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


482 U.S. 304

First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles, California APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT

No. 85-1199 Argued: January 14, 1987 — Decided: June 9, 1987

In 1957, appellant church purchased land on which it operated a campground, known as “Lutherglen,” as a retreat center and a recreational area for handicapped children. The land is located in a canyon along the banks of a creek that is the natural drainage channel for a watershed area. In 1978, a flood destroyed Lutherglen’s buildings. In response to the flood, appellee Los Angeles County, in 1979, adopted an interim ordinance prohibiting the construction or reconstruction of any building or structure in an interim flood protection area that included the land on which Lutherglen had stood. Shortly after the ordinance was adopted, appellant filed suit in a California court, alleging, inter alia, that the ordinance denied appellant all use of Lutherglen, and seeking to recover damages in inverse condemnation for such loss of use. The court granted a motion to strike the allegation, basing its ruling on Agins v. Tiburon, 24 Cal.3d 266, 598 P.2d 25, aff’d on other grounds, 447 U.S. 255, in which the California Supreme Court held that a landowner may not maintain an inverse condemnation suit based upon a “regulatory” taking, and that compensation is not required until the challenged regulation or ordinance has been held excessive in an action for declaratory relief or a writ of mandamus and the government has nevertheless decided to continue the regulation in effect. Because appellant alleged a regulatory taking and sought only damages, the trial court deemed the allegation that the ordinance denied all use of Lutherglen to be irrelevant. The California Court of Appeal affirmed.


1. The claim that the Agins case improperly held that the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not require compensation as a remedy for “temporary” regulatory takings — those regulatory takings which are ultimately invalidated by the courts — is properly presented in this case. In earlier cases, this Court was unable to reach the question because either the regulations considered to be in issue by the state courts did not effect a taking or the factual disputes yet to be resolved by state authorities might still lead to the conclusion that no taking had occurred. Here, the California Court of Appeal assumed [p305] that the complaint sought damages for the uncompensated “taking” of all use of Lutherglen by the ordinance, and relied on the California Supreme Court’s Agins decision for the conclusion that the remedy for the taking was limited to nonmonetary relief, thus isolating the remedial question for this Court’s consideration. MacDonald, Sommer & Frates v. Yolo County, 477 U.S. 340; Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172; San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. San Diego, 450 U.S. 621; and Agins, all distinguished. Pp. 311-313.

2. Under the Just Compensation Clause, where the government has “taken” property by a land use regulation, the landowner may recover damages for the time before it is finally determined that the regulation constitutes a “taking” of his property. The Clause is designed not to limit the governmental interference with property rights per se, but rather to secure compensation in the event of otherwise proper interference amounting to a taking. A landowner is entitled to bring an action in inverse condemnation as a result of the self-executing character of the constitutional provision with respect to compensation. While the typical taking occurs when the government acts to condemn property in the exercise of its power of eminent domain, the doctrine of inverse condemnation is predicated on the proposition that a taking may occur without such formal proceedings. “Temporary” regulatory takings which, as here, deny a landowner all use of his property, are not different in kind from permanent takings for which the Constitution clearly requires 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. But where the government’s activities have already worked 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. Invalidation of the ordinance without payment of fair value for the use of the property during such period would be a constitutionally insufficient remedy. Pp. 314-322.

Reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Parts I and III of which BLACKMUN and O’CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 322. [p306]

First Evangelical v. Los Angeles is considered by many property rights and land use lawyers to be a seminal Constitutional property rights case. If you have a property rights matter you’d like evaluated by one of California’s leading Constitutional property rights lawyers, give Kassouni Law a call. Owner, and managing partner Timothy Kassouni will speak to you personally (877) 770-7379.