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Legal Resources:
Significant Supreme Court Cases
They are listed in chronological order and organized by subject matter under the following topics: regulatory takings, physical invasions and occupations, dedications, the means-end inquiry, remedies, procedural issues, and the public-use requirement.  The list provides a quick overview of the development of takings jurisprudence as it relates to each topic.  Click on the case name to link to the Court's opinion.

Two caveats: First, the list does not include every Supreme Court takings case (far from it).  Second, several of these cases address more than one issue, but we list each case only once below.  For any particular case, consult the index to determine the Handbook chapters that discuss the ruling.[1]  

(Alphabetical listing of Supreme Court cases)

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REGULATORY TAKINGS (and related cases)

 

·        Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 623 (1887).

Kansas banned the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors, declaring them to be a public nuisance.  In an early application of the so-called nuisance exception, the Court upheld the ban even though it severely reduced the value of existing breweries, stating: "A prohibition simply upon the use of property for purposes that are declared, by valid legislation, to be injurious to the health, morals, or safety of the community, cannot, in any just sense, be deemed a taking or an appropriation of the property for the public benefit." 

·        Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394 (1915).

The Court upheld a municipal prohibition on brickmaking within city limits even though the ban allegedly reduced the value of Hadacheck's land by 92.5% (from $800,000 to $60,000).  While noting that the police power may not be exercised arbitrarily, the Court stressed that the police power is one of the most essential, and "least limitable," powers of government.

·        Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U.S. 393 (1922).

Pennsylvania Coal sold the surface rights to land, but it reserved the right to remove the coal from under the land.  The state then enacted a statute that prohibited coal mining if it threatened subsidence and damage to structures on the surface.  The Court ruled that the restriction constituted a taking of the coal because the law made it commercially impractical for the company to mine the coal and thus had the same effect as appropriating the coal, which was recognized as a separate estate under state law.  In the first decision to hold that a land use restriction constituted a taking, the Court noted that "property may be regulated to a certain extent, [but] if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking."

·        Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926).

The Court upheld a zoning ordinance against allegations that the government confiscated property in violation of the Due Process Clause where the ordinance reduced the value of the claimant's land by 75% (from $10,000 per acre to $2,500 per acre). Although Euclid involved due process challenges, the landowner alleged that the ordinance effectively confiscated the property.  The Penn Central Court cited this case for the proposition that diminution in value, by itself, cannot establish a taking. 

·        Miller v. Schoene, 276 U.S. 272 (1928).

Invoking the Cedar Rust Act of Virginia, the state ordered the claimants to cut down diseased ornamental red cedar trees on their land to prevent contamination of nearby apple orchards.  The Court upheld the statute, stating that it "need not weigh with nicety the question whether the infected cedars constitute a nuisance according to the common law, or whether they may be so declared by statute."  Finding a preponderant public concern in the preservation of the orchards, the Court ruled that the legislative choice to protect the orchards over the cedars is a constitutional exercise of the police power. 

·        Goldblatt v. Town of Hempstead, 369 U.S. 590 (1962).

The Court unanimously rejected a challenge to a town ordinance that prohibited the claimants from mining sand and gravel on their land, as they had done since 1927.  Stating that it made no difference whether the mining would have constituted a common-law nuisance, the Court concluded that no taking occurred because the record failed to show that the prohibition reduced the value of the lot or was an unreasonable exercise of the police power.   

·        Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York, 438 U.S. 104 (1978).

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission applied an historic preservation law to deny the owners of Grand Central Terminal permission to build a 50-plus story office building over the Terminal.  The Supreme Court reviewed three factors in determining that the permit denial did not constitute a regulatory taking: (1) the character of the governmental action; (2) the economic impact of the regulation on the landowners; and (3) the extent to which the regulation interfered with investment-backed expectations.  The Court also held that regulatory takings analysis should focus on the landowner's parcel as a whole, not just the portion of the property affected by the challenged regulation. 

