for certain bargains — or proposed bargains — implicating the use of land. Yet because virtually every restriction, fee, or tax associated with the ownership or use of land can be cast as a bargain, the Court must find some way to hive off the domain of exactions from garden variety land use regulations. This it refused to do in Koontz, opting instead to reject boundary principles that it found normatively unstable. By beating back one form of exactions creep — the possibility that local governments will circumvent a too-narrowly drawn circle of heightened scrutiny — the Court left land use regulation vulnerable to the creeping expansion of heightened scrutiny under the auspices of its exactions jurisprudence. In this paper, we lay out this dilemma and suggest that it should lead the Court to rethink its exactions jurisprudence, and especially its grounding in the Takings Clause, rather than the Due Process Clause. The sort of skepticism about bargaining reflected in the Court’s exactions cases, we suggest, finds its most plausible roots in rule-of-law concerns implicated by land use dealmaking. With those concerns in mind, we consider alternatives that would attempt to reconcile the Court’s twin interests in reining in governmental power over property owners and in keeping the gears of ordinary land use regulation running in ways that protect the property interests of those owners.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Lee Fennell (Chicago) critiques and enhances Brian Lee's Columbia Law review article entitled Just Undercompensation: The Idiosyncratic Premium in Eminent Domain, blogged about here earlier this summer. In her concise on-line response, Just Enough, 133 Colum. L. Rev. Sidebar 109 (2013) (pdf here), Fennell moves through the positive and normative aspects of the tripartite analysis of how Fair Market Value (FMV) purportedly fails to fully compensate property owners whose interests are liquidated through eminent domain proceedings. As she lays it out in her intro:
Like other scholars, I have previously observed that the FMV measure of compensation leaves an increment of value uncompensated:
The uncompensated increment is made up of three distinct components: (1) the increment by which the property owner’s subjective value exceeds fair market value; (2) the chance of reaping a surplus from trade (that is, of obtaining an amount larger than one’s own true subjective valuation); and (3) the autonomy of choosing for oneself when to sell.
Lee argues that appropriate amounts of both subjective value and the chance of gains from trade are included in FMV, leaving only interference with autonomy categorically uncompensated in a manner that would implicate fairness concerns. This Part focuses only on the positive question of what does and does not get included in FMV, leaving the normative questions to the next Part. Part I.A considers subjective value and Part I.B turns to the last two components of the “uncompensated increment.”
Even after demonstrating, contra Lee, that existing owners' subjective attachments are not necessarily baked in to market valuations, she helps out by showing that a prevalence of rooted homeowners together with zoning-induced supply contraints might support the kind of extended sellers' market that diminishes the difference between market prices and the reservation prices of most homeowners.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
John Echeverria (Vermont) has just this week posted Koontz: The Very Worst Takings Decision Ever?. In it, he takes on both of the U.S. Supreme Court's holdings in its most recent land use decision and spells out how they will inhibit development planning discussions at the local level. Here's the abstract:
This article argues that Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, the most widely discussed of the Supreme Court’s takings trilogy in the 2012-13 term, represents a major, unprincipled break from prior law and casts an unfortunate pall of confusion and uncertainty over takings doctrine, partly reversing the Court’s recent, successful effort to make takings doctrine more coherent and predictable. The Court ruled that the relatively heightened standard of judicial review established by the Supreme Court for so-called “development exactions” in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard applies both (1) when the government denies a development permit after the developer rejects a government demand for an exaction as a condition of project approval, and (2) when a permit condition requires a developer to pay or expend money to mitigate project impacts. In so ruling, the Court rejected the position that claims challenging such government orders should be evaluated under either the Court’s relatively forgiving regulatory takings analysis or deferential due process analysis. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent for herself and three other justices, arguing that the case did not involve an actual demand triggering Nollan and Dolan and that the standards established by those cases do not apply to permit conditions requiring the expenditure of money. This article contends that the Koontz decision is one of the worst decisions, if the not the worst decision, in the pantheon of Supreme Court takings cases. In doctrinal terms, the majority opinion flagrantly contradicts or ignores established precedent, fails to acknowledge its departure from prior law, and does not attempt to offer any new, coherent justifications for its novel holdings. As a practical matter, the decision creates a perverse, wasteful incentive for local officials to decline to work cooperatively with developers in designing projects that make business sense and protect the interests of the community. Finally, the decision injects new uncertainty into takings law, setting the stage for future debates over the legitimacy and appropriate scope of intrusive judicial review of local land use decision-making, including whether local governments retain the authority to reject development proposals based on unacceptable project impacts without triggering stringent judicial review.
