Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City

Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City

Litigants=Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City
ArgueDate=February 19
DecideDate=June 28
FullName=Williamson County Regional Planning Commission, et al., v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City
Prior=729 F.2d 402 (C.A.6 (Tenn.) 1984).
Holding=Claim that agency's land-use regulations violated the Just Compensation and Due Process Clauses was not ripe for adjudication. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, reversed.
JoinMajority=Burger, Brennan, Marshall, Rehnquist, Stevens, O'Connor

"Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City", 473 U.S. 172 (1985), [ [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol={2}&page={3} {2} U.S. {3}] Full text of the opinion courtesy of Findlaw.com.] was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States limited access to federal court for plaintiffs alleging uncompensated takings of private property under the Fifth Amendment.

Facts of the case

In 1973, the Williamson County (Tennessee) Regional Planning Commission approved a preliminary plat for a 676-acre residential subdivision, including a golf course, open space, and 736 residential units. Four years later, after the developer had incurred substantial costs installing infrastructure and had received final approval for the construction of the first 212 units, the county changed its zoning ordinance and adopted more stringent density limits.

Upon submission of a revised preliminary plat in 1980, the Commission raised eight objections to the development based on non-compliance with the county's then-existing zoning and development regulations. Following an administrative appeal, the County Board of Zoning Appeals ruled that the Commission should have applied the regulations and zoning that were effect in 1973, when the original preliminary plat was filed. However, the Commission declined to follow this directive, and once again disapproved the revised plat.

Hamilton Bank, which had acquired the undeveloped property through foreclosure, filed suit in federal court, alleging that the Commission's actions amounted to a regulatory taking of its property without just compensation. Alternatively, Hamilton argued that the Agency's actions violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment and should be set aside.

Prior history

After trial, a jury found that the Commission's regulations violated the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and awarded Hamilton $350,000 in compensation. The District Court issued an injunction requiring the Commission to apply its 1973 regulations to Hamilton's development plat, but set aside award of compensation on the grounds that Hamilton's loss of the beneficial use of the property had been only temporary. [473 U.S. at 182-83.] The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and reinstated the jury's award, holding that just compensation was mandated by the Fifth Amendment when land-use regulations deprive an owner of all economically viable use of property, for the period during which they are in effect. [473 U.S. at 183-84.]

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether monetary compensation is required when an owner is temporarily deprived of the beneficial use of land by operation of government regulations.

Decision of the Court

Writing for the majority, Justice Blackmun held that Hamilton Bank's takings claim was not ripe for adjudication. The Court set out two independent requirements plaintiffs must meet before bringing a Fifth Amendment takings case in federal court.

First, the government entity charged with a taking must have reached "a final decision regarding the application of the regulations to the property at issue." [473 U.S. at 186.] Here, neither the developer nor the bank had applied for variances that might have resolved five of the Commission's eight objections to the project. Liability for just compensation under the Fifth Amendment depends on a fact-intensive inquiry into the economic impact of regulations and their effect on the owner's investment-backed expectations, [See "Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York", 438 U.S. 104 (1978).] but those issues cannot be determined until the defendant agency "has arrived at a final, definitive position regarding how it will apply the regulations at issue to the particular land in question." [ 473 U.S. at 191.]

Second, before asserting a violation of the Just Compensation Clause in federal court, the plaintiff must attempt to obtain compensation through whatever procedures the state has provided for doing so. [473 U.S. at 194.] Here, Tennessee law provides for an inverse condemnation action to seek compensation from the state for a taking of property. Since this qualifies as a "'reasonable, certain and adequate provision for obtaining compensation," [473 U.S. at 194, quoting "Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases", 419 U.S. 102, 124-25 (1974).] Hamilton Bank could not allege a violation of the Just compensation Clause until it had sought to use this procedure and compensation had been denied.

Since liability for a due process violation would require a finding that the Agency's regulations had the same effect as an outright appropriation of Hamilton's property, yet the effect of the regulations could not be determined because of the lack of a final determination (see above), the due process claim was also found to be unripe. [473 U.S. at 200.]

