Monday, February 20, 2012

NYC Rent Control Laws at Supreme Court?

The case of Harmon v. Markus, currently before the Supreme Court on a petition for cert, is starting to draw some attention.  Among others, George Will devoted his latest column to urging the Court to hear the case in Supreme Court should take on New York City's Rent Control Laws:

James and Jeanne Harmon reside in and supposedly own a five-story brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a building that has been in their family since 1949. But they have, so to speak, houseguests who have overstayed their welcome by, in cumulative years, more than a century. They are the tenants — the same tenants — who have been living in the three of the Harmons’ six apartments that are rent controlled.

The Harmons want the Supreme Court to rule that their home has been effectively, and unconstitutionally, taken from them by notably foolish laws that advance no legitimate state interest. The court should.

This “taking” has been accomplished by rent-control laws that cover almost 1 million — approximately half — of the city’s rental apartments. Such laws have existed, with several intervals of sanity, since the “emergency” declared because returning soldiers faced housing shortages caused by a building slowdown during World War I.

This is a tough issue on the equities; rent-control laws (most prominently in New York) are of incredible help to some people and have a very negative effect on others, not only developers, but also (perhaps most especially) would-be entrants-- which is why the politics on this issue are more difficult to track.  Rent control favoring current (and often, inherited) tenants is getting increasingly hard to justify on policy grounds, but as a matter of property law, is it unconstitutional?  Harder to prove on legal doctrine.

Richard Epstein has a podcast on the case for the Federalist Society.  I've been looking for commentaries on the other side but haven't found quite as much; let me know.

Matt Festa

February 20, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Landlord-Tenant, Local Government, New York, Politics, Property Rights, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Federal Eminent Domain Reform?

Ilya Somin (George Mason) has a post on the Volokh Conspiracy called Another Chance at Federal Eminent Domain Reform:

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision, which allowed the condemnation of private property for economic development, some 44 states have passed eminent domain reform laws. Although many of those laws are likely to be ineffective, overall a good deal of progress has been made at the state level in curbing abusive condemnations, including by state courts enforcing the property rights provisions of their state constitutions.

Unfortunately, very little has been achieved at the federal level during that time. On the third anniversary of Kelo in 2008, I summed up federal reform efforts as follows:

[Insert sound of crickets chirping, grass growing, and paint drying].

Somin cites an op-ed by Christina Walsh of the Institute of Justice:

A bipartisan bill, H.R. 1433, making its way through the House would strip a city of federal economic development funding for two years if the city takes private property to give to someone else for their private use. Cities that want to keep their funding will have to be more circumspect in using eminent domain.

This bill undoubtedly will pass the House as it did in 2005, and likely will get stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, where it has gone to die in years past.

It'll be interesting to see if this goes anywhere, but I suspect there's probably too much political noise this year.

Matt Festa

February 20, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Federal Government, Politics, Property Rights, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Value of Habitat

If the government condemns land that is a habitat for an endangered or threatened species, should the land be valued differently than a developable piece of property in an active real estate market?

  According to the Supreme Court, the default rule is that “just compensation” for condemned is the “fair market value” of the property. United States v. 50 Acres of Land, 469 U.S. 24, 25 (1984).  With regard to habitat land, however, “fair market value” may be very difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain as habitat land, by definition, has been essentially taken off the market.  Despite this diffuculty, there are valuation techniques available that can be used to value habitat land based on market principles.  For example, as suggested by the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, one could (1) determine the theoretical best economic use of the habitat land; and (2) then determine how much land used for that purpose would go on the open market.

But it is hard to see how compensation based on a hypothetical use of the land truly constitutes “just compensation.’’  The purpose of using land for habitat conservation is not to make money, but to protect endangered or threatened species.  If this purpose is taken into account, then it could be argued that the only “just compensation” is to replace the habitat.  Under this replacement theory, if the government takes habitat land, the government would have to provide enough money to purchase replacement habitat property.  This is similar to the statutory remedy provided by CERCLA or Superfund, which allows the government to recover natural resource damages including the cost of replacement.  42 U.S.C. § 9607(f)(1) (2006).

 One can certainly imagine scenarios where replacement costs of habitat land could get very expensive.  For example, the government condemns habitat land located in a desolate area Mohave Desert, market value $100,000, and the only available replacement habitat land is a commercially developable parcel land located adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip that is worth $5,000,000.  Would paying for the replacement land in this instance be “just compensation” or merely a windfall for the property owner?  And what if there is no other adequate replacement habitat land?  Would the government be prohibited from taking the property at all?

In the end, how to best value condemned habitat land will vary dependingon the facts of the situation.  One would hope, however, that the government and the courts do not overlook the unique qualities of habitat land when deciding what comprises “just compensation.”

Susan Kraham

February 20, 2012 in Conservation Easements, Eminent Domain, Land Trust, Property, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Michelman on the Property Clause Question

Frank Michelman (Harvard) has posted "The Property Clause Question."  In this essay, the preeminent property theorist of our time offers an engaging look at the constitutional protection of private property rights that a society seeking to establish a liberal social democracy should consider.  Here's the abstract:

A “property clause” is a dedicated text in the written basic law of a constitutional-democratic state, addressing the question of the security of asset-holdings (and of their values to their owners) against impairment by action or allowance of the state. The clause provides a defensive guarantee against such impairments, in the form of a trumping right of every person to be protected – perhaps not absolutely and unconditionally, but not negligibly, either – against state-engineered losses in lawfully established asset-holdings or asset-values.