August 31, 2013 in Community Economic Development, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Impact Fees, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
This month's ABA Real Property "Professors' Corner" teleconference will focus on Koontz, the end-of-Term exactions that is one of the most significant Supreme Court property-rights cases in recent years. (Jessie Owley has discussed it here, and Tim Mulvaney and others have weighed in around the net). This Professor's Corner session should be a good one with several leading scholars participating. Here's the announcement:
Professors’ Corner: Wednesday, July 10, 2013: Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District: A Significant Victory for Property Rights?
Professors’ Corner is a monthly free teleconference sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section's Legal Education and Uniform Laws Group. Each month’s call features a panel of law professors who discuss recent cases or issues of interest to real estate practitioners and scholars. Members of the AALS Property Section are invited to participate in the call (as well as to join and become involved in the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section).
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
12:30 p.m. Eastern time (11:30 a.m. Central, 9:30 a.m. Pacific). Call is ONE HOUR in length.
Call-in number: 866-646-6488
This program will feature a roundtable discussion breaking down the Supreme Court’s important June 25 decision in Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District. If “monetary exactions” have always seemed a little untamed to you, you’re not alone. The 5-4 decision in Koontz leaves a lot of room for analysis, and this month’s panel is prepared to guide you through it by parsing the decision and the dissent. Our distinguished panel will include Professor Jonathan H. Adler, who is the Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law; John D. Echeverria, Professor of Law at Vermont Law School; and David L. Callies, who is the Benjamin A. Kudo Professor of Law at the University of Hawai’i.
For those that haven’t already seen it, here’s a link to the opinion:
Please join us Wednesday for this great program!
July 9, 2013 in Caselaw, Conferences, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Federal Government, Property Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court, Sustainability, Takings, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, July 1, 2013
The past few weeks have been exciting ones for Supreme Court opinions. Busily finishing a book chapter, I did not have time to read Koontz carefully until Friday and of course by that time, I also had a stack of blog postings and news articles to peruse as well by then (Note to self: Post earlier next time so I don't have to read everyone else's posts first and try to avoid repeating them). As so much has already been said (and said better than I could), I am going to highlight the way the case could affect New York law (particularly conservation easements in NY). I get giddy anytime we here the Supreme Court mention conservation easements even when well they aren't really talking about conservation easements.
As we all know by now, there are two intriguing topics in Koontz.
(1) Timing. I like to think of this as when does a takings become a takings even if that is a bit inartfully said. On this point, I think both the majority and the dissent get it right. In thinking about the life of a permit and associated takings case, we generally see a landowner trying to get a permit to build on her property. In exchange for the permit, the permit-issuing agency requires something of the applicant. For example, let's say you want to build on your 10-acre property that is mostly wetlands. The local governement may allow you to build on 2 acres as long as you restrict building on the rest of the property with a conservation easement. Nollan tells us that the government's demand must have a significant nexus with the harm. For example, where the landowner converts wetlands, the exaction should be aboout protecting wetlands or the ecosystem services provided by wetlands. Dolan tells is that the government demand must be roughly proportional to the harm caused. If the property owner is converting 2-acres of wetland to dry land, you need to make sure the exaction compensates for those 2-acres -- requiring creation of a 100-acre wetland park would likely be considered disporportionate (unless you could show that those were some amazing super wetlands that were being destroyed). Okay, so far so good. This has been the established analysis for takings in the exaction context for some years now. This case now says, what if the governement tells the landowner that in return for developing 2-acres, she needs to protect 8 acres and the landowner thinks that is not proportional (i.e., violative of Dolan's rough proportionality rule).
Could our hypothetical landowner challenge this as a takings? Note, nothing has actually been taken at this point. She had not actually given over the 8 acres.
I actually think that Justice Alito gets it right (not sure I have ever written that phrase before) here when he says, yes. It simply doesn't make sense to go forward with the project and then seek compensation for the 8 acres. This is especially true in the context of exacted conservation easements because they are perpetual. What would we do afterward if a court held that the exaction was too much? It would be pretty hard to change the perpetual conservation easement at that point and compensation can be challenging to calculate. Although I agree with Alito on this principle though, I think Justice Kagan has a better read on the facts in Koontz. Here, it looked like the Water District (the permit agency) and the landowner were in negotiations over what type of exaction might be appropriate. Koontz made an offer. The Water District made a counteroffer, but said it was interested in further negotiations. Instead of more back and forth though, Koontz jumped straight to the lawsuit. I am not sure how to figure out at what point we would say that we have the final word from the agancy and its decision is ripe for review, but it doesn't seem like this should be it. The agency was still in discussions.
