Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council

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Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 2, 1992
Decided June 29, 1992
Full case name David H. Lucas, v. South Carolina Coastal Council
Citations 505 U.S. 1003 (more)
12 S. Ct. 2886; 120 L. Ed. 2d 798; 1992 U.S. LEXIS 4537; 60 U.S.L.W. 4842; 34 ERC (BNA) 1897; 92 Daily Journal DAR 9030; 22 ELR 21104; 6 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 715
Prior history On certiorari from the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Subsequent history On remand at the South Carolina Supreme Court: Lucas v. S.C. Coastal Council, 309 S.C. 424 (S.C. 1992)
Holding
A regulation that deprives an owner of all economically beneficial uses of land constitutes a taking unless the proscribed use interests were not part of the title to begin with. In other words, a law or decree with the effect of depriving all economically beneficial use must do no more than duplicate the result that could have been achieved in the courts under the law of nuisance.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Scalia
Concurrence Kennedy
Dissent Blackmun
Dissent Stevens
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. V, XIV.

Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992),[1] was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States established the "total takings" test for evaluating whether a particular regulatory action constitutes a regulatory taking that requires compensation.

Background[edit]

Plaintiff/Petitioner 
David H. Lucas, owner of two beachfront properties in Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
Defendant/Respondent 
South Carolina Coastal Council, a body that grants permits for the use of beachfront land.

State of law[edit]

South Carolina's Coastal Zone Management Act (1977) required owners of coast land in "critical areas" near beaches to obtain permits from Respondent South Carolina Coastal Council before committing the land to new uses. The state's Beachfront Management Act (1988), S.C. Code Ann. § 48-39-10 et seq. (1989 Cum. Supp.), increased the regulations on the use of coastal land.

Facts of case[edit]

Petitioner Lucas purchased beachfront properties in 1986 for $975,000. David H. Lucas owned two vacant oceanfront lots in the Beachwood East Subdivision of the Wild Dunes development on the Isle of Palms in Charleston County, South Carolina. The Beachfront Management Act effectively deprived Petitioner Lucas of his ability to erect homes on his properties.

Prior history[edit]

Lucas filed suit asserting that the restrictions on the use of his lots was a taking of his property without just compensation. The lower court agreed and awarded Lucas $1,232,387.50 as just compensation for the regulatory taking. The government of South Carolina appealed, and the Supreme Court of South Carolina reversed, Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 304 S.C. 376 (S.C. 1991).

Procedural posture[edit]

Petitioner Lucas seeks reversal of the South Carolina Supreme Court judgment, reinstatement of the trial court judgment, and declaration that the Beachfront Management Act constituted a taking.

Legal analysis[edit]

Issue[edit]

Whether the South Carolina Supreme Court erred in holding that the Beachfront Management Act was a valid exercise of the police power and did not constitute a taking.

Arguments/theories[edit]

Petitioner 
Not stated, presumed reflected in holding and reasoning.
Respondent 
(1) The Beachfront Management Act is a valid exercise of the police power, as the beach/dune area of the shores is a valuable public resource, and the erection of structures on that land contributes to erosion and destruction of that resource. (2) All property is held subject to the limitation that the state may regulate the property in such a way as to remove all value.

Rule of law[edit]

A regulation that deprives an owner of all economically beneficial uses of land constitutes a taking unless the proscribed use interests were not part of the title to begin with. In other words, a law or decree with the effect of depriving all economically beneficial use must do no more than duplicate the result that could have been achieved in the courts under the law of nuisance. As a result, "total takings" analysis requires a consideration of (1) the degree of harm to public lands or adjacent property posed by the regulated activities, (2) the social value of such activities, and (3) the relative ease with which the alleged harms can be avoided through measures taken by either the claimant or the government.

Holding[edit]

The South Carolina Supreme Court erred in holding that the Beachfront Management Act was a valid exercise of the police power and did not constitute a taking.

Reasoning[edit]

The majority argued as follows: (1) Deprivation of all economically beneficial use is, from the perspective of a property owner, deprivation of the property itself. (2) When all economically beneficial use is restricted, it is difficult to assume that the legislature is simply "adjusting" economical benefits and burdens. (3) Regulations that restrict all economically beneficial use may often be a guise of pressing that land into public service. (4) Lucas's lands have been deprived of all economically beneficial use. (5) There is no way to distinguish regulation that "prevents a harmful use" and confers benefits on nearby property. (6) Contrary to Respondent South Carolina's assertion, title is not held subject to the limitation that the state may regulate away all the property's economically beneficial use.

Notable concurring and dissenting opinions[edit]

Kennedy, J., concurring. 
The determination of no value must be considered with reference to the owner's reasonable, investment-backed expectations. Justice Kennedy also expressed concern with the idea that state regulation could go no further than duplicating the common law of nuisance without exposing itself to the challenge of categorical taking, as some fragile lands might prevent such public concern that the state can go further in regulating development than the common law of nuisance might otherwise permit.[2]
Souter, J. 
The case should have been dismissed as improperly granted, as the decision of the trial court that a total taking had occurred is highly questionable on the basis of the facts presented.
Blackmun, J., dissenting. 
The court should not have granted certiorari to hear this case and it ignores its jurisdictional limits, remakes its traditional rules of review and created simultaneously a new categorical rule and an exception. There could never be a total loss because the owner can still enjoy other attributes of ownership such as right to exclude others, picnic, swim, camp in a tent or live on the property in a movable trailer
Stevens, J., dissenting. 
The categorical rule created by the court is unsound and an unwise addition to the law of takings. In the past the court had worked at rejecting an absolute formula for determining a taking and have frequently in the past held a law that renders property valueless may not constitute a taking. The new rule created by the court is arbitrary because a landowner whose property is diminished in value 95% recovers nothing while an owner whose property is diminished 100% recovers the land’s full value.

Result[edit]

Judgment/disposition[edit]

Judgment reversed and cause remanded for determination of whether regulation could be enacted under state nuisance law.

Subsequent history[edit]

On remand at the South Carolina Supreme Court: Lucas v. S.C. Coastal Council, 309 S.C. 424 (S.C. 1992), the court granted the parties leave to amend their pleadings to determine what the actual damages were.

Legacy and other notes[edit]

Established the modern "total takings" test.

After paying Lucas $850,000 in compensation for the two lots, South Carolina proceeded to sell the lots to private parties for development. Large homes now sit on both lots.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Text of Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council is available from:  Cornell  Findlaw  Justia  Oyez  vLex 
  2. ^ Ruhl J B et al (2007) Law and Policy of Ecosystem Services. Island Press, Washington DC

References[edit]