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

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation105 S.Ct. 3108,473 U.S. 172,87 L.Ed.2d 126
Docket NumberNo. 84-4,84-4
Decision Date28 June 1985

As required under Tennessee law, in 1973 respondent's predecessor in interest, a land developer, obtained petitioner Planning Commission's approval of a preliminary plat for development of a tract. The tract was to be developed in accord with the requirements of a county zoning ordinance for "cluster" development of residential areas and the Commission's implementing regulations. In 1977, the county zoning ordinance was changed so as to reduce the allowable density of dwelling units, but the Commission continued to apply the 1973 ordinance and regulations to the developer's tract. In 1979, however, the Commission decided that further development of the tract should be governed by the ordinance and regulations then in effect. The Commission thereafter disapproved plats proposing further development of the remainder of the tract on various grounds, including failure to comply with current density requirements. Respondent filed suit against the Commission and its members and staff (also petitioners) in Federal District Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Commission had taken its property without just compensation by refusing to approve the proposed development. The jury found that respondent had been denied the "economically viable" use of its property in violation of the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and awarded damages for the temporary taking of respondent's property. The District Court entered an injunction requiring the Commission to apply the 1973 ordinance and regulations to the project, but granted judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict for the Commission on the taking claim, concluding that the temporary deprivation of economic benefit from respondent's property, as a matter of law, could not constitute a taking. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that application of government regulations affecting an owner's use of property may constitute a taking, and that the evidence supported the jury's finding that the property had no economically feasible use during the time between the Commission's refusal to approve the plat and the jury's verdict.


1. Even assuming, arguendo, that government regulation may effect a taking for which the Fifth Amendment requires just compensation and assuming further that the Fifth Amendment requires the payment of money damages to compensate for such a taking, the jury verdict in this case cannot be upheld because respondent's claim is premature. Respondent has not yet obtained a final decision regarding the application of the ordinance and regulations to its property, nor utilized the procedures Tennessee provides for obtaining just compensation, and its claim therefore is not ripe. Pp. 186-197.

(a) Although respondent's plan for developing its property was rejected, it did not then seek variances that would have allowed it to develop the property according to its proposed plat. Cf. Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Assn., Inc., 452 U.S. 264, 101 S.Ct. 2352, 69 L.Ed.2d 1. The record does not support respondent's claim that the Commission's denial of approval for respondent's plat was equivalent to a denial of variances. Thus, respondent has not yet obtained a final decision regarding how it will be allowed to develop its property. Respondent's contention that it should not be required to seek variances because its suit is predicated upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is without merit. While there is no requirement that a plaintiff exhaust administrative remedies before bringing a § 1983 action, the question whether administrative remedies must be exhausted is conceptually distinct from the question whether an administrative action must be final before it is judicially reviewable. Pp. 186-194.

(b) The Fifth Amendment does not require that just compensation be paid in advance of, or contemporaneously with, the taking. If a State provides an adequate procedure for seeking just compensation, the property owner cannot claim a violation of the Just Compensation Clause until it has used the procedure and been denied just compensation. Under Tennessee law, a property owner may bring an inverse condemnation action to obtain just compensation for an alleged taking of property under certain circumstances. Respondent has not shown that the inverse condemnation procedure is unavailable or inadequate, and until it has utilized that procedure, its taking claim is premature. Pp. 194-197.

2. Respondent's claim also is premature if viewed under the theory that government regulation that goes so far that it has the same effect as a physical taking, must be viewed not as a Fifth Amendment "taking," but as an invalid exercise of the police power, violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Resolution of the due process question depends, in significant part, upon an analysis of the effect the Commission's application of the ordinance and regulations had on the value of respondent's property and investment-backed profit expectations. That effect cannot be measured until a final decision is made as to how the regulations will be applied to respondent's property. No such decision had been made at the time respondent filed its § 1983 action because respondent failed to apply for variances from the regulations. Pp. 197-200.

729 F.2d 402 (CA6, 1984) reversed and remanded.

Robert L. Estes, Delhi, N.Y., for petitioners.

Edwin S. Kneedler, Washington, D.C., for U.S. as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

G.T. Nebel, Nashville, Tenn., for respondent.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent, the owner of a tract of land it was developing as a residential subdivision, sued petitioners, the Williamson County (Tennessee) Regional Planning Commission and its members and staff, in United States District Court, alleging that petitioners' application of various zoning laws and regulations to respondent's property amounted to a "taking" of that property. At trial, the jury agreed and awarded respondent $350,000 as just compensation for the "taking." Although the jury's verdict was rejected by the District Court, which granted a judgment notwithstanding the verdict to petitioners, the verdict was reinstated on appeal. Petitioners and their amici urge this Court to overturn the jury's award on the ground that a temporary regulatory interference with an investor's profit expectation does not constitute a "taking" within the meaning of the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment,1 or, alternatively, on the ground that even if such interference does constitute a taking, the Just Compensation Clause does not require money damages as recompense. Before we reach those con- tentions, we examine the procedural posture of respondent's claim.


Under Tennessee law, responsibility for land-use planning is divided between the legislative body of each of the State's counties and regional and municipal "planning commissions." The county legislative body is responsible for zoning ordinances to regulate the uses to which particular land and buildings may be put, and to control the density of population and the location and dimensions of buildings. Tenn.Code Ann. § 13-7-101 (1980). The planning commissions are responsible for more specific regulations governing the subdivision of land within their region or municipality for residential development. §§ 13-3-403, 13-4-303. Enforcement of both the zoning ordinances and the subdivision regulations is accomplished in part through a requirement that the planning commission approve the plat of a subdivision before the plat may be recorded. §§ 13-3-402, 13-4-302 (1980 and Supp.1984).

Pursuant to § 13-7-101, the Williamson County "Quarterly Court," which is the county's legislative body, in 1973 adopted a zoning ordinance that allowed "cluster" development of residential areas. Under "cluster" zoning,

"both the size and the width of individual residential lots in . . . [a] development may be reduced, provided . . . that the overall density of the entire tract remains constant provided, that is, that an area equivalent to the total of the areas thus 'saved' from each individual lot is pooled and retained as common open space." 2 N. Williams, American Land Planning Law § 47.01, pp. 212-213 (1974).

Cluster zoning thus allows housing units to be grouped, or "clustered" together, rather than being evenly spaced on uniform lots.

As required by § 13-3-402, respondent's predecessor-in-interest (developer) in 1973 submitted a preliminary plat for the cluster development of its tract, the Temple Hills Country Club Estates (Temple Hills), to the Williamson County Regional Planning Commission for approval. At that time, the county's zoning ordinance and the Commission's subdivision regulations required developers to seek review and approval of subdivision plats in two steps. The developer first was to submit for approval a preliminary plat, or "initial sketch plan," indicating, among other things, the boundaries and acreage of the site, the number of dwelling units and their basic design, the location of existing and proposed roads, structures, lots, utility layouts, and open space, and the contour of the land. App. in No. 82-5388 (CA6), pp. 857, 871 (CA App.). Once approved, the preliminary plat served as a basis for the preparation of a final plat. Under the Commission's regulations, however, approval of a preliminary plat "will not constitute acceptance of the final plat." Id., at 872. Approval of a preliminary plat lapsed if a final plat was not submitted within one year of the date of the approval, unless the Commission granted an extension of time, or unless the approval of the preliminary plat was renewed. Ibid. The final plat, which is the official...

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