How should someone writing a constitution for an expectantly “social liberal” state regime think about the question of a property clause? Without suggesting that there can be any one-size-fits-all sort of answer to the question of including such a clause or not, this paper confines itself to doubting sharply one sort of a reason our constitution-writers might consider for including one – namely, that a liberal constitutional bill of rights ought to contain clauses covering all classes of interests of persons that qualify in liberalism as basic rights and freedoms and the interest distinctively protected by a property clause does so qualify – and suggesting some pros and cons regarding a quite different sort of reason for inclusion that the writers will also undoubtedly ponder – namely, that the clause will serve to keep lawmakers and constitutional adjudicators properly attuned to a national foundational commitment to a system of political economy in which markets play a key role.

This essay, prepared as an after-dinner talk for the Conference on Constitutional Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions held at the New School for Social Research, May 5-7, 2011, is a companion to my “Liberal Constitutionalism, Property Rights, and the Assault on Poverty,” Stellenbosch Law Review (2012) (forthcoming), which treats more expansively some points made summarily here. A version of this essay will appear in Constellations 12 (2012).

Jim K.

February 1, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Wolf on the Supreme Court and the Environment

51hoJRabZCL._SL500_AA300_Michael Allan Wolf (Florida) has a new book out called The Supreme Court and the Environment: The Reluctant Protector (CQ Press, 2012).  Here's the Amazon blurb:

Silent Spring (1962) can arguable be cited as one of the most influential books of the modern era. This book, along with 1960's rampant activism reacting to high-profile ecological calamities, helped create the modern environmental movement. The Supreme Court and the Environment, written by Michael Wolf, discusses one of this movement's most important legacies, namely the body of federal statutory law amassed to fight pollution and conserve natural resources that began with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Instead of taking the more traditional route of listing court decisions, The Supreme Court and the Environment puts the actual cases in a subsidiary position, as part of a larger set of documents paired with incisive introductions that illustrate the fascinating and sometimes surprising give-and-take with Congress, federal administrative agencies, state and local governments, environmental organizations and private companies and industry trade groups that have helped define modern environmental policy.

And for a preview, Prof. Wolf has posted the introduction on SSRN.  The abstract:

This document contains the Introduction and Contents for The Supreme Court and the Environment: The Reluctant Protector (CQ Press/Sage 2012). When one views the body of modern environmental law — the decisions and the other key documents — the picture that emerges is not one of Supreme Court dominance. In this legal drama, the justices have most often played supporting roles. While we can find the occasional, memorable soliloquy in a Supreme Court majority, concurring, or dissenting opinion, the leading men and women are more likely found in Congress, administrative agencies, state and local legislatures, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and state and lower federal courts.

What one learns from studying the Supreme Court’s environmental law output is that the justices for the most part seem more concerned about more general issues of deference to administrative agencies, the rules of statutory interpretation, the role of legislative history, the requisites for standing, and the nature of the Takings Clause than the narrow issues of entitlement to a clean environment, the notion of an environmental ethic that underlies written statutes and regulations, and concerns about ecological diversity and other environmental values. When we widen the lens, however, and focus on the other documents that make up essential parts of the story of the Supreme Court and the environment — complaints by litigants, briefs by parties and by friends of the court, oral argument transcripts, the occasional stirring dissent, lower court decisions, presidential signing statements and press conference transcripts, media reports and editorials, and legislative responses to high court decisions — we discover what is often missing in the body of Supreme Court decisions.

 Looks fascinating, and is a very original take that situates the cases themselves within a broader context of Supreme Court jurisprudence and goes beyond to the larger networks of actors that shape law.

Matt Festa

December 30, 2011 in Books, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, History, Judicial Review, Politics, Property Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court, Takings, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Upcoming Oral Argument in PPL Montana, Inc. v. Montana

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear one of the only cases that touches on property rights scheduled for this Term, PPL Montana, Inc., v. Montana.  Professor Thomas Merrill has posted an excellent preview of the case on SCOTUS blog:

On December 7, the Court will hear argument in PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana. The case is one for history buffs. The question is whether the state of Montana holds title to portions of three riverbeds in the state. The parties agree that the relevant legal test is historical: were the river segments in question part of a waterway that was “navigable in fact” when Montana became a state in 1889? Prominent among the many bits of historical evidence cited are the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who explored the rivers in 1805 on their famous expedition.

That's enough to get me excited (seriously).  Go read the rest of Prof. Merrill's informative analysis.  (h/t to our friends at Property Prof Blog for the link).

And don't forget that we had our own pre-preview here at the Land Use Prof Blog, back on the day after the Court granted cert. From guest-blogger Tim Mulvaney's take on SCOTUS cert grant for PPL Montana v. Montana:

In finding that all three rivers at issue met this “navigability for title” test when Montana entered statehood in 1889, the Montana Supreme Court cited to a litany of historical evidence, including the centuries-old journals of Lewis and Clark.  As today’s brief AP story notes, PPL Montana disagreed, pointing “to accounts of the [Lewis and Clark] expedition’s arduous portages of canoes and supplies around waterfalls to argue that the contested stretches of water were not navigable.”  The Montana Supreme Court’s opinion also drew PPL Montana’s ire by considering what the company alleges are flawed contemporary studies, as well as recent recreational uses of certain stretches of the rivers, to support the finding that the rivers are held in total by the state in trust for present and future generations.