Concurring opinions

Justice Brennan filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Marshall, reiterating his dissent in "San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. City of San Diego", in which he argued that the Fifth Amendment requires compensation for temporary regulatory takings.

Justice Stevens filed a concurrence arguing that the judgment below should be reversed because there was no violation of due process and no formal condemnation of the property.

Dissenting opinions

Justice White dissented from the holding that the takings issue was not ripe for adjudication, without further comment.

Justice Powell took no part in the decision.

Critical response

"Williamson County's" "state procedures" ripeness requirement has proven to be highly controversial, especially among property-rights advocates. It has been complained that the Court decided this question without adequate briefing, [See Breemer (2003) at 214] the requirement of pursuing compensation from the state is not logically inherent in the text of the Fifth Amendment, [See Breemer (2006) at 291-93.] the rule derives from procedural due process considerations that are inapplicable to takings claims, [See Breemer (2006) at 295-97.] and that principles of "res judicata" and collateral estoppel may bar a plaintiff's claim from federal court "after" complying with "Williamson County's" procedures to "ripen" the claim. The latter problem became known as the "Williamson" Trap" among attorneys for aggrieved property owners, [See Meacham (2000)] although it was defended as a straightforward application of principles of preclusion by government advocates. [See Kovacs (1999); Douglas T. Kendall, et al., "Takings Litigation Handbook" (2000), pp. 60-75.]

Subsequent history

In "San Remo Hotel v. City and County of San Francisco", [545 U.S. 323 (2005)] a majority of the Court held that the Full Faith and Credit Statute bars relitigating a Fifth Amendment takings claim in federal court, after just compensation has been denied in state court proceedings. This seemed to bear out the views of commentators who saw "Williamson County's" second prong as extinguishing federal takings claims, rather than ripening them. Writing for a four-justice concurrence, Chief Justice Rehnquist called for the Court to reconsider "Williamson County's" state procedures doctrine "in an appropriate case." ["Id." at 352.] Although the issue has been presented in several petitions for certiorari since then, however, the Roberts Court has shown no interest in pursuing the late chief justice's proposal.


Legal Scholarship

* Berger, Michael M. & Gideon Kanner (2004). "Shell Game! You Can't Get There from Here: Supreme Court Ripeness Jurisprudence in Takings Cases at Long Last Reaches the Self-Parody Stage", The Urban Lawyer 36:671.
* Breemer, J. David (2006). "You Can Check Out but You Can Never Leave: The Story of the San Remo Hotel", Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 33:247.
* Breemer, J. David (2003). "Overcoming Williamson County’s State Procedures Rule: How to Use the England Reservation, Issue Preclusion Exceptions and The Inadequacy Exception to Open the Federal Courthouse Door to Ripe Takings Claims", Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law 18:209.
* Kassouni, Timothy V. (1992). The "Ripeness Doctrine and the Judicial Relegation of Constitutionally Protected Property Rights", California Western Law Review 29:1.
* Kovacs, Kathryn E. (1999). "Accepting the Relegation of Takings Claims to State Courts: The Federal Courts' Misguided Attempts to Avoid Preclusion Under Williamson County", Ecology Law Quarterly 26:1.
* Meacham, Madeline J. (2000). "The Williamson Trap", The Urban Lawyer 32:239.
* Roberts, Thomas E. (2001). "Procedural Implications of Williamson County/First English in Regulatory Takings Litigation: Reservations, Removal, Diversity, Supplemental Jurisdiction, Rooker-Feldman, and Res Judicata", 31 Environmental Law Reporter 31:10,353.

ee also

* Inverse condemnation
* Ripeness
* Regulatory taking

External links

* "The Impact of Palazzolo and Other Recent Cases": http://law.wustl.edu/landuselaw/Articles/Archived/dallas_01.htm
* "Overcoming Williamson County's Troubling State Procedures Rule": * "Supreme Bait and Switch": http://law.wustl.edu/journal/3/pg109to136.pdf
* "The Ripeness Doctrine of the Takings Clause": http://www.law.fsu.edu/Journals/landuse/Vol101/overstr.pdf
* "Supreme Bait and Switch": http://law.wustl.edu/journal/3/pg109to136.pdf

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