·        Andrus v. Allard, 444 U.S. 51 (1979).

The Court ruled that no taking occurred where federal law prohibited the sale of artifacts made from the feathers of federally protected birds, even though the ban might have left the owners without any economically beneficial use of the artifacts.  The Lucas Court cited Andrus for the proposition that due to the government's longstanding regulation of commercial dealings, owners ought to expect that new regulation might render personal property economically worthless without triggering the Takings Clause. 

·        Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Co., 467 U.S. 986 (1984).

The claimant contended that 1978 amendments to the federal pesticide laws effected a taking of trade secrets submitted with applications for pesticide registrations because the statute allowed the government to disclose the data and to consider it in connection with applications made by others.  In a comprehensive analysis of Monsanto’s expectations, the Court held that there was no taking of data submitted after the 1978 amendments because the applicant knew at the time of submission that the statute authorized such use and disclosure.  The Court also held that there was no taking of data submitted before 1972 because, due to the heavy regulation of pesticides, the claimant lacked a reasonable expectation of confidentiality.  For data submitted between 1972 and 1978, however, the Court found a taking that because the law in effect during those years created an expectation of confidentiality.  Because the Tucker Act provided a monetary remedy for the taking, the Court refused to invalidate the challenged provisions. 

·        Keystone Bituminous Coal Assoc. v. DeBenedictis, 480 U.S. 470 (1987).

On facts strikingly similar to those in Mahon, the Court in Keystone rejected a facial takings challenge to the Pennsylvania Subsidence Act, which required that 50% of the coal beneath certain structures be kept in place to provide surface support.  The Court reaffirmed Penn Central's parcel-as-a-whole rule, rejecting the claim that the Act completely took 27 million tons of coal required to be left in the ground because that coal comprised less than 2% of the total coal in the mines covered by the protections.  In addition, the Court invoked the so-called nuisance exception to conclude that government action designed to stop serious harm does not constitute a taking even where it destroys the value of property. 

·        Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992).

Lucas challenged the South Carolina Coastal Council's application of the state's Beachfront Management Act to deny Lucas a permit to build a homes on two beachfront lots.  The Court ruled that a per se taking occurs where regulation denies a landowner all economically beneficial use and value of the land.  The Court further held that in such a case the government could avoid liability by showing that the challenged restriction is justified by "background principles" of law in effect at the time the landowner bought the property.  The background-principles defense also is available in other kinds of takings cases, and lower courts have been receptive to arguments based on background principles. 

·        Concrete Pipe and Products of California, Inc. v. Construction Laborers Pension Trust, 508 U.S. 602 (1993).

The Court relied on the parcel-as-a-whole rule to reject a takings challenge to federal pension plan protections, stating: "[A] claimant's parcel of property [may] not first be divided into what was taken and what was left for the purpose of demonstrating the taking of the former to be complete and hence compensable.  To the extent that any portion of property is taken, that portion is always taken in its entirety; the relevant question, however, is whether the property taken is all, or only a portion of, the parcel in question."

 

PHYSICAL INVASIONS AND OCCUPATIONS

 

·        Pumpelly v. Green Bay Co., 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 166 (1872).

The Court held that a taking occurred where a state-authorized dam caused the flooding of private property from the time of the dam's completion to the commencement of the landowner's lawsuit.  The Court observed that it would be a "very curious and unsatisfactory result" to conclude "that if the government refrains from the absolute conversion of real property to the uses of the public it can destroy its value entirely, can inflict irreparable and permanent injury to any extent, can, in effect, subject it to total destruction without making any compensation ...."  Because the flooding was the functional equivalent of an expropriation, the court found a taking.

 

·        Richards v. Washington Terminal Co., 233 U.S. 546 (1914).