One of the foremost experts in natural resources and water law, Professor Rick Frank, notes on Legal Planet that the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed navigability in the context of state public trust claims for several decades.  How the Supreme Court interprets its time-honored test and identifies what evidence is relevant in its application could have major ramifications for thousands of miles of inland lakes and waterways nationwide.

Should be very interesting.  Stay tuned.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Federal Government, History, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings, Transportation, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Somin on Eminent Domain and Mississippi Measure 31

Ilya Somin (George Mason) has an op-ed in Daily Caller about the passage of Mississippi Measure 31, a post-Kelo eminent domain reform measure: Referendum Initiatives Prevent Eminent Domain Abuse.  The intro:

The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London generated a record political backlash. Kelo upheld the condemnation of private property for transfer to other private owners in order to promote “economic development.” The case inspired widespread outrage. Polls show that over 80% of the public opposes economic development takings. As a result, 44 states have enacted eminent domain reform laws that restrict the condemnation of property for the benefit of private interests.

The most recent state to react to Kelo is Mississippi. On Tuesday, Mississippi voters adopted Measure 31 by a decisive 73% to 27% margin. The new law will make taking property for economic development unprofitable by forbidding most transfers of condemned land to a private party for 10 years after condemnation. The measure is a major victory for both property owners and the state’s economy.

Somin has also blogged on the measure at the Volokh Conspiracy here and here.  And from the former post, here's a nugget that's relevant to the discussion Ken and I have been having on direct democracy in land use:

As I explain in this article, referendum initiatives like Measure 31 tend to be stronger than reforms adopted by state legislatures because many of them are drafted by activists rather than by politicians. Measure 31 was submitted drafted by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation (small farmers are often victims of eminent domain in the state). The vast majority of post–Kelo referenda adopted by voters impose tough restrictions on takings.

More on that to come soon!

Matt Festa

November 10, 2011 in Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ballot Box Zoning -- A Response to Festa

OK, I'll bite.  Matt has laid down the gauntlet with his criticism of the initiative process.  This subject is of great importance to land use profs because, at least in many sunbelt states, a good deal of land use policy is made through direct democracy -- so-called "ballot box zoning."  In this post, I want to respond to some of Matt's criticisms and offer a very tentative defense of ballot box zoning.  For those who are interested, I have defended ballot box zoning at greater length (although I ultimately call for its abolition anyway) in this paper.

I must first concede to Matt that the initiative process has serious deficiencies.  He mentions transparency and voter ignorance.  The social science literature confirms that these are major problems.  I would also add a few more: the initiative process is often captured by special interest groups, as money and organizational resources are often decisive in initiative contests; the initiative tends to favor the affluent and well educated, which is not surprising since the affluent and well educated are more likely to vote on initiatives; voters are easily confused by deceptive wording on initiatives, and initiative advocates often deliberately use deceptive terms to confuse voters; the initiative process reduces complex issues to a simplistic yes/no dichotomy in which hyperbolic sound bytes replace rational discourse.  I suppose I could go on, but you get the point.

So what virtues could the initiative process possibly have?  I want to focus specifically on the land use initiative, although some of my comments may be generalizable.  Although it is often asserted that local politics are controlled by homeowners who seek to limit or manage growth, that is generally true only in smaller municipalities.  Sunbelt states like Texas and California, however, have a disproportionate number of medium to large-size municipalities, dubbed "boomburbs" by sociologists Robert Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy.  The larger size of these municipalities gives homeowners less political power.  At the same time, sunbelt boomburbs have often pursued headlong development as a means of economic growth and to overcome fiscal constraints imposed by constitutional or political limitations on raising tax revenue.  Lang and LeFurgy accordingly assert that these municipalities tend to be in thrall to the "growth machine," a matrix of developers and related cohorts who facilitate urban growth.  As I further argue in my paper, the fact that many of these boomburbs use at-large voting structures rather than ward voting systems further enhances the power of developers and dilutes the ability of neighborhood groups to fight development.

Obviously, this system is less than ideal for homeowners.  And let's face it: while we might hate those NIMBYs, they have some pretty good reasons for opposing new growth.  For years it has been national policy to induce Americans to purchase property through a combination of incentives, including low-interest mortgages and municipal zoning ordinances that provide some assurances to homeowners that their property values, and hence their ability to pay off their mortgages, will be protected against unpredictable declines.  New growth and the externalities that accompany it are very likely to diminish property values, and hence prejudice the ability of homeowners to finance what is likely to be by far their most significant asset.  Existing homeowners are in effect subsidizing new growth through diminished property values, and although city officials claim that everyone benefits from new growth, it is often a concentrated group of homeowners alone who must bear a disproportionate degree of the cost.  As I questioned in a previous post, it can even be argued that homeowners have a regulatory takings claim -- but courts have never recognized such a cause of action.