It also seems that Alito and Kagan both agree that Koontz doesn't get compensation here, as again nothing was actually taken. Does he get his permit issued though? That doesn't seem quite right to me either. It seems like we should go back to the agency to get another round of negotiations and a chance to impose a proper exaction.
(2) Definitional. Now, this is a question that has been intriguing me particularly since I moved to New York. What constistutes an exaction and therefore requires Nollan/Dolan analysis versus just run-o-the mill Penn Central style inquiry. I have had severeal conversations during my brief academic career on what constitutes an exaction (with Tim Mulvaney almost convincing me that requirements to paint your house a certain color should qualify). Logically, it makes sense that anything we are demanding of the landowner in exchange for a permit is an exaction. Thus, anything that is not the permit application fee or something already required by another law should qualify. Some courts and commentaters assert however that exactions are only interests in land. This has been an interesting issue in New York because of a case called Smith v. Town of Mendon from New York's highest court. In that case, the court confusingly held that a conservation restriction was not an exaction because it there was no public access but because it was bound by precedent the court acknowledged that you could have monetary exactions. In a short piece written between oral argument and the issuance of the opinion in Koontz (for the Environmental Law Section of the NY Bar Association), I discuss the meaning of exactions in New York and ponder the potential implications of Koontz on New York's rules. It seems hard to swallow New York's definition excluding conservation easements in light of this opinion, which seems to read exactions so broadly.
Overall, it is hard not to agree with commenters who believe this decision just makes things messier for courts and complicates land use planning. Tim Mulvaney has a great summary of course, with links to others chiming in.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Carol Zeiner (St. Thomas) has posted A Therapeutic Jurisprudence Analysis of the Use of Eminent Domain to Create a Leasehold, forthcoming in the Utah Law Review (2013). The abstract:
Therapeutic jurisprudence provides an excellent tool to analyze and guide the development of the law on the use of eminent domain to create leaseholds. The objective of these takings is for the condemnor to become a tenant under a “lease,” rather than the fee simple owner.
I am perhaps the only scholar who has written extensively on the topic of takings to create a leasehold. In a previous work, I provided an exhaustive analysis of the conclusion that government can use eminent domain to create a leasehold. That work went on to conclude that there are circumstances in which government should use eminent domain to create a leasehold, but that difficult problems can arise in such takings. They necessitate refinements in arriving at just compensation.
That work also concluded that there is at least one situation in which government should not be allowed to use eminent domain to create a leasehold. I labeled such takings Kelo-type takings, wherein the government uses its power of eminent domain with the objective of creating a leasehold that it will then transfer to a private party for private use. My argument that the use of such Kelo-type takings to create leaseholds should not be allowed was based primarily on public policy considerations. I concluded that the problems arising from takings that create private leaseholds are much worse than those encountered in situations such as Kelo, in which government acquires a fee simple from the condemnee and then makes a transfer to a private party, because the form disrupts the social contract between government and the people.
Any such conclusion demands reexamination on theoretical grounds, which is done in this Article. In order to re-examine the question, it formally extends the jurisprudential philosophy of therapeutic justice to eminent domain in general and specifically to takings to create leaseholds. The principles underlying therapeutic jurisprudence, as well as the illuminating insights derived from its application, confirm the prior conclusion.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Here's another recently-posted paper from Stephanie Stern (Chicago-Kent): Protecting Property Through Politics: State Legislative Checks and Judicial Takings, forthcoming in the Minnesota Law Review. The abstract:
In the 2010 Supreme Court case Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a plurality of the Court launched judicial takings in political and scholarly debate and laid the groundwork for expanding the Fifth Amendment to encompass court decisions. This Article explores a neglected institution in the debate over judicial takings — state legislatures. In the comparatively rare instances when state courts overreach, state legislatures can revise state court decisions and restore private property rights. Through case studies of state legislative checks of judicial activism, I examine the comparative institutional advantages, and the potential gaps, of situating primary responsibility for state court revision in state legislatures. In view of takings federalism and the costs of judicial takings, I contend that the existing balance of state legislative checks and state court restraint works well enough to police against state court property activism.
May 18, 2013 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Judicial Review, Politics, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Dave Owen (Maine) has posted Taking Groundwater. The abstract:
In February, 2012, in a case called Edwards Aquifer Authority v. Day, the Texas Supreme Court held that landowners hold property rights to the groundwater beneath their land, and that a regulatory restriction on groundwater use could constitute a taking of private property. The decision provoked strong reactions, both positive and negative, throughout the world of water law, for it signaled the possibility of severe restrictions on governmental ability to regulate groundwater use.
