Sunday, October 24, 2010

Private Beachfront Property Takings

Florida beachfront property

It is possible for the U.S. Supreme Court to have jurisdiction over Florida’s private beachfront takings case because the issue under debate in this case is the consistency of state law with the provisions of the U.S. Federal Constitution, and also because the plaintiff contested the decision of a state supreme court, which means that the dispute may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. This case should be decided in favor of the plaintiff; the Florida property owners.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that private property “shall [not]… be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Florida property has rightfully and legitimately been deemed necessary for the state to condemn, but as long as the decision of the state’s supreme court is permitted to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court, the plaintiffs will not have been justly compensated for the decline in the value of their homes that has resulted from their loss of control over the access to and use of that beachfront property.

In the 6-to-3 decision of Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, in the opinion of the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that, according to the majority’s interpretation of the Fifth Amendment, compensation is required in the event that the regulation “compel[s] the owner to suffer a physical ‘invasion’ of his property”. To convert the plaintiffs’ property into a public beach which could also be used by vendors to sell food amounts to a physical invasion because it would make it possible and likely that areas near the plaintiffs’ homes could frequently become mobbed with crowds of people, which would cause the disturbance of the local property owners.

Furthermore, the Fourteenth Amendment states that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In the 1897 decision of Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Company v. Chicago, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote the opinion of the 7-to-1 majority: “…since the adoption of the 14th Amendment compensation for private property taken for public use constitutes an essential element in ‘due process of law,’ and that without such compensation the appropriation of private property to public uses, no matter under what form of procedure it is taken, would violate the provisions of the Federal Constitution.”

Justice Scalia also wrote in the Lucas decision that “land-use regulation does not effect a taking if it ‘substantially advance[s] legitimate state interests'”. Issues that will be at contention in this case include whether condemnation for the purposes of mitigating potential damage to property along the coastline constitutes a substantial advancement of legitimate state interest, and also whether the benefits of the protection against damage to property by hurricanes which has been conferred upon the owners by the state constitutes by its own merit a “just compensation” for the owners’ decline of property value resulting from loss of control over access to the newly-appropriated land.

Written in Summer 2008

Originally Published on October 24th, 2010

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