As envisioned by its Progressive-era architects, the initiative is supposed to correct the defects in the ordinary legislative process, particularly the dominance of special interests.  And that is exactly what ballot-box zoning appears to do in the sunbelt states -- the very states where boomburbs, at-large voting and the growth machine dominate the political landscape are also the states where ballot-box zoning is most robust.  Ballot box zoning has proven to be a powerful weapon with which homeowners can fight back against the growth machine, because prevailing on a local initiative requires only a one-time infusion of cash and a constituency that is easily organized and highly motivated -- ie, a group of neighboring homeowners who are all extremely ticked off about land use changes around their neighborhood.  This can counteract the repeat player and other advantages that the developer has in the legislative process.  Granted, the initiative process itself invites special interest abuses and all sorts of other problems, but it seems no less messy or dysfunctional than the system of government it is designed to counterbalance. 

Ken Stahl

November 9, 2011 in California, Density, Development, Exurbs, Local Government, Mortgages, NIMBY, Politics, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Takings, Texas, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bell on Property in the Third Amendment and the Constitution

Back when I was in law school a few of us would joke around about writing a paper on the Third Amendment, since it hardly ever comes up. But now Tom W. Bell (Chapman) has made it relevant, with 'Property' in the Constitution: The View from the Third Amendment, forthcoming in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, vol. 20 (2012). The abstract:

During World War II, after Japan attacked the Aleutian Islands off Alaska’s coast, the United States forcibly evacuated the islands’ natives and quartered soldiers in private homes. That hitherto unremarked violation of the Third Amendment gives us a fresh perspective on what “Property” means in the U.S. Constitution. As a general legal matter, property includes not just real estate - land, fixtures attached thereto, and related rights - but also various kinds of personal property, ranging from tangibles such as books to intangibles such as causes of action. That knowledge would, if we interpreted the Constitution as we do other legal documents, tell us just about everything we need to know about the scope of constitutional property. Case law and commentary do not speak as plainly, however, raising troubling questions about what “Property” means each of the four times it appears in the Constitution. In particular, some authority suggests that the Takings Clause protects personal property less completely than it does real property. The unjust treatment of Aleutian natives during World War II shows the risk of giving constitutional property so peculiar and narrow a definition. This paper describes the troubling inconsistencies that afflict the law of constitutional property and invokes the Third Amendment, that oft-forgotten relic of the American Revolution, to argue for giving “Property” a plain, generous, and consistent meaning throughout Constitution.

Matt Festa

November 1, 2011 in Constitutional Law, History, Property, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Takings Jurisprudence, NIMBYS, and Scalia's Hypothetical Highway

After slogging through the Mahon and Penn Central cases (booorrring), it's always a relief to start talking about Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council.  The reason is simple: Justice Scalia knows how to keep us entertained.  In particular, Scalia loves to get sassy in his footnotes.  I'm sure readers have their favorites, but one of mine is footnote 8 of the Lucas opinion, which in addition to being enjoyable, is also very illuminating.  I spend about 20 minutes of class time discussing this footnote and its implications for both takings law specifically and land use law more generally, including the intractable NIMBY problem. 

The basic holding of Lucas is that a state regulation that deprives property of all economic value (i.e., a "total wipeout") is a per se taking, subject to a few caveats and exceptions that I'm not going to get into here.  Footnote 8 takes on Justice Stevens's argument, in dissent, that the "total wipeout" rule is arbitrary because the landowner who suffers a 95% wipeout gets no compensation while the landowner who suffers a 100% wipeout gets 100% compensation.  Scalia's response: that result "is no more strange than the landowner whose premises are taken for a highway (who recovers in full) and the landowner whose property is reduced to 5% of its former value  by the highway (who recovers nothing).  Takings law is full of these 'all-or-nothing' situations."  To illustrate this hypothetical, I draw the following picture on the board:

Thumbnail

 I then ask my students the question left unanswered by this hypo: why does Owner "A," whose land is taken for the highway, get full compensation, whereas Owner "B", whose land is substantially devalued by the siting of a highway adjacent to his home, get nothing? 

Continue reading

October 28, 2011 in NIMBY, Property Theory, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Epstein on Judicial Takings in a Federalist System

Richard Epstein (NYU) has written Littoral Rights under the Takings Doctrine: the Clash between the Ius Naturale and Stop the Beach Renourishment, 6 Duke J. Const. L & Pub. Policy 37 (2011). He begins with the point that, due to the self-contradictory nature of judicial takings in a unitary court system, "the doctrine of judicial takings can, in practice, only arise in a federalist system." He goes on to argue for an appropriate deployment of centralized, federal oversight of state courts in defense of age-old, decentralized ius naturale. He sees Stop the Beach as a missed opportunity to invalidate years of Florida precedent as well as the Preservation Act that occasioned the controversy. He concludes that application of the judicial takings doctrine "should be limited to those circumstances in which the decided cases make a radical break from well-established common law patterns that systematically work for the advantage of the state or some identifiable private faction."

This article was published as part of a symposium on judicial takings that also included papers by Ilya Somin and Nestor Davidson.

Jim K.

