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First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles

    Brief Fact Summary. The First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale (Appellant) bought, in 1957, 21 acres of land in a canyon along the banks of Mill Creek in the Angeles National Forest. Appellant constructed a dining hall, two bunkhouses, a caretaker’s lodge, an outdoor chapel, and a footbridge across the creek on the land, known as Lutherglen. In July of 1977, a fire destroyed the acreage above the canyon and a flood then wiped out Lutherglen. In response, the County of Los Angeles (Appellee) issued an ordinance which prohibited the reconstruction of any buildings in the canyon.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Where the government’s activities have already effectuated a taking of all use of property, no subsequent action by the government can relieve it of the duty to provide compensation for the period during which the taking was effective.

    Facts. Appellant bought, in 1957, 21 acres of land in a canyon along the banks of Mill Creek in the Angeles National Forest and constructed a dining hall, two bunkhouses, a caretaker’s lodge, an outdoor chapel, and a footbridge across the creek. It was known as “Lutherglen,” and operated as a camp for retreats and for handicapped children. In July of 1977, a fire destroyed the acreage above the canyon and as a result of the fire a flood wiped out Lutherglen. In response, the Appellee issued an ordinance, which prohibited the reconstruction of any buildings in the canyon. The Appellant claimed that this prohibition amounted to a taking within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. About one month after the ordinance was passed, the Appellant filed a complaint alleging that the ordinance denied it the use of Lutherglen and sought damages for the deprivation. The allegation was struck and affirmed by the Court of Appeals of California on the assumption tha
    t the complaint sought damages for the unconstitutional taking without just compensation. Relying on California law, the court held that the remedy for a taking is limited to non-monetary relief and denied damages since Appellant’s sought damages in the complaint.

    Issue. What is the proper form of compensation for a taking?

    Held. The remedy includes monetary compensation during a period of non-use, which arises by the ordinance. Judgment of California Court of Appeals reversed and case remanded.
    The Fifth Amendment provides that “private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.” The Fifth Amendment does not prevent the government from taking property from private individuals, but does require that just compensation be paid. The Court has previously held that the government may elect to abandon its intrusion or discontinue regulations. However, the private person so temporarily deprived of property is entitled to compensation.
    Once a court determines that a taking has occurred, the government retains the whole range of options already available: amendment of the regulation, withdrawal of the invalidated regulation, or exercise of eminent domain. The Court’s decision is not to be read as permitting a court to allow a private person to require the government to institute eminent domain proceedings.
    Where the government’s activities have already constituted a taking of all use of property, no subsequent action by the government can relieve it of the duty to provide compensation for the period during which the taking was effective.
    The invalidation of the ordinance, which prevents Appellant’s use of Lutherglen without payment of the fair value of the use of the property, would be a constitutionally insufficient remedy.

    Dissent. The non-physical invasion of property by a regulation scheme is not a taking which requires just compensation under the constitution.

    Discussion. This case is important because the situation, which caused the Appellee to enact the regulation preventing the use of the land was a temporary situation. One would suspect, in a few years, the forest above the canyon would be sufficiently grown back so as to avoid the flooding hazard. The Court’s decision makes sure that the Appellee will be compensated even if the County decides later to abandon the regulation.


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