A landowner sought compensation for harm to the land caused by a railroad authorized by various acts of Congress.  The Court ruled that, in general, there could be no recovery for “noises and vibrations incident to the running of trains, the necessary emissions of smoke and sparks from the locomotives, and similar annoyances inseparable from the normal and non-negligent operation of a railroad.”  The Court awarded damages, however, for harm attributable to a tunnel fan that blew exhaust fumes from a railroad tunnel directly onto the property.  Construing the governing statutes in light of the Takings Clause, the Court held that the statutes did "not authorize the imposition of so direct and peculiar and substantial a burden" without compensation.

 

·        Sanguinetti v. United States, 264 U.S. 146 (1924).


During periods of heavy rainfall, a river near the claimant's property often overflowed onto the property.  After the government built a canal on this river, the overflows became more severe, resulting in damage to crops, trees, and the property itself.  The Court ruled that to effect a taking, the overflow must "be the direct result of the structure, and constitute an actual, permanent invasion of the land, amounting to an appropriation of and not merely an injury to the property."  The Court ruled that no taking occurred because the landowner's injury was indirect and consequential. 

·        United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946).

Landowners argued that flights of military aircraft over their land at low altitudes prevented them from using their land as a chicken farm and thus constituted a taking. The Court held that "[f]lights over private land are not a taking, unless they are so low and so frequent as to be a direct and immediate interference with the enjoyment and use of the land."  Because the flights at issue were frequent, low-level, and the direct and immediate cause of a reduction in value of the land in question, the Court found a taking. 

·        Kaiser Aetna v. United States, 444 U.S. 164 (1979).

A landowner and its lessee turned a privately owned pond into a marina that connected to a navigable bay.  After they invested millions of dollars to develop a marina-style community around the pond, the federal government claimed that the owner and lessee had to allow public access to the marina because it was navigable water of the United States.  The Court held that requiring public access would constitute a taking, concluding that on these facts the government could not take the owners' right to exclude others without compensation. 

·        PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1980).

The Court found no taking where California law compelled a shopping center to permit high school students to distribute literature on its property during business hours.  The Court noted that the students' presence did not unreasonably diminish the value or use of the shopping center.  Although the Court acknowledged that California law impaired the shopping center's right to exclude others, the Court refused to find this circumstance to be controlling. 

·        Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp., 458 U.S. 419 (1982).

The Court found a taking where a state law required a landlord to allow a cable television operator to install cables and other equipment on the rooftop of the landlord's apartment building.  The Court held that a government-compelled, permanent physical occupation of private property is a per se taking.  The Court explained that that in permanent occupation cases, unlike temporary invasion and regulatory takings cases, the character of the governmental action is not merely relevant, but determinative.   

·        FCC v. Florida Power Corp., 480 U.S. 245 (1987).

Public utilities challenged a federal statute that authorized the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the rents charged by the utilities to cable television operators for the use of utility poles.  The Court rejected the takings claim because nothing in the statute required the utilities to act as lessors, and the utilities could avoid any occupation of their poles by evicting the cable operators. 

·        Yee v. City of Escondido, 503 U.S. 519 (1992).

      The Yees claimed that Escondido’s mobile home rent control law, coupled with a California zoning law that restricted their ability to terminate the tenancy of a mobile home owner, constituted a taking as a permanent physical occupation because the laws forced them to rent indefinitely to tenants at a below market rate.  The Supreme Court ruled that the state had not authorized or compelled a permanent physical invasion because the Yees invited the tenants onto their property and could terminate their tenancy by changing the use of the property.  The Court stated: “The government effects a physical taking only where it requires the landowner to submit to the physical occupation of his land.  ‘This element of required acquiescence is at the heart of the concept of occupation.’”

 

DEDICATIONS

 

·        Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (1987).

The Nollans sought a permit from the California Coastal Commission to replace a beachfront bungalow with a larger house.  Concerned that the larger structure would worsen the visual barrier between the road and the beach, the Commission conditioned the permit on the transfer of a public easement along the beach to enhance access to two nearby public beaches.  The Court found that the condition constituted a taking because the dedication did not bear an logical nexus to the harm the Commission sought to address.  The Court concluded that a beachfront easement for use by people already on the public beaches would not reduce any obstacle to viewing the beach created by the new house. 

·        Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374 (1994).

Mrs. Dolan sought a permit to expand a retail store and paved parking lot.  Because the expansion would increase flood risks and traffic congestion, the city conditioned the permit on a dedication of land for use as a public greenway to minimize flooding and as a bike and walking path to reduce street traffic.  Although the Court determined that the dedication requirement met the Nollan nexus test, the Court ruled that to survive scrutiny under the Takings Clause, the dedication must be "roughly proportional" to the expected impact of the proposed development.  


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MEANS-END INQUIRY

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·        Nectow v. City of Cambridge, 277 U.S. 183 (1928).

In this due process case, the Court invalidated a zoning ordinance as applied to a landowner whose land was restricted to residential uses.  Relying on the findings of a master that the zoning did not promote health, safety or general welfare, the Court struck down the ordinance as applied because it did not bear a substantial relation to these goals.   

·        Agins v. City of Tiburon, 447 U.S. 255 (1980).

The Court rejected a takings challenge to zoning ordinances that allowed the claimants to build between one and five homes on their five-acre parcel.  Because the landowners had not submitted a development plan as permitted by the ordinances, the Court concluded that there was no concrete controversy regarding the application of the ordinances to the land.  The Court also held that there was no facial taking because the ordinances did not deny the landowners all economically viable use of the land and substantially advanced the state's legitimate interest in preserving open space. 

·        Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, 524 U.S. 498 (1998).

In Eastern Enterprises, a coal company challenged the federal Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act.  A four-justice plurality concluded that the Act as applied violated the Takings Clause because it imposed a severe, disproportionate, and extremely retroactive burden on the claimant.  Five justices (one concurring in the judgment and dissenting in part, four in dissent) concluded that the Takings Clause does not apply to government actions that simply impose a financial obligation without affecting a specific, identified property interest.  The same five Justices seriously questioned whether the Takings Clause (as opposed to the Due Process Clause) should be used to review the reasonableness of government action.  Justice Kennedy provided the fifth vote for invalidation by finding a violation of due process. 

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REMEDIES

·        First English Evangelical Lutheran Church v. County of Los Angeles, 482 U.S. 304 (1987).

A church challenged a ban on development in a flood plain imposed after a flood destroyed the church's campground for mentally-retarded children.  The lower courts refused to allow the church to pursue a claim for money damages.  The Supreme Court assumed that the ban effected a taking and thus isolated the question of whether invalidation is a sufficient remedy for an uncompensated taking.  The Court held that invalidation by itself is inadequate because the Fifth Amendment requires a monetary remedy.  When faced with a judicial ruling that a regulatory taking has occurred, the government may either (1) keep the regulation in effect and pay the owner for a permanent taking, or (2) rescind the regulation and pay temporary damages for the time the regulation was in effect.  

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PROCEDURAL ISSUES

 

·        Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Ass'n, 452 U.S. 264 (1981).

The Court rejected a facial takings challenge to federal statutory restrictions on surface mining because the restrictions (for the most part) did not categorically prohibit surface coal mining but only regulated the conditions under which surface mining could be conducted.  Nor did the statute regulate alternative uses of coal-bearing land.  In an early application of finality ripeness requirements, the Court deemed the claimants' as-applied takings challenge premature because they had not availed themselves of administrative relief procedures provided by the statute.  

·        Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985).

      A county regional planning commission applied various zoning laws and regulations to deny a landowner permission to develop a residential subdivision.  The landowner filed a takings claim against the planning commission in federal court under §1983.  The Supreme Court held that before a landowner may bring a taking suit against a local government in federal court, the owner must (1) obtain a final decision regarding the application of the challenged regulations to its property, and (2) pursue compensation remedies available under state law.  

·        MacDonald, Sommer & Frates v. County of Yolo, 477 U.S. 340 (1986).

            The Court ruled that the submission of a single development proposal by the claimant did not ripen a takings claim where the local government "[left] open the possibility that some development will be permitted."  The Court observed that a court cannot determine whether regulation "goes too far" under Mahon "unless it knows how far the regulation goes."  Although a takings claimant need not pursue piecemeal, unfair, or futile procedures to ripen a claim, the rejection of a single application does not necessarily imply that the government will reject a less ambitious proposal. 

·        Preseault v. ICC, 494 U.S. 1 (1990).

Landowners claimed that they had a reversionary interest in abandoned railroad tracks adjacent to their land and that a government-authorized conversion of the abandoned tracks into public trails constituted a taking.  The Court dismissed the landowners' claim as premature because they did not make use of an available remedy for compensation against the United States under the Tucker Act.  Because the Takings Clause prohibits only uncompensated takings, the Court held that the landowners must pursue the Tucker Act remedy before they could claim that the government took their land without just compensation.     

·        Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 520 U.S. 725 (1997).

Mrs. Suitum argued that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency effected a regulatory taking when it determined that her residential lot was ineligible for development under restrictions designed to protect Lake Tahoe.  The Agency argue that the claim was unripe because Suitum had not attempted to sell Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) to which she was entitled.  After reaffirming its established ripeness doctrine in takings cases, the Court held that the claim was ripe because the value of her land could be determined without a sale of the TDRs. 

·        City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687 (1999).

The Court ruled 5-4 that a takings claimant seeking money damages or other legal relief in federal court under § 1983 is entitled to a jury trial on certain issues.  These issues include whether the challenged regulation has denied the landowner all economically viable use of the land and, on the unusual facts of Del Monte Dunes, whether the regulation substantially advances a legitimate state interest.  The practical implications of the jury trial ruling appear to be narrow given the Court's reaffirmation that takings claimants generally cannot proceed in federal court without first seeking compensation in state court. The Court also concluded that Dolan's rough proportionality test is limited to the dedications. 

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PUBLIC-USE REQUIREMENT

 

·        Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954).

The federal District of Columbia Redevelopment Act of 1945 created a program to redevelop substandard housing and blighted areas in Washington, D.C.  The Act created the Redevelopment Land Agency, which had the power of eminent domain to acquire real property as part of the redevelopment program.  Berman, the owner of a department store, argued that the government could not acquire his property through eminent domain because the property would be redeveloped for private use and thus violate the requirement in the Takings Clause that any taking be for a public use.  The Court held that the redevelopment of the District of Columbia was a public purpose for which the United States could properly exercise its power of eminent domain.  The Court stressed that legislative declaration of the public interest is "well-nigh conclusive."

·        Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229 (1984).

To reduce the economic and social harm created by the land oligopoly in Hawaii, the Hawaii Land Reform Act permitted the state to buy land owned by lessors at prices set either by condemnation trial or by negotiation, and resell the land to the lessees of the property.  Landowners argued that the scheme was unconstitutional because the property was used to serve the interests of the individual lessees, rather than the interests of the public, and thus was not for "public use" as required by the Takings Clause.  The Court confirmed that the Clause forbids the government from taking property when the taking confers only a private benefit, without a public purpose, even where the government is willing to pay compensation.  The remedy for such a taking would be invalidation.  The Court held, however, that the law at issue did not violate the public-use requirement because regulating oligopoly and the evils associated with it benefits the public.  The Court emphasized that its role in enforcing the public-use requirement is extremely narrow, and that the legislature's declaration of a public use is entitled to great deference.



[1] This case summary draws from an excellent paper and case summary presented by Blake Watson, Professor of Law at the University of Dayton School of Law, which he presented at a February 26, 1999 workshop sponsored by Community Rights Counsel and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.

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