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

Decision Date09 June 1987
Docket NumberNo. 85-1199,85-1199
Citation96 L.Ed.2d 250,482 U.S. 304,107 S.Ct. 2378
PartiesFIRST ENGLISH EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF GLENDALE, Appellant, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

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, 157 Cal.Rptr. 372, 598 P.2d 25 (1979), aff'd on other grounds, 447 U.S. 255, 100 S.Ct. 2138, 65 L.Ed.2d 106 (1980), 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.

Held:

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 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, 106 S.Ct. 2561, 91 L.Ed.2d 285 (1986); Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (1985); San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. San Diego, 450 U.S. 621, 101 S.Ct. 1287, 67 L.Ed.2d 551 (1981); 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.

Michael M. Berger, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.

Jack R. White, Los Angeles, Cal., for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case the California Court of Appeal held that a landowner who claims that his property has been "taken" by a land-use regulation may not recover damages for the time be- fore it is finally determined that the regulation constitutes a "taking" of his property. We disagree, and conclude that in these circumstances the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution would require compensation for that period.

In 1957, appellant First English Evangelical Lutheran Church purchased a 21-acre parcel of land in a canyon along the banks of the Middle Fork of Mill Creek in the Angeles National Forest. The Middle Fork is the natural drainage channel for a watershed area owned by the National Forest Service. Twelve of the acres owned by the church are flat land, and contained a dining hall, two bunkhouses, a caretaker's lodge, an outdoor chapel, and a footbridge across the creek. The church operated on the site a campground, known as "Lutherglen," as a retreat center and a recreational area for handicapped children.

In July 1977, a forest fire denuded the hills upstream from Lutherglen, destroying approximately 3,860 acres of the watershed area and creating a serious flood hazard. Such flooding occurred on February 9 and 10, 1978, when a storm dropped 11 inches of rain in the watershed. The runoff from the storm overflowed the banks of the Mill Creek, flooding Lutherglen and destroying its buildings.

In response to the flooding of the canyon, appellee County of Los Angeles adopted Interim Ordinance No. 11,855 in January 1979. The ordinance provided that "[a] person shall not construct, reconstruct, place or enlarge any building or structure, any portion of which is, or will be, located within the outer boundary lines of the interim flood protection area located in Mill Creek Canyon. . . ." App. to Juris. Statement A31. The ordinance was effective immediately because the county determined that it was "required for the immediate preservation of the public health and safety. . . ." Id., at A32. The interim flood protection area described by the ordinance included the flat areas on either side of Mill Creek on which Lutherglen had stood.

The church filed a complaint in the Superior Court of California a little more than a month after the ordinance was adopted. As subsequently amended, the complaint alleged two claims against the county and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. The first alleged that the defendants were liable under Cal.Govt. Code Ann. § 835 (West 1980) 1 for dangerous conditions on their upstream properties that contributed to the flooding of Lutherglen. As a part of this claim, appellant also alleged that "Ordinance No. 11,855 denies [appellant] all use of Lutherglen." App. 12, 49. The second claim sought to recover from the Flood Control District in inverse condemnation and in tort for engaging in cloud seeding during the storm that flooded Lutherglen. Appellant sought damages under each count for loss of use of Lutherglen. The defendants moved to strike the portions of the complaint alleging that the county's ordinance denied all use of Lutherglen, on the view that the California Supreme Court's decision in Agins v. Tiburon, 24 Cal.3d 266, 157 Cal.Rptr. 372, 598 P.2d 25 (1979), aff'd on other grounds, 447 U.S. 255, 100 S.Ct. 2138, 65 L.Ed.2d 106 (1980), rendered the allegation "entirely immaterial and irrelevant[, with] no bearing upon any conceivable cause of action herein." App. 22. See Cal.Civ.Proc.Code Ann. § 436(a) (West Supp.1987) ("The court may . . . [s]trike out any irrelevant, false, or improper matter inserted in any pleading").

In Agins v. Tiburon, supra, the California Supreme Court decided that a landowner may not maintain an inverse condemnation suit in the courts of that State based upon a "regulatory" taking. 24 Cal.3d, at 275-277, 157 Cal.Rptr., at 376-78, 598 P.2d, at 29-31. In the court's view, maintenance of such a suit would allow a landowner to force the legislature to exercise its power of eminent domain. Under this decision, then, 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. Based on this decision, the trial court in the present case granted the motion to strike the allegation that the church had been denied all use of Lutherglen. It explained that "a careful re-reading of the Agins case persuades the Court that when an ordinance, even a non-zoning ordinance, deprives a person of the total use of his lands, his challenge to the ordinance...

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