October 17, 2011 in Caselaw, Environmental Law, Inverse Condemnation, Judicial Review, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Somin on Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur

Ilya Somin (George Mason) has posted Let there be Blight: Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur, part of a February 2011 symposium “Taking New York: The Opportunities, Challenges, and Dangers posed by the Use of Eminent Domain in New York”, and published at 38 Fordham Urban Law Journal 1193 (2011). The abstract:

The New York Court of Appeals’ two recent blight condemnation decisions are the most widely publicized and controversial property rights rulings since the Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London. In Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corp., and Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corp., the Court of Appeals set new lows in allowing extremely dubious “blight” condemnations. This Article argues that the New York Court of Appeals erred badly, by allowing highly abusive blight condemnations and defining pretextual takings so narrowly as to essentially read the concept out of existence.

Part I briefly describes the background of the two cases. Goldstein arose as a result of an effort by influential developer Bruce Ratner to acquire land in Brooklyn for his Atlantic Yards development project, which includes a stadium for the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise and mostly market rate and high-income housing. Kaur resulted from Columbia University’s attempts to expand into the Manhattanville neighborhood of West Harlem. When some of the landowners refused to sell, Ratner and the University successfully lobbied the government to declare the land they sought to be blighted and use eminent domain to transfer it to them.

Part II addresses the issue of blight condemnation. Goldstein and Kaur both applied an extraordinarily broad definition of “blight” that included any area where there is “economic underdevelopment” or “stagnation.” In addition, the court opened the door for future abuses in three other, more novel, respects. First, it chose to uphold the condemnations despite evidence suggesting that the studies the government relied on to prove the presence of “blight” were deliberately rigged to produce a predetermined result. Second, it dismissed as unimportant the fact that the firm which conducted the blight studies had previously been on the payroll of the private parties that stood to benefit from the blight condemnations. Finally, the court refused to give any weight to extensive evidence indicating that Ratner and Columbia had themselves created or allowed to develop most of the “blight” used to justify the condemnations. The court’s approach opens the door to future abusive condemnations and violates the text and original meaning of the New York State Constitution.

Part III discusses Goldstein and Kaur’s treatment of the federal constitutional standard for “pretextual” takings. In Kelo and earlier decisions, federal courts made clear that “pretextual” takings remain unconstitutional despite the Supreme Court’s otherwise highly deferential posture on “public use.” Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has been extremely unclear as to what constitutes a pretextual taking. As a result, courts have taken widely differing approaches to the issue. Nevertheless, Kaur and Goldstein are outliers in this area, deferring to the government more than almost any other court that has addressed the question since Kelo. They virtually read the concept of pretext out of existence.

Looks like another insightful piece on this still-controversial subject.

Matt Festa

October 3, 2011 in Caselaw, Conferences, Constitutional Law, Development, Eminent Domain, New York, Property Rights, Redevelopment, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Brooke Shields as Susette Kelo

Coming to the small screen. From the Hartford Courant: Brooke Shields To Star In Movie Based On New London Eminent Domain Case; Author Jeff Benedict Announces Deal On His Blog

"Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage," a book written in 2009 by Jeff Benedict about the Fort Trumbull eminent domain decision in New London, is being made into a Lifetime TV movie starring Brooke Shields as the decision's most prominent opponent, Susette Kelo, according to an announcement made Friday on the author's blog, http://www.jeffbenedict.com.

Rick Woolf, Benedict's editor at Grand Central Publishing, confirmed the report. "We're thrilled that this is going to be a movie on Lifetime," Woolf said. "Susette is a folk hero and Jeff has done a tremendous job telling the story."

Wonder if they'll get John Cougar Mellencamp's permission to use "Pink Houses" for the soundtrack. Thanks to Jason Kercheval for the pointer.

Matt Festa

September 16, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Humorous, Property Rights, Redevelopment, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New Eminent Domain Rules take effect in Texas

Since Justice Stevens told the states in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) that they were free to provide additional eminent domain restrictions through state law, policy groups and lawmakers in Texas have been trying to take him up. There were a few small measures to come through the past three (biennial) legislative sessions, but nothing too meaty. Governor Rick Perry even vetoed an eminent domain reform bill in 2007. But this spring after an "emergency" session, Gov. Perry signed Senate Bill 18--"An act relating to the use of eminent domain authority." And today, eminent domain reform became law in Texas.

September 1, 2001 is the day that dozens of laws passed in the spring 2011 legislative session take effect. The eminent domain reform--which is now codified in the Property Code, the Local Government Code, and various other statutes--basically makes it harder for entities to exercise eminent domain, and gives landowners more procedural protections:

  • It requires that eminent domain can only be exercised for "public use," and replaces all statutory references (apparently there were many!) to "public purpose." "Public use" is still undefined, so while the legislature's intent is to restrict economic development and other types of takings, this one will probably end up in the courts.
  • It adds public hearing and notice requirements and voting mandates to any use of eminent domain authority; it also adds certain requirements for bona fide written offers to purchase.
  • It requires all public or private entities who think they have eminent domain power to submit a letter to the state comptroller for review by the legislature.
  • It gives landowners additional statutory rights to repurchase property not actually used for the "public use."

We'll have to see if this law has substantive effects on the use of eminent domain, but at minimum it seems to provide some procedural protections. Yesterday at my daughter's soccer practice--i.e., the last day before the new law took effect--one of the other parents told me that his firm filed hundreds of lawsuits that day, related to ongoing projects. So at least there will be a lot of work for the lawyers!

