Tag: Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Likely Supreme Court Tie Would Be a Loss to Property Owners

Today, the Supreme Court heard argument in Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is a Fifth Amendment Takings Clause challenge involving beachfront property (that I previously discussed here).

Essentially, Florida’s ”beach renourishment” program created more beach but deprived property owners of the rights they previously had – exclusive access to the water, unobstructed view, full ownership of land up to the “mean high water mark,” etc. That is, the court turned beachfront property into “beachview” property.  After the property owners successfully challenged this action, the Florida Supreme Court – “SCOFLA” for those who remember the Bush v. Gore imbroglio – reversed the lower court (and overturned 100 years of common property law), ruling that the state did not owe any compensation, or even a proper eminent domain hearing.

As Cato adjunct scholar and Pacific Legal Foundation senior staff attorney Timothy Sandefur noted in his excellent op-ed on the case in the National Law Journal, “[T]he U.S. Constitution also guarantees every American’s right to due process of law and to protection of private property. If state judges can arbitrarily rewrite a state’s property laws, those guarantees would be meaningless.”

I sat in on the arguments today and predict that the property owners will suffer a narrow 4-4 defeat.  That is, Justice Stevens recused himself – he owns beachfront property in a different part of Florida that is subject to the same renourishment program – and the other eight justices are likely to split evenly.  And a tie is a defeat in this case because it means the Court will summarily affirm the decision below without issuing an opinion or setting any precedent.

By my reckoning, Justice Scalia’s questioning lent support to the property owners’ position, as did Chief Justice Roberts’ (though he could rule in favor of the “judicial takings” doctrine in principle but perhaps rule for the government on a procedural technicality here).  Justice Alito was fairly quiet but is probably in the same category as the Chief Justice.  Justice Thomas was typically silent but can be counted on to support property rights.  With Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor expressing pro-government positions, that leaves Justice Kennedy, unsurprisingly, as the swing vote.  Kennedy referred to the case as turning on a close question of state property law, which indicates his likely deference to SCOFLA.

For more analysis of the argument, see SCOTUSblog.  Cato filed an amicus brief supporting the land owners here, and earlier this week I recorded a Cato Podcast to that effect. Cato also recently filed a brief urging the Court to hear another case of eminent domain abuse in Florida, 480.00 Acres of Land v. United States.

The Nets Finally Win!

Unfortunately, that win comes as another blow to property rights:

The last major obstacle to a groundbreaking for the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn fell Tuesday when New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, dismissed a challenge to the state’s use of eminent domain on behalf of the developer, Bruce C. Ratner.

Mr. Ratner, whose 22-acre development has been delayed for three years by a flurry of lawsuits, the collapse of the credit and real estate markets and a glut of luxury housing, plans to begin selling tax-free bonds next month to finance the development’s cornerstone project: an 18,000-seat basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues near downtown.

Given the high-profile nature of the would-be new tenants of the land, this is the most famous property rights case currently being litigated, but it’s the same ol’ story: rich company wants land on the cheap, company gets the government to seize the land, property owners lose their land for the benefit of another private party for a decidedly not public use.

And, as I allude to in this post’s title, this loss comes to the 0-13 New Jersey Nets. (Even the Redskins can win a game without getting the government to bail them out!)

And while the story goes on to promise all this new office space and buildings to go on the newly acquired land, we know from recent experience that a successful deal doesn’t automatically trigger the jobs and benefit promised. To give you an idea what the rest of Brooklyn is looking like:

If construction begins in the coming weeks as expected, Atlantic Yards will stand out in a city where 530 different construction projects are stalled, sitting lifeless and without adequate financing in virtually every neighborhood.

One would think that if there was such a guarantee of money to be made, investors would be funding one of those 530 other projects in the city.

And if you think a brand spanking new stadium is more likely to bring in business to the immediate area, just ask the shop owners around the new Yankee Stadium how business was this year – when that team put up the best record in baseball and won the World Series. (NB: Go Red Sox!)

In any event, Cato continues the fight for the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. We filed a brief in a case coming before the Court next week, Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which can be found here; and just yesterday filed a brief urging the Court to consider 480.00 Acres v. United States, which you can read here.

HT: Jonathan Blanks

Beach v. Florida

Cato Adjunct Scholar and Pacific Legal Foundation Senior Staff Attorney Tim Sandefur published an excellent op-ed in the National Law Journal this week on the upcoming Supreme Court case Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection:

The case involves a Florida statute determining the boundaries of oceanfront property. Under a 1961 law, the state drew a brand-new line separating public and private land on certain beaches, meaning that some land that would have been privately owned would belong instead to the state. A group of property owners filed suit, arguing that the law deprived them of property without just compensation, violating the state and federal constitutions.

Last December, Florida’s highest court rejected their arguments. It held that, while the new boundary gave the state ownership of the beach land, the former owners actually had no such right to begin with. Despite more than a century of Florida law to the contrary, the court announced that the owners actually only had a right to “access” the ocean, and because the state promised to allow them to keep crossing the land to reach the water, it actually hadn’t taken anything away when it seized the land itself.

Thus, by simply reinterpreting state property law, the court allowed the state to take property without compensation with a mere stroke of a pen. Yet the U.S. Constitution forbids states from confiscating property - even through legal legerdemain - without payment.

[.]

[T]he U.S. Constitution also guarantees every American’s right to due process of law and to protection of private property. If state judges can arbitrarily rewrite a state’s property laws, those guarantees would be meaningless. More than four decades ago, Justice Potter Stewart warned that, without a constitutional limit on the states’ power to determine the nature of property, states could “defeat the constitutional prohibition against taking property without due process of law by the simple device of asserting retroactively that the property it has taken never existed at all.”

It is well-worth a full read here.

Despite the dreadful decision in the Kelo case several years ago, the fight to maintain the fundamental right to private property continues in our courts and legislatures. Tim and PLF have been doing yeoman’s work in the fight for property rights, and I am proud to team Cato up with them and the NFIB Legal Center in filing an amicus brief on behalf of the rightful property owners in this case. You can download the PDF of the brief here.