This Article considers the deeper issue that confronted the Texas Supreme Court, and that has confronted other courts across the country: how should the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and parallel clauses of state constitutions, apply to groundwater use regulation? Initially, this Article explains why this issue is exceedingly and increasingly important. It then reviews all of the groundwater/takings decisions from federal and state courts in the United States. Finally, the Article considers the implications of foundational property theories for the application of takings doctrine to groundwater use.
The analysis supports two key conclusions. First, it undermines arguments against treating water rights as “constitutional property” — that is, property protected by federal and state takings clauses. Proponents of those arguments generally assert that treating water rights as property has uneven support from prior caselaw and that such treatment will be prevent sensible governance. A review of groundwater caselaw demonstrates that the former assertion runs counter to the weight of authority, and that the fears underlying the latter argument are overstated. Second, and more importantly, the analysis undermines arguments for granting groundwater use rights heightened protection against regulatory takings. Recently, litigants and commentators skeptical of government regulatory authority have widely advanced those arguments. But they find no support in past groundwater/takings caselaw, and no property theory justifies adopting such an approach.
An important issue, and a reminder that state supreme courts continue to play a crucial role in shaping modern property law.
March 7, 2013 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Sustainability, Takings, Texas, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, February 22, 2013
Steven J. Eagle (George Mason) has posted "Economic Impact" in Regualtory Takings Law, forthcoming in the West-Northwest Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. The abstract:
In Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York the Supreme Court stated that the existence of a regulatory taking would be determined through “essentially ad hoc, factual inquiries,” and that one of three factors of “particular significance” was the economic impact of the regulation on the claimant. This article examines the conceptual problem whereby the Fifth Amendment requires compensation for the taking of property and not a fraction of its owner’s worth. The fact that economic impact of stringent regulations is greater when parcels are smaller has led to a complex “parcel as a whole” test that conflates impact with another Penn Central test, owner’s expectations. Furthermore, application of the impact test to parcels held as investment property might vitiate the temporary taking. The Federal Circuit’s recent abandonment of its prior “return on equity” approach is emblematic of this problem.
Measuring the economic impact upon owners also is complex where government condemns part of an owner’s parcel, leading to difficulties in computing severance damages. Broad assertions that “offsetting benefits” conferred upon property owners by government actions reduce the impact of regulations also requires clarification.
The article concludes that unresolved issues and complexities in adjudicating the “economic impact of the regulation on the claimant” test provide an additional reason why the conceptually incoherent Penn Central doctrine must be replaced.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
This month's installment of the ABA Section on Real Property's "Professor's Corner"--a free monthly teleconference featuring scholars' takes on important new property cases and issues--will feature a really hot topic, the proposal for municipal governments to take property by eminent domain to combat the mortgage/foreclosure crisis. The info, via David Reiss (who also recently posted a related public comment):
The program is Wednesday, October 10, at 12:30 pm EDT; 11:30 am CDT; 10:30 am MDT; 9:30 am PDT.
Participant Passcode: 5577419753
This month’s topic is Can/Should Municipalities Use Eminent Domain to Take Mortgages to Facilitate Mortgage Modifications? This conference call will be moderated by Professor James Geoffrey Durham, University of Dayton School of Law. Professor Steven J. Eagle, Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law, is one of the nation’s leading scholars on eminent domain and regulatory takings. Professor Eagle will discuss whether it is possible for local governments to use eminent domain to acquire notes secured by mortgages in order to resell them to a private party which will then modify them, both under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and also under state constitution taking clauses as they have been limited by amendments and statutes seeking to define what is a public use. Professor Robert C. Hockett, Professor of Law, Cornell Law School, is the scholar who in June proposed that municipalities could use eminent domain to acquire mortgages, in order to facilitate mortgage modifications to benefit underwater homeowners, in his article: It Takes a Village: Municipal Condemnation Proceedings and Public/Private Partnerships for Mortgage Loan Modification, Value Preservation, and Local Economic Recovery (download paper). Professor Hockett will discuss his proposal, which has received widespread attention. Professor Dale A. Whitman, James E. Campbell Missouri Endowed Professor Emeritus of Law, University of Missouri, Columbia, School of Law, is one of the premier experts on American property law and one of the nation’s foremost mortgage law scholars. Professor Whitman will discuss the impact that implementation of Professor Hockett’s proposal might have on the mortgage markets.
Check out the free telecast on this very interesting and current issue.
