Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council Case Brief

Summary of Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U S 1003 [1992]

Restrictions on Property Use

Relevant Facts: Lucas bought two residential lots on a South Carolina barrier island, intending to build single-family homes such as those on the immediately adjacent parcels. At that time, Lucas’s lots were not subject to the State’s coastal zone building permit requirements. Then the state legislature enacted the Beachfront Management Act, which barred Lucas from erecting any permanent habitable structures on his parcels.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the Act barring the erection of permanent structures rendered property useless and therefor compensable under the Taking Clause?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Owner of beachfront property brought action alleging that application of South Carolina Beachfront Management Act to his property constituted a taking without just compensation. The Common Pleas Court of Charleston County, Larry R. Patterson, Special Judge, awarded landowner damages and appeal was taken. The South Carolina Supreme Court, Toal, J., reversed. Reversed and remanded.

Law or Rule(s): nor shall Private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Court Rationale: Regulations that deny the property owner all “economically viable use of his land” constitute one of the discrete categories of regulatory deprivations that require compensation without the usual case-specific inquiry into the public interest advanced in support of the restraint. Total deprivation of beneficial use is the equivalent of a physical appropriation. Regulations that leave the owner of land without economically beneficial or productive options for its use– typically by requiring land to be left substantially in its natural state–carry with them a heightened risk that private property is being pressed into some form of public service under the guise of mitigating serious public harm. When the owner of real property has been called upon to sacrifice all economically beneficial uses in the name of the common good, that is, to leave his property economically idle, he has suffered a taking.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Even though the Act may have been a lawful exercise of the State’s police power, the ban on construction deprived him of all “economically viable use” of his property and therefore effected a “taking” under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that required the payment of just compensation.

Defendant’s Argument: The uses Pl desires are inconsistent with the public interest. The regulation is designed to prevent “harmful or noxious uses” of property akin to public nuisances, no compensation is owing under the Takings Clause regardless of the regulation’s effect on the property’s value.

There are two discrete categories of regulatory deprivations that are compensable under Fifth Amendment without case-specific inquiry into public interest advanced in support of restraint; the first encompasses regulations that compel property owner to suffer physical invasion of his property, and the second concerns situation in which regulation denies all economically beneficial or productive use of land. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 5.

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