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Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Citation. 535 U.S. 302 (2002)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The petitioners, who purchased their property prior to the effective date of the Plan in the area subject to the respondent’s jurisdiction, filed actions against TRPA, contending that imposing a temporary moratorium denies a property owner all viable economic use of their property, which gives rise to an unconstitutional taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The language of the Fifth Amendment requires the payment of compensation whenever the government acquires private property for a public purpose.


The respondent, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) ordered moratoria to maintain the status quo while studying the impact of development on Lake Tahoe and virtually all development on a substantial portion of the property subject to TRPA’s jurisdiction was prohibited for 32 months. Two months after the adoption of the TRPA’s Plan, petitioners, who purchased their property prior to the effective date of the Plan, filed actions against TRPA. The petitioners contended that the mere enactment of a temporary regulation that denies a property owner all viable economic use of their property gives rise to an unconstitutional taking, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.


Does a moratorium on development imposed during the process of devising a land-use plan constitutes a per se taking of property requiring just compensation under the Fifth Amendment?


No. This case does not present the classic taking in which the government directly appropriates private property for its own use and the government’s interference with property rights arises from the State’s public program adjusting the benefits. In such cases, the Court has avoided applying a categorical rule; instead, whether a regulation has the effect of a taking requires careful examination and weighing of all the relevant circumstances. When taken as a whole, all the evidence suggests that the one-year moratorium is not unreasonable and does not constitute a per se taking.


The petitioner’s suggestion that this Court should adopt a rigid categorical rule that any deprivation of all economic use, no matter how brief, constitutes a compensable taking cannot be sustained. A categorical rule, however, would require changes in numerous state practices that have long been considered permissible exercises of the police power. The moratoria here enabled TRPA to obtain the benefit of comments and criticisms from interested parties including the petitioners and any categorical rule would likely create added pressure on decision-makers to reach a quick resolution of land-use questions, which would serve to disadvantage the landowners and interest groups not familiar with the planning process. Moreover, with a temporary ban on development, there is a lesser risk that individual landowners will be “singled out” to bear a heavy burden that should be shared by the public as a whole. A moratorium at issue results in a reciprocity of advantage because it protects the interests of all affected parties against immediate construction that might be inconsistent with the provisions of the plan that is ultimately adopted.

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