October 9, 2012 in Conferences, Eminent Domain, Financial Crisis, Housing, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, October 4, 2012
David J. Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted Comment on the Use of Eminent Domain to Restructure Performing Loans, which was submitted to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (No. 2012–N–11) (2012). The abstract:
There has been a lot of fear-mongering by financial industry trade groups over the widespread use of eminent domain to restructure residential mortgages. While there may be legitimate business reasons to oppose its use, its inconsistency with Takings jurisprudence should not be one of them. To date, the federal government’s responses to the current crisis in the housing markets have been at cross purposes, half-hearted and self-defeating. So it is not surprising that local governments are attempting to fashion solutions to the problem with the tools at their disposal. Courts should, and likely will, give these democratically-implemented and constitutionally-sound solutions a wide berth as the ship of state tries to right itself after being swamped by a tidal wave of mortgage defaults.
A concise and thoughtful public comment on what is emerging as a hot, hot issue.
October 4, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Finance, Housing, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Property Rights, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, September 24, 2012
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.
Friday, September 21, 2012
John Martinez (Utah) has posted From Pyramids to Stories: Cognitive Reconstruction of Local Government Authority. The abstract:
This article describes a cognitive science approach to law, uses it to critically evaluate conventional "pyramid" legal analysis of local government authority, and suggests stories as alternative models for defining such authority. The article suggests that stories better reveal what is at stake in regard to local government authority and thus helps us to arrive at better solutions. The article illustrates the storytelling analytical approach in three situations: a local government's condemnation of private property for resale to a private developer, the delegation of land use control authority to neighborhood groups, and local government attempts to zone out nontraditional families.
The paper offers an alternative approach to classic local government questions about land use. Interesting ideas to ponder while some of us are here at the Local Government Law Workshop in Milwaukee.
Friday, August 24, 2012
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.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
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.
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
Lior Strahilevitz (Chicago) has posted Absolute Preferences and Relative Preferences in Property Law, 160 University of Pennsylvania Law Review (2012). The abstract:
This article suggests that the population is roughly divided between individuals primarily oriented toward absolute gains and losses, and those oriented toward relative gains and losses. That is, some people consistently care more about the absolute size of the pie slice they are eating, and others care more about how their percentage of the pie stacks up against their peers’ portions. This article examines how property law deals with that heterogeneity in relative and absolute preferences. It focuses initially on inheritance law, particularly cases in which a decedent with living children has adopted her grandchild or someone else within the bloodstream, engendering results that might be acceptable to an heir with absolute preferences but unacceptable to an heir with relative preferences. The article then shows how similar controversies play out in takings law and the law of easements. In many of these cases vehement disagreements between majority opinions and dissents can be understood as clashes between jurists who are focused on absolute resources and those who are focused on relative resources. The article then hypothesizes that some relatively low-stakes disputes explode into contentious lawsuits precisely because a landowner oriented towards absolute gains and losses is incapable of understanding a conflict from the perspective of his neighbor, for whom relative preferences are decisive. The article concludes by referencing examples from takings law and the law of waste, in which divergent assumptions about the prevalence of relative and absolute preferences render property doctrines ambiguous, tenuous, or incoherent.
In addition to being an important piece on property theory generally, Prof. Strahilevitz specifically examines the land use topics of takings and easements. I think this analysis could also be extended to the debate over housing and urban form. A must-read.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Ramon P. DeGennaro (Tennessee--Finance) and Tianning Li (Hood College) have posted Business Formation in the Wake of States' Responses to Kelo. The abstract:
On June 23, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London, 505 U.S. 469 (2005) that the Public Use Clause allows governments to take private property for transfer to new private owners for the purpose of promoting “economic development.” Our theoretical model identifies the circumstances under which Kelo and subsequent state laws affect business formation. We show that business creation can be encouraged, unaffected, or discouraged as the probability of takings increases, depending on the level of compensation for the takings and the magnitude of the owners’ public use benefits. We also show that utility-maximizing entrepreneurs’ choices of investment depend on the probability of takings and the level of government compensation for the taking. Our empirical results yield three insights. First, states and municipalities can pass laws protecting property rights without fear of retarding business formation. Second, we identify explanations why Kelo and these laws do not measurably affect business formation in our empirical work. Specifically, we believe that either government entities correctly compensate entrepreneurs for the disruption in their businesses through eminent domain legislation, or that the change in the probability of such takings is very small, so that any effect on business formation is too small to measure. Third, takings open the possibility for political corruption and distortions in the economy by encouraging overpayment or underpayment for takings. Under this interpretation, local laws against takings are not pro-business laws or anti-business laws. Rather, they are anti-corruption laws.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
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.