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Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council

    Citation. 505 U.S. 1003, 112 S. Ct. 2886, 120 L. Ed. 2d 798, 34 ERC 1897 (1992)

    Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, Lucas (Petitioner), was not allowed to build homes on the South Carolina beachfront property he owned. A state trial court found that the land was valueless as a result of the regulation of the Respondent, the South Carolina Coastal Council (Respondent).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a regulation prohibits all economically beneficial use of land and the proscribed use could not have been prohibited under a given state’s nuisance law, the regulation is a “taking” which requires “just compensation” to be paid to the landowner.


    Facts. The Petitioner purchased two beachfront lots for $975,000 in 1986. He intended to build single-family homes on each lot. But, in 1988 the South Carolina legislature passed the Beachfront Management Act (the Act) that barred the building. The Act’s stated purpose was to protect property from storms, tides and beach erosion and as an environmental protection. The Petitioner did not challenge the state’s right to pass the Act or its justifications for doing so. The Petitioner did claims that the passage of the Act resulted in a taking of the property since he cannot use it for the intended purpose.

    Issue. Does the no-build regulation result in a compensable taking?

    Held. Yes. It is unreasonable for a state to prohibit the owner from using the land as he originally intended, unless it can be shown that this use results in a nuisance or that general property law prohibits such a use. The Supreme Court of the United State (Supreme Court) observed that mandated preservation of private land looks like a conversion of private property to public, a classic taking. Regulation of land use must account for owners’ traditional understanding as to the states power over their property rights. By way of example the Supreme Court stated that the owner of a lake bed is always aware that he may be stopped by law from flooding adjacent property to create a landfill. However, here, since a state’s common law principles would not prohibit the Petitioner from building on the land, then a taking has occurred.

    Dissent. Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun) argued that the majority has created a new rule and exception that are not based on precedent and would apply in a very situation that does not exist in this case.

    Discussion. The majority describes two types of regulation that are considered takings: (1) where the property owner suffers a physical invasion of his property and (2) where the regulation denies all economically beneficial or productive use of the property. The majority also focuses on the original intent and plans of the property owner to preserve the common law property rights as a means of determining whether a taking exists.


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