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Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council

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Constitutional Law Keyed to Stone

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

Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner purchased two residential lots in South Carolina with the intention of building single family homes on them. Two years later, the South Carolina legislature enacted a law barring Petitioner from building on the land. Petitioner sued.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. While property may be regulated to a certain extent, if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking requiring just compensation under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.


Facts. In 1986, Petitioner, David Lucas bought two residential lots on the Isle of Palms, Charleston County, South Carolina. He intended to build single-family homes on the lots. At the time Petitioner purchased the lots they were zoned for single-family residential construction and with no restrictions imposed upon this use. In 1988, the South Carolina legislature enacted the Beachfront Management Act (the “Act”), which barred Lucas from erecting any permanent habitable structures on his two parcels of land. Petitioner filed suit against the South Carolina Coastal Council who had deemed, with legislative authority, Petitioner’s land as protected under the Act, claiming that his land had been taken without just compensation, but Petitioner did not challenge the facial validity of the Act. Petitioner claimed that the Act’s complete extinguishment of his property’s value entitled him to compensation regardless of whether the legislature had acted in furtherance of legitimate police pow
er objectives. The trial court found for Petitioner, and determined that, at the time of Petitioner’s purchase of the land, the lots were both zoned for single-family residential construction and there were no use restrictions placed on the property by the State of South Carolina, the County of Charleston, or the Town of Isle of Palms. The trial court also found that the Beachfront Management Act decreed a permanent ban on construction on Petitioner’s lots and that the prohibition deprived Petitioner of any reasonable economic use of the lots, eliminated the unrestricted right of use, and rendered them valueless. The trial court found that the property had been “taken” by operation of the Act and that Respondent was ordered to pay “just compensation” in the amount of $1,232,387.50. The Supreme Court of South Carolina reversed the trial court and found that, because Petitioner did not challenge the facial validity of the Act as a reasonable use of the police power, no compensation coul
d be owed. Petitioner Lucas petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review.

Issue. Did the construction ban depriving Petitioner of all economically viable use of his property amount to a “taking” requiring “just compensation” under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments?
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