Matt Festa

September 1, 2011 in Eminent Domain, Local Government, Oil & Gas, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Craig on Defining Riparian Rights as 'Property' through Takings Litigation

Robin Kundis Craig (Florida State) has posted Defining Riparian Rights as 'Property' Through Takings Litigation: Is There a Property Right to Environmental Quality?, forthcoming in Environmental Law. The abstract:

The U.S. Constitution’s prohibitions on governments taking private property without compensation have always operated most clearly in the context of real property. In contrast, arguments that these takings restrictions should apply to water and water rights throw courts for a loop. A fundamental problem for takings decisions in the water rights context is the fact that both the status of water rights as property and the defining elements of any property rights that exist are contested.

This Article argues that takings litigation can become a productive occasion for defining the status and nature of water rights, especially, increasingly, in the riparianism context. It first provides a quick review of basic takings jurisprudence, emphasizing how the constitutional prohibitions on government takings apply to property use rights, such as easements. It then examines the potential for takings litigation to help define the nature of water rights in general, focusing on relatively recent litigation involving water rights connected with cattle grazing. The Article ends by discussing a series of cases involving riparian water rights and claims that those rights entitle the owners to certain basic environmental quality standards, especially with respect to water quality. It concludes that takings jurisprudence in the riparian rights context may yet align private property rights and environmental protection, providing a more focused - and potentially more predictable/less balancing - private cause of action than nuisance for certain kinds of environmental degradation.

Matt Festa

August 26, 2011 in Agriculture, Environmental Law, Property Rights, Scholarship, Servitudes, Sustainability, Takings, Water | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 12, 2011

2011 Conference on Litigating Regulatory Takings

John Echeverria (Vermont) sends along the announcement for the 14th annual Conference on Litigating Regulatory Takings Claims:

The 14th Edition of the Conference on Litigating Regulatory Takings Claims will be held this year on November 18 on the GULC campus in Washington, D.C. The conference will be co-sponsored by Vermont Law School and Georgetown University Law Center. Additional co-sponsors include: American Planning Association, Planning and Law Division; International Municipal Lawyers Association; Maryland Municipal League; National Association of Counties; National League of Cities; National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School; U.S. Conference of Mayors, and Virginia Municipal League.
 
Speakers include: Mark Barron, J. Peter Byrne, David Callies, Martin R. Cohen,
Steven J. Eagle, John D. Echeverria, Mark Fenster, Denise G. Fjordbeck,
Alexandra B. Klass, Robert Meltz, Thomas W. Merrill, J. Michael Ponder,
Joseph L. Sax, Christopher Serkin, Daniel L. Siegel, Gregory M. Stein,
A. Daniel Tarlock, and William M. Treanor.
 
Looks like a great lineup once again.  For more information, the conference website is http://www.vermontlaw.edu/Takings2011/.
Matt Festa

August 12, 2011 in Climate, Coastal Regulation, Conferences, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Judicial Review, Planning, Property Rights, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Texas Supreme Court abates Severance v. Patterson

I was on the road for about a month with very little internet access (more on that to come).  Fortunately, my land use students keep me up to date on things.  Late last week I learned from my student Sonny Eckhart that the Texas Supreme Court issued its latest, and perhaps last, ruling in the Severance v. Patterson case that we've been following here on the blog, "abating" the case until the Fifth Circuit rules on the issue of mootness.  I asked him to write it up for our readers, and here's what he has to say:

For those who have been following the Open Beach Act Litigation in Severance v. Patterson: warning, you might be a little disappointed.  The Severance case is a challenge to the Texas Open Beaches Act, where Galveston Island homeowner Carol Severance brought suit against the Texas Attorney General and other state officials over the central issue of whether private beachfront properties on Galveston Island have redress when a public beach access easement is “rolled” onto private property when the vegetation line migrates landward.  Needless to say, this has caused a stir in the courts and among legal scholars.  During this process, the Land Use Prof Blog has provided several discussions and updates on the long-running dispute. See here, here, here, herehere, and here.

On November 5, 2010, the Texas Supreme Court issued their opinion concluding public easements do not always “roll” with the beachfront.  Most notably, the court distinguished between a change or avulsion caused by a natural event, such as a hurricane, and a “gradual change.”It would appear that Carol Severance had won a substantial victory.  To combat this, the State filed a motion for rehearing—a motion that held the support of several amicus groups.  The court granted rehearing in Severance and heard arguments four months ago, in April. 

The facts of the case took an unexpected turn a few weeks ago when Carol Severance sold her property in Galveston, and thus may have rendered the legal action moot.  The State acted quickly and filed a motion to vacate the November 2010 opinion before sending this matter back to the Fifth Circuit.  Both parties submitted briefs on the issue of mootness.  See State’s brief on mootness; Severance’s brief on mootness.  Last Friday, July 29, the court issued an order that abated the case until the Fifth Circuit first reviewed the issue of mootness.  The order in this case abates the Texas Supreme Court appeal until the jurisdictional issues can be decided. 

Is This The End?

Find out after the jump!

Continue reading

August 4, 2011 in Beaches, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Judicial Review, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, State Government, Takings, Texas | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mulvaney guest-blog on Severance's latest development: Mootness?

[This guest post is from Prof. Timothy Mulvaney (Texas Wesleyan), whom we've featured here before for his scholarship and commentary on judicial takings and on Severance v. Patterson--on which he hosted an excellent program in March.  Here are his thoughts on the latest development in the case.  Thanks!--Matt Festa]

The Land Use Prof Blog previously has included several entries on the long-running dispute regarding the Texas Open Beaches Act in the case of Severance v. Patterson (see here, here, here, here, and here).  The case took yet another surprising turn last week when the plaintiff sold the last remaining property at issue in the suit. 

At the filing of the complaint in 2006, the lawsuit involved three residential gulf-front properties owned by plaintiff Carol Severance.  Following 2005’s Hurricane Rita, these properties ended up seaward of the vegetation line; after Rita, that is, Ms. Severance’s properties were composed almost entirely of dry sand beach.  Ms. Severance challenged the State’s policy of removing homes that, due to erosion or coastal storms, now rest within the public’s “rolling” beach access easement. 

In a 6-2 decision in November of 2010 on three certified questions from the Fifth Circuit, the Texas Supreme Court largely sided with Ms. Severance.  The Court distinguished between (1) an easement destroyed by an avulsive event—which the majority held does not “roll” upland, such that the state must prove that a public easement across the “new” strip of beach adjacent to the post-Rita mean high water line has been established by custom, dedication, or prescription in each individual case, including Ms. Severance’s—and (2) an easement destroyed by imperceptible erosion—which the majority held does “roll” upland. 

Yet in March of this year, the Court, at the request of the State and nearly two dozen amici, took the rather extraordinary step of deciding to re-hear the case.  The Court ultimately conducted a second round of oral argument in April.  Yet just last week, with the re-hearing decision pending, Ms. Severance sold the third and final property subject to the litigation (she had sold the other two properties several years earlier).

Upon receiving notice that Ms. Severance sold this last remaining property (notably, through a FEMA-funded buy-back program administered by the City of Galveston on the final day that she could avail herself of that option), the State immediately sent a letter to the Court suggesting that (1) the case is moot, and (2) the Court “should follow the established practice of vacating the latest opinion [the November 2010 opinion] before returning this matter to the Fifth Circuit.”  Otherwise, said the State, the Court would be authorizing “a prevailing party to obtain through unilateral action what it was unable to accomplish in opposing a rehearing motion or a petition for review. … [the Court should not] permit an opinion to stand, by default, that was under active reconsideration.”

Counsel for Ms. Severance, David Breemer of the Pacific Legal Foundation, responded with a letter stating that the case is not moot because: (1) mootness cannot permit the state “to avoid a controversy over its property restrictions” by using those same controversial restrictions to force Ms. Severance to sell; (2) Ms. Severance owns another property in Galveston that was not included in her 2006 complaint but that is now subject to the State’s rolling easement policy; and (3) “there are ongoing personal and legal consequences to Severance” for which the Court can fashion a remedy. 

In his letter, Mr. Breemer requested that the Court issue an expedited briefing schedule on the mootness issue.  The Court obliged.  The State filed its brief today, and Ms. Severance’s response is due next Tuesday.  Stay tuned to the Land Use Prof Blog for updated information on Severance v. Patterson.

Timothy Mulvaney

July 6, 2011 in Beaches, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Environmentalism, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Takings, Texas, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mulvaney's take on SCOTUS cert grant for PPL Montana v. State of Montana

I'm excited to post this guest blog from Professor Timothy Mulvaney, a land use prof from Texas Wesleyan School of Law in Fort Worth.  He's written extensively about judicial takings and exactions, and proivdes this timely and interesting post about yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court cert grant.  This case has been somewhat under the radar, but could end up being very important.  Thanks to Tim for the early and interesting analysis-- Matt Festa

Thank you very much for the opportunity to guest blog during this important week at the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is understandable that today’s headlines regarding the Supreme Court are devoted to several landmark decisions released yesterday, including rulings rejecting class certification in Wal-Mart v. Dukes and holding that the Clean Air Act displaces federal common law nuisance claims when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions in AEP v. Connecticut.  But in addition to these major holdings, the Supreme Court also took the noteworthy step of granting certiorari in PPL Montana, LLC v. State of Montana.  This case could have important implications for property, land use, natural resources, and environmental law.

In 2010, the Montana Supreme Court held that the State of Montana owns the beds of the Missouri, Madison, and Clarke Fork Rivers as an incident of state sovereignty. This ruling confirmed that PPL Montana is required to pay over $40 million in back-rent, as well as yet-to-be-determined future rent, for use of the rivers to generate hydroelectric power.  PPL Montana claims that the riverbeds are private property, such that no rent to (or approval from) the State is necessary to conduct their operations.  To determine whether these rivers are held in trust by the State or rather in private ownership turns on whether the rivers are considered “navigable.”  The U.S. Supreme Court has defined waterways as “navigable” in the context of such a title dispute if the rivers were “used, or [were] susceptible of being used, in their ordinary condition, as highways for commerce, over which trade and travel [were] or may be conducted” when the relevant State was admitted to the Union.

In finding that all three rivers at issue met this “navigability for title” test when Montana entered statehood in 1889, the Montana Supreme Court cited to a litany of historical evidence, including the centuries-old journals of Lewis and Clark.  As today’s brief AP story notes, PPL Montana disagreed, pointing “to accounts of the [Lewis and Clark] expedition’s arduous portages of canoes and supplies around waterfalls to argue that the contested stretches of water were not navigable.”  The Montana Supreme Court’s opinion also drew PPL Montana’s ire by considering what the company alleges are flawed contemporary studies, as well as recent recreational uses of certain stretches of the rivers, to support the finding that the rivers are held in total by the state in trust for present and future generations.

One of the foremost experts in natural resources and water law, Professor Rick Frank, notes on Legal Planet that the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed navigability in the context of state public trust claims for several decades.  How the Supreme Court interprets its time-honored test and identifies what evidence is relevant in its application could have major ramifications for thousands of miles of inland lakes and waterways nationwide. 

Yet there may be another issue lurking under the surface.  In seeking the Supreme Court’s review, PPL Montana and several of its amici sought to frame the Montana Supreme Court’s decision as a “judicial taking.” You will recall that in the 2010 case of Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Supreme Court left the existence and scope of a judicial takings doctrine in a state of flux.  To cull from a law review article I authored on Stop the Beach this past winter:

A four-Justice plurality endorsed a novel theory that would make the Takings Clause applicable to a wide collection of state court interpretations of state property law. Writing for the plurality, Justice Scalia declared that a state court’s opinion finding that an “established” property right “no longer exists” may amount to an unconstitutional taking.  … Justice Kennedy, joined by Justice Sotomayor, wrote separately to suggest that only when the Constitution’s Due Process Clause proves “somehow inadequate” to protect landowners from the judicial elimination of their existing property rights should the questions surrounding the need for and scope of a judicial takings doctrine be addressed.  … Though generally expressing grave doubts about the plurality’s judicial takings standard, Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, concurred in the judgment but found the issue of judicial takings “better left for another day.” [Justice Stevens recused himself.]

In its petition for certiorari, PPL Montana cited to Stop the Beach in asserting that, “[b]ecause [the Montana Supreme Court was] the operative force behind this land transfer [from private ownership to state ownership], it remains to be seen whether property owners in general have a Takings Claim or due process objection to [such a] land grab.”  In support of PPL Montana’s petition, the Cato Institute joined the Montana Farm Bureau Federation in contending that the Montana Supreme Court adopted a retroactive rule that destroyed title already accrued in violation of the Takings Clause, calling the Court’s ruling a “thinly-disguised judicial taking.”  For its part, the State of Montana maintained that nothing in the Montana Supreme Court’s decision contravened established property law, for PPL Montana’s “deeds and pleadings show it has no riverbed property to take” and the State “has claimed and received compensation for uses of navigable riverbeds for decades.” 

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. Supreme Court will address the judicial takings question when it takes up PPL Montana, LLC v. State of Montana in the coming year.  The certiorari stage documents are available here.  It is anticipated that the parties and their amici will brief the case this summer, with oral argument likely to occur in the winter.  Stay tuned to the Land Use Prof Blog for updated information.

Timothy Mulvaney

June 21, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Federal Government, Judicial Review, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bronin on Solar Rights for Texas Property Owners

Sara C. Bronin (Connecticut) has posted Solar Rights for Texas Property Owners, Texas Law Review See Also, Vol. 89, p. 79, 2011.  The abstract:

In response to Jamie France's note, "A Proposed Solar Access Law for the State of Texas," Professor Bronin urges future commentators to focus on three additional areas of inquiry related to proposed solar rights regimes. Bronin argues that such proposals would be strengthened by discussion of potential legal challenges to the proposals, related political issues, and renewable energy microgrids.

Ms. France’s proposal for the State of Texas includes the elimination of preexisting private property restrictions that negatively affect solar access. Bronin argues that this proposal would be strengthened by a discussion of potential challenges under federal and state takings clauses. Additionally, Ms. France's suggestion that zoning ordinances protect homeowners' solar access would benefit from a discussion of challenges that might be raised by home rule cities in Texas. Furthermore, to provide a full perspective, a discussion of possible alternative rules for Houston, which lacks a zoning ordinance, might add to Ms. France's proposal, according to Bronin.

Bronin also emphasizes that proposals for solar rights regimes, such as that of Ms. France, often affect various interest groups, and commentators should address the political issues that this creates. Specifically, in discussing Ms. France's proposal for the State of Texas, Bronin identifies the lack of political support for small-scale renewable energy installations as opposed to large-scale projects, Texas's current budget shortfall, and powerful interests groups that are affected by the proposal.

Finally, Bronin encourages other commentators to consider advocating for renewable energy microgrids. Bronin has described these as "small-scale, low-voltage distributed generation between neighbors for energy derived from sources such as solar collectors, wind power systems, microturbines, geothermal wells, and fuel cells, which have minimal negative impact on the environment." Bronin believes that renewable energy microgrids "should be a key part of solar access regimes in any state."

Matt Festa

June 20, 2011 in Clean Energy, Environmentalism, Houston, Local Government, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Takings, Texas, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)