Articles Posted in Eminent Domain and Takings

This category includes articles on eminent domain and inverse condemnation (takings).

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Author: Luke Wake

Luke Wake is an attorney for the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center—a Bona Law client. Luke and Jarod Bona have also published two law review articles together, on both takings and antitrust law. Luke is one of this nation’s leading experts on takings law. You can read some of his academic articles here.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued an important decision for property owners across the country. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion in Knick v. Township of Scott, which held that landowners are entitled to pursue just compensation in federal court when local or state law has effected a taking of private property. This is major development because takings cases were previously relegated to state courts where judges are sometimes viewed as hostile toward claims seeking compensation over local land use laws.

Knick explicitly overturned Williamson County Regional Planning Board v. Hamilton Bank from 1985. In Williamson County the Supreme Court ruled that one cannot bring a takings claim in federal court until after litigating in state court. But Williamson County was a trap for landowners because, in reality, there is no path to federal court after you have litigated a case in state court. Well established doctrines prevent a litigant from re-litigating issues that have already been decided. The Supreme Court ultimately made this clear in San Remo Hotel v. City and County of San Francisco, where the Court held that there was no way to preserve a federal takings claim if an owner seeks just compensation in state court.

Of course, landowners have always been allowed to pursue just compensation against the federal government for a taking. Those claims must generally be brought in the Court of Federal Claims in Washington D.C. But for claims seeking compensation against state or local restrictions, litigants were stuck in state court. And worse, some government defendants had played games with Williamson County—seeking to remove cases filed in state court to a federal forum, and then seeking dismissal on the ground that the claim had not been litigating in state court. Not all courts allowed those sort of shenanigans, but some did.

In overturning Williamson County, the Knick decision has made clear that property owners may vindicate their federal rights in federal court. That was already true with regard to every other federal claim one might have had against state or local actors. Enacted in the 19th Century by the Reconstruction Congress, U.S.C. Section 1983 has long provided that litigants may sue for a violation of federal rights in federal court. Moreover, if a litigant is successful in litigating a 1983 claim, they are entitled to attorney’s fees—which makes it easier for citizens to hold government accountable.

But Williamson County had assumed that special rules precluded takings claimants from proceeding under Section 1983. The Takings Clause prohibits the taking of private property without payment of just compensation; however, Williamson County concluded that this should be understood as requiring a litigant to pursue compensation in state court in order to have a ripened claim. Yet as groups like Cato Institute and National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center argued as amicus curiae before the U.S. Supreme Court in Knick, this sort of logic is perverse because it would also preclude litigants from vindicating other constitutional rights. The Supreme Court would never require a litigant to sue in state court in order to ripen a claim alleging that local or state actors had violated the Equal Protection Clause or the First Amendment. So why was the Takings Clause singled-out for special ripening rules?

Ultimately, Chief Justice Roberts concluded that the Court was confused in Williamson County because there really was no good reason for the “state litigation rule.” The constitutional text provides a straightforward guarantee against uncompensated takings—meaning that a litigant is entitled to pursue just compensation in court (either federal or state) if there is no administrative procedure for obtaining compensation owed. So, for example, if a local ordinance precludes all development opportunity without authorizing payment to affected owners, an owner is allowed to proceed in federal court.

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Minnesota-Amicus-Brief

Author: Luke Wake

Luke Wake is an attorney for the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center—a Bona Law client. Luke and Jarod Bona have also published two law review articles together, on both takings and antitrust law. Luke is one of this nation’s leading experts on takings law. You can read some of his academic articles here.

Last week Bona PC filed an amicus brief, on behalf of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, challenging the Minnesota Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act (“MUPA”).

In this case, a Minnesota resident discovered that she had lost a substantial inheritance because she had invested it in a savings account and left the money untouched—without any interaction with her bank—for a three-year period. At that time, Minnesota deemed her account presumptively “abandoned” under MUPA and the Act required the bank to transfer her money to the State’s general fund.

Under Minnesota law this could happen to anyone holding assets in a Minnesota bank account. This is, of course, highly concerning, especially since the State offers no actual notice to affected owners. For that matter, the only way that a Minnesota resident may learn that he or she has lost assets under MUPA is by searching a website.

Minnesota is willing to return the amount it seized when an owner discovers that the State has taken possession, but MUPA assigns the interest on the money to the State rather than the owner during the time the State holds his or her assets. So whereas one fully expects to earn interest on money deposited in a savings account, MUPA purports to extinguish that right at the time the State forcibly transfers the money to the State’s control.

But can a state law simply abrogate private property rights in this manner?

This is the essential question that the Minnesota Supreme Court will soon decide in Hall v. State. Affected owners argue that MUPA effects an unconstitutional taking of their property in withholding accrued interest, while the State defends its regime on the view that nothing is taken because MUPA defines the scope of one’s continued rights in property deemed presumptively abandoned. That is, the state tries to define away your property rights to the money in your savings account.

In the proceedings below, the Court of Appeals sided with the State—holding that there could be no valid takings claim where an owner has lost rights as a result of his or her own “neglect” under the statute.

We argue in our amicus brief that the State cannot simply avoid a takings claim by virtue of the fact that an enacted statute purports to impose restrictions on one’s common law property rights. If that were the case then regulatory authorities could enact legislation to take private property without paying just compensation by putting an expiration date on one’s right to retain title, or by simply declaring that once protected private property rights are no longer recognized under state law. But, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court had already made clear—in numerous cases—that the government cannot abrogate private property rights in this manner.

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Author: Staff

In a recent California appellate case, DNI Food Service, Inc. dba Zaya’s Bistro v. Kim, the owner of a multi-tenant retail building in Los Angeles County was notified that two parcels of its land would be affected by a freeway expansion project. The building wasn’t located on either of the parcels, and there were five tenant vacancies.

Caltrans planned to take some land located between the street and building and create an easement over the sidewalk. Real estate agents working for the builder were communicating with Caltrans. At about the same time, these real estate agents advertised tenant space in the building, marketing the property on the basis of its location and its reduced rents. A food services company and its owner saw the ad and contacted the agents. They were hoping for a two-year lease but signed a five-year lease with a personal guarantee. The food services company spent money and time and opened a restaurant in the spot that they rented.

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