The Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause guarantees that private land cannot be taken for public use without “just compensation.” But apparently, according to the Federal Circuit, this right has an expiration date. Specifically, the Federal Circuit ruled that Mike Mehaffy purchased his land too late to claim that the government regulated away most of his property value. Mehaffy should’ve known, said the court, that the Clean Water Act had been passed and degraded the value of the land he had purchased. This is called the “Notice Rule,” and it leaves Mehaffy without a claim, unable to recoup most of his property investment. While the Supreme Court has never given specific guidance on how a court should balance whether a regulation that takes or lowers the value of property should be compensated, in Palazzolo v. Rhode Island the Court was very specific about one thing: No one factor should decide. Despite this admonition, the Federal and Ninth Circuits focus solely on notice to effectively bar anyone from bringing suit if they bought land too late. Cato, along with the National Federation for Independent Business and the Chapman Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to review the Federal Circuit’s decision. We argue that Nollan v. California Coastal Commission implicitly recognized that a challenge can be brought despite the fact that property was obtained after the regulatory act in question. Later, in Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, the Court unmistakably drove this point home: “[A takings claim] is not barred by the mere fact that title was acquired after the effective date of the state-imposed restriction.” To do so, said the Palazzolo Court, would “put an expiration date on the Takings Clause” and would absolve the state of its duty to defend its actions, no matter how unreasonable. Despite the Supreme Court’s clear rejection of a test based solely on the Notice Rule, the Federal and Ninth Circuits circumvented the Supreme Court’s holding in Palazzolo and revived the Notice Rule. This is especially far reaching, as so many takings claims are brought in the Court of Federal Claims where the Notice Rule now controls. Moreover, by solely looking at the issue of notice, the Federal Circuit gave federal agencies an incentive to run out the clock, as once all the land has been transferred, no owner can bring a takings suit. The takings problem is compounded by difficulties in determining if land is subject to the Clean Water Act in the first place—a new owner might find himself newly regulated under changing interpretations of the Clean Water Act, and yet be denied remedy by application of the Notice Rule. Most modest landowners won’t have the means to take such a case to the government but also can’t sell the property without extinguishing their claim. This manipulates the property market, with some owners avoiding transactions that might destroy their takings claims, while most will be forced to sell at a significantly depreciated rate. This burden will likely fall most heavily on groups without the time or resources to fight, like the elderly. The Notice Rule’s resurrection is plainly at odds with the Supreme Court’s precedent, creates a near total ban on those takings claims that are economically viable, and whittles away property rights. The Supreme Court should enforce its own precedent, and make it clear that that there is no ban on pursuing “just compensation” simply because they purchased their property a little too late.
Featuring John Allison, President and CEO, Cato Institute; Rep. Kevin Brady (TX-8), Chairman, Joint Economic Committee; and Norbert Michel, Research Fellow in Financial Regulations, Heritage Foundation; moderated by James A. Dorn, Vice President for Monetary Studies and Senior Fellow, Cato Institute.
- Legal Briefs
- Cato Handbook for Policymakers
- Cato Journal
- Cato's Letter
- Cato's Letters
- Cato Papers on Public Policy
- Cato Policy Report
- Cato State Legislative Guide
- Cracking the Books
- Economic Freedom of the States of India
- Economic Freedom of the World
- Public Comments
- Supreme Court Review
In this issue of the Cato Journal, economists Geoffrey Black, D. Allen Dalton, Samia Islam, and Aaron Batteen offer one prominent example of allowing the market to work. Also in this issue, economists Jason E. Taylor and Jerry L. Taylor reexamine the relationship between marginal tax rates and U.S. growth, and Robert Krol looks at bias in CBO and OMB economic forecasts.
Latest CommentaryOnly a robust and open marketplace of ideas can effectively combat lies consistent with the First Amendment.
The 2008-2009 financial crisis and Great Recession have vastly increased the power and scope of the Federal Reserve, and radically changed the financial landscape. This new ebook examines those changes and considers how the links between money, markets, and government